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JULY DIRT CLUB – UNIQUE ITALIAN WHITES

Posted by Chris LaBranche on

The story of wine is often one of the underdog. Some of today’s hottest grape varieties and growing regions were seriously passé in the not so distant past. Chablis, rosé, and Lambrusco, they’re all items that today’s wine shops need to not only carry but to enthusiastically represent in order to remain relevant. Just as wine drinkers are realizing that rosé can be just as complex, intriguing, and deep as great red wine, so too is it time that we give the great white wines of Italy their due. Most are familiar with the big names in Italian white–Soave, Gavi, and Pinot Grigio. All are known for their freshness and drinkability, but not as much for their complexity. Happily, there are conscientious winegrowers in pockets across Italy that are taking the quality over quantity approach in making naturally excellent, complex expressions of native varieties that are afforded the same time and attention as Italy’s best reds from vine to barrel. From far opposite corners of Italy come two of the most entrancingly complex whites that have come across our desks in recent memory. Though each is sourced from rather opposite sides of the country, each with its unique terroir, they both are products of immaculate winemaking and organic farming.

LA MARCA DI SAN MICHELE VERDICCHIO DI CASTELLI DI JESI 'PASSOLENTO'  

Vintage: 2015

Grape: Verdicchio

Place: Le Marche, Italy

SoIl: Limestone & Clay

Price: $34.99

Of all the ‘table whites’ produced in Italy, Verdicchio is surely one of the best examples of a fresh, simple white wine that satisfies at the table. It quenches one’s thirst and doesn’t punish the wallet. Yet, there is a rich viticultural heritage in its home of Le Marche. The tradition of Verdicchio production here dates back to at least the 12th Century when monks worked the vineyards of this coastal region. Believing firmly in the nobility of their terroir and their grape, the Bonci family set out to make a superior, complexity-driven expression of Verdicchio when they founded their estate in 2007. Their recipe: rigorous organic viticulture in the vineyards, and a patient winemaking process allowing the wine time in barrel to realize its potential.

HOW TO

Great white Burgundy is one of the last examples of European white wine that is allowed to go through malolactic fermentation–the process by which malic acid in wine is converted into lactic acid, producing wines of more texture and richness. In virtually all other modern white wine making, this natural process is blocked in order to preserve freshness of fruit. Some would argue, though, that what we gain in freshness, we lose in complexity and ageability. Like great white Burgundy, the Bonci’s Passolento speaks purely of its limestone terroir, with exuberant notes of green orchard fruits, and saline, chalky minerals abound. These fresh elements are balanced by just a hint of richness. When folks say that wines remind them of the sea, this is what they mean! The estate only produces 2,000 cases per vintage across several wines, and Passolento represents their reserve offering. Enjoy it cool, not cold, with your next seafood dinner.


IL CENSO TERRE SICILIANE BIANCO 'PRARUAR'

Vintage: 2015

Grape: Catarratto

Place: Sicily, Italy

SoIl: Volcanic

Price: $32.99

Thanks to natural winemaking pioneers like Cos and Arianna Occhipinti, Sicilian wines are back on everyone’s mind. Yet, it’s mostly reds both from Vittoria and Mount Etna that are driving this newfound interest. This wildly exciting skin-contact white from the northwestern coast of the island, was born out of a devotion for the natural wines of Umbrian winemaking prodigy, Giampero Bea–one of the first pioneers of natural wine in Italy. Known for his powerful expressions of Sagrantino, Bea inspired young winemaker Gaetano Gargano to revitalize an ancient, overgrown estate perched atop a volcanic plateau. He replanted just 5 hectares of the estate’s 65 to the native Catarratto and Perricone varieties. Their aim? To produce unapologetically natural wines that honored the viticultural heritage of their corner of Sicily that were made according to the legendary principles used by Bea at his storied estate.

HOW TO

Praruar represents the only cuvée produced from the Catarratto planted by Gaetano in the late 90s. No chemicals or artificial fertilizers are used in the viticulture, and most notably this Catarratto sees up to three weeks on its skins during maceration. The estate is one of the best examples of polyculture in wine, with the estate comprised not only of vines but olive trees, wheat fields, and pasture for livestock. The result is an exuberant orange wine that speaks loudly not only of its volcanic terroir, but of the admirably opinionated winemaking philosophy of its creator. Make no mistake, though, this citrusy and herbal, fresh and fragrant wine bearing notes of dried apricot, mountain herbs, and black tea is surely one of the most unique produced on the island. Only about 1,000 cases are made each year and we’re ecstatic to get it into your hands and onto your tables. Enjoy this funky white with grilled chicken, or washed rind cheeses.


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