Italian vineyards contain approximately 2,000 native grape varieties, yet only 400 of these are used to make wine that's sold on the broad market. That number represents a dramatic reduction from what was once commonplace: when producers relied heavily on more famous French varietals.
But Italian winemakers have begun taking steps to capitalize on these domestic grapes. A new generation is producing wines which demonstrate this method's advantages.
Vermentino (known in France as Rolle, Corsica's Vermentinu or Favorita and Pigato in Liguria) is a beloved coastal Italian wine but also enjoys growing success in warmer environments like Australia. The Chalmers family brought it over in 2004 and currently cultivate 120 hectares with strong consumer recognition.
At its heart lies a grape with high acidity and citrus and stone fruit characteristics - ideal for warmer climates as its fresh flavours remain even under intense heat conditions. At lower ripeness it displays lemony yellow grapefruit characteristics while at fuller maturity it becomes rounded and pear-like. Saline or sea spray minerality may be present while some styles feature subtle bitter almond tones as a distinctive finish.
Verdicchio (vair-DIK-ee-oh) is an Italian white grape variety best known as the star of two distinct areas in central Italy: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica. However, its popularity also extends into many blended wines from throughout Marche region.
Verdicchio can offer the perfect balance of freshness and structure with delicate orchard fruit flavors and almond skin notes. Its potential for ageing is untapped; over time it will develop the distinctive tertiary aromas typical of Italian white wines.
Overcropping and poor quality have tarnished its reputation in recent years; however, thanks to efforts towards higher standards a gradual revival is taking place. This shift can be seen through two Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designations that recognize their ability to age well over time; they include Verdicchio dei Castelli diJesi Riserva DOCG and Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva DOCG respectively.
The revival of native Italian grape varieties has seen many varieties rescued from oblivion. Some, like Oseleta red variety which producers in Valpolicella have adopted as their signature wine, look set to become bestsellers.
Other varieties can be more esoteric; Arneis from Italy's northern Piedmont region is an elegant white that has subtle aromatic notes resembling that of Sauvignon Blanc while remaining completely distinct in style.
Before recently, Barbera could only be produced when blended with Nebbiolo to soften its robust tannins. Unfortunately, Barbera is a difficult grape to cultivate, being susceptible to powdery mildew and low yields as well as having difficulty maintaining acidity during warmer seasons.
An expert winemaker can produce vibrant white wines with exotic floral and fruity notes such as citrus, pear, apricot as well as almond and nutty notes that age well.
Fiano is an intriguing white wine from Southern Italy that boasts textural qualities as well as impressive acidity levels. Depending on terroir, grape harvest timing and vinification technique it can range from light and refreshing to rich and mouth-coating in body and taste.
Fiano dates back to ancient Roman times and was known as Vitis Apiana (Vine of the Bees). It may have even played an integral part of Apianum wine production!
Fiano wines range from crisp and refreshing to decadently lush and decadent, often featuring subtle nutty flavours with fresh pear, citrus and honey aromas. Their longevity also lends them well for pairing with light meat dishes such as orange-rosemary roast chicken or soy glazed salmon dishes.
Carricante is a late-ripening white grape variety that thrives on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. The region's rich terroir lends distinct citrus, green apple, pear and floral notes to Carricante wines that typically exhibit lively acidity with delicate fruit flavours and an irresistibly mineral quality.
Carricante wine is often blended to soften the sharp acidity of other Sicilian white wines like Catarratto, Ansonica and Minnella. Furthermore, its floral notes match well with rich dishes typical of Sicilian cuisine and spicy Asian foods alike.
Carricante is an approachable wine, perfect for young palates to savor its refreshing acidity, subtle fruit flavours and savoury mineral character. Over time it may develop further complexity as an ageing process occurs.