Most Chicagoans know that during the early spring, it’s unwise to plan outdoor activities too far ahead. Although snowy remnants have evaporated from the picnic table, a warm breeze can quickly unleash a thunderstorm – which can then turn to thundersnow in a flash.
But, after rumbling through winter with booming red wines, people might want something wholly different from the toothsome and the tannic. When the temperature soars above… 45 degrees, the 70s can’t be far off, right? Well…
The spotty mild weather does signal the onset of alfresco dining season. Although a March or April patio dinner isn’t recommended, the wine trade is pitching a number of fresh, crisp whites for the anticipated arrival of honest spring. Italy’s brooding and luscious reds have held sway all winter; it’s time for the country’s enticing whites – from north and south – to have some time in the sun (preferably, in an ice bucket).
One region in Italy that produces distinctive white wines is Alto Adige – a far-northern, sub-Alpine region that borders Austria. (It was, in fact, part of Habsburg Austria before the First World War.) Pinot Grigio is the dominant varietal here. Yes, wineries that over-produce and over-hype Pinot Grigio have turned off adventurous imbibers. A morass of mediocrity has flooded the market with one-dimensional astringency. But a closer look at Alto Adige reveals some lovely Pinot Grigio – and Pinot Bianco – from some of the region’s smaller producers.
Another Italian region of note is Campania. Located at the opposite end of the country, just northeast of Naples, Campania is in the heart of Italy’s sultry south. Lots of muscular red wine comes from here. But it’s also the home of “mineral-driven, steely white varietals that (thrive) in the volcanic soil,” says Michael Taylor, Wine Director at Chicago’s Italian Village. Falanghina and Greco di Tufo are just two these. Unlike Pinot Grigio, they continue to fight for general recognition.
The angling for shelf space by these geographically distinct producers might be motivated by different reasons. Their placement, however, yields a positively similar trait: value. The wines that follow are actually not the least expensive in their realm (some approach or exceed the $15 threshold). But, for the hopefully imminent patio season, a change in weather should be paralleled by an altered state of wine.
Below are several options that: create some separation from their reputation; are unique enough to cease any “how’s the weather?” talk; and complement the picnic/alfresco experience.
San Michele Appiano Pinot Grigio 2009: A truly multi-dimensional white wine, this is not a single-gear Pinot Grigio that gets by solely on its brand-building prowess. The San Michele has a nice, honeysuckle aroma. Its flavors build from light pear, to pleasantly tart citrus, followed by cantaloupe. The finish is dry and clean. A delight with linguine and clams or mussels and frites, but it’s also very nice with herbed olives and cheese. $14.
Peter Zemmer Pinot Bianco 2010: Featuring a new label, note how the name and varietal show the confluence of Teutonic-Latin viticulture. Fresh and vibrant with balanced acidity and aromas and flavors of apricot and lemon, this one pivots nicely from a quaffer to vinaigrette-dressed salads and crab dip on Melba toast. $15 (available in a few weeks).
Vesevo Falanghina 2009: Floral and fruit-forward scents of white flowers and green apple, its flavors are light-to-medium bodied, featuring pear and honeydew. Great wine to have with grilled Mahi-Mahi or Swordfish, with a basil-caper butter. $15.
Terradora Greco di Tufo 2009: A nice dry and earthy wine style; not as aromatic as Falanghina. Still, it has nice scents of apple, with flavors of stone fruit (peach and white cherry) and a lingering finish. Medium-bodied, even slightly rich, it’s more of a food white than a sipper. Try with grilled sea bass. $17.