“I’m a woman who loves white wines,” says Laura De Pasquale, master sommelier. “I’m a freak for them.”
De Pasquale was presenting “The Great Whites of Italy” at a “Simply Italian” tasting at Miami-Dade College’s Culinary Institute in downtown Miami.
“What I like about Italian whites is that they’re clean and modern,” she said.
Often grown at high altitudes in the foothills of the Alps, Italian whites are crisp and lean from the cool climate. Exposed to intense, high-altitude sun in the thinner atmosphere, many of them develop something akin to tannins in their skins, she says.
“Crisp acids are like Botox,” she said. “They keep the wines young. Some of these wines can almost act as red wines, with tuna, veal, game – maybe not big, red steaks.”
In fact, she said, the viscous, powerful traminer is a good match for bacon.
The wines in the tasting were not the usual chardonnays and sauvignon blancs. Many of them were developed centuries ago in Italy.
“I’m happy to see growing interest in indigenous varieties that many people may not have heard of,” she said.
One of the more unusual Italian whites was from ribolla gialla, a finicky, yellowish-white grape little known outside of Northeast Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.
“It’s floral, not fruity,” said De Pasquale. “It’s complex, with aromas and flavors of honey and wax and orange peel, like a white Bordeaux.”
“It’s great with shellfish,” added Marco Calligaris, export manager for the Friuli-based winery Conte d’Attimis-Maniago, which made the wine.
Northern Italian winemakers put great importance on terroir – the climate, soil and winemaking techniques that make wines in their particular areas, Calligaris said.
“Tradition and respect for the terroir is the most important thing,” he said.
An unusual presentation of a well-known grape was the Pinot Grigio Spumante by the Northeastern Italian winery Piera Martellozzo. Probably nobody at the tasting has ever tasted a sparkling pinot grigio, De Pasquale said.
“Its slightly sparkling nature emphasizes its aroma of orange blossoms and other flowers. It’s high in acid, with pink grapefruit flavors.”
She went on: “These are some of the best-kept secrets in the wine world.”
• 2011 Conte d’Attimis-Maniago Ribolla Gialla, Colli Orientali del Friuli (100 percent ribolla giala): aromas of wax and honey, rich and dry, with flavors of nuts and orange peel; $19.
• 2011 Tenuta Roveglia Lugana Limne, DOC, Lugana (100 percent trebbiano di Lugana): aromas of camellias, intensely fruity flavors of apricots, nuts and herbs, weighty and viscous; $16.
• 2011 Piera Martellozzo Pinot Grigio Spumante, Pordenone, Italy: lightly sparkling, soft and dry, with delicate floral aromas, citrus flavors, crisp and light-bodied and lean: $16.
• 2008 Azienda Agricola Ricci Curbastro Extra Brut Sparkling Wine, Franciacorta DOCG (50 percent chardonnay, 50 percent pinot nero): extra crisp, full-bodied, creamy and bone dry, with firm bubbles and flavors of yeast, limes and minerals; $36.
• 2011 Cesconi Traminer Aromatico Gewurztraminer DOC, Trentino (100 percent traminer aromatico): intense litchi aromas, powerful, viscous and spicy flavors of cinnamon, kiwis and green apples, very crisp; $17.
• 2008 Primosic Klin Collio Bianco DOC (field blend of ribolla gialla, friulano, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of lemons, oranges and honey, aging over time into orange candy; $33.
Fred Tasker has retired from The Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at email@example.com.