A Class Act

Re-imagining Italian Whites: this was a Master Class appropriately enough held by a Master…. of Wine. Gabriele Gorelli MW treated us to an informative, dare I say entertaining?, presentation of the unexpected: Italian whites. This was an unusual Vinitaly all around, from the freezing temperatures like some kind of April Fools joke, to a general fair-wide focus on white wine. Surprising from start to finish.

Even the small army of sommeliers clearly took their cue from the Master. I’ve never seen such choreographed precision. Bravo!

Call me Anglo-Saxon to my core: there is something about an attractive, clearly outlined PowerPoint presentation that strums my heart strings. Twelve wines, twelve regions, fourteen varieties, we traveled up and down the boot experiencing the flavors of a wide variety of terroirs. Love it, love it, love it! Gorelli has raised the bar on the guided tasting at Vinitaly, and I believe is inspiring a whole crew of younger wine experts.

Fresh as the wines he was presenting, Gorelli sported a spring blue blazer, white khaki pants ensemble.

Contemporary whites from Italy with a focus: identity capital, or that collection of personal assets, how you understand yourself and describe yourself to others. As Gorelli pointed out, moving beyond reds means introducing people to drinking, not just tasting. So what is the identity capital of Italian whites?

The first wine was surprisingly from Puglia, a region known for its reds, with a Verdeca from Masseria Li Veli. Owned by a Tuscan family from Gorelli’s native Montepulciano, Li Veli made this Askos Salento IGT 2021 vintage in a smart style, to let people drink and enjoy the salty minerality.

Our second stop was in Sardegna, with a very representative Vermentino di Gallura DOCG from Capichera. Here you have the Mediterranean brush in a glass, all those spices from the sea breezes on the nose. Almost aromatic, the name of the wine, in the inscrutable Sardo dialect is “Vign’angena” or ‘other people’s vineyard’. Mouthwatering with great citrus, white fruit and floral notes, one sip just makes you want to take another. A hint of kerosene and flint, and this wine explodes in your mouth. There’s lots of wind in Sardinia bringing great complexity to this Capichera vintage.

Wine number three took us to the mountains of the Val d’Aosta with a Petite Arvine from Les Crêtes. This 2019 vintage showed that whites can age too, without losing freshness. Little white mountain flowers on the nose, maybe some vanilla and orange blossom, this wine was packing a 15% abv. How to age with grace, it holds its alcohol without feeling it. Gorelli pointed out how important it is to invest in these varieties where there is no benchmark – heroic vintners venturing out on their own.

            The fourth wine brought us to a region known for its whites: Alto Adige. This Terlan Vorberg Riserva 2019 was a surprising Pinot Bianco. Shout out to my Anglo Saxon friends: yes, Italian whites are about more than Pinot Grigio!!! Try something new! While I did not find the nose particularly exciting here, it was big on the palate, crunchy, oak-aged, and clearly a high altitude wine. This is a wine to keep in the cellar and see what happens!

For the next label, we took a dizzying dive all the way down the peninsula to Sicily: Tornatore’s Pietrarizzo Etna Bianco 2021, 100% Carricante. All of a sudden we had a gold color in our glasses. There’s altitude in Sicily too, as we know – Etna is the tallest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. On the nose it was delectably complex: fennel, celery, flint, pear drop, lychee, stone fruit, Mediterranean brush. And on the palate, the density and creaminess were accompanied by a mouth-watering saltiness. I’ll take two: one for now, one for the cellar.

Wine number six and we’re halfway through! Bianco di Torgiano DOP from Lungarotti’s Vigna il Pino, Torre di Giano 2019. Talk about a white that comes from a red territory: in Umbria, Lungarotti is well-known for Rubesco, red and true to its name. But just as the God Janus (Giano in Italian) had two faces, this is the other face of Lungarotti. This white is a blend of Vermentino, Grechetto and Trebbiano. Oily, pleasantly dense, with white flowers, these grape varieties are quintessentially central Italy.

Quintessential Italian white territory: Friuli was well-represented here by Livio Felluga’s Terre Alte 2019, a blend with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Friulano. Friulano was once known as Tocai, but by any other name would taste as delicious.  The golden color is appealing, white flowers on the nose belie the vanilla, creamy aftertaste that the rounder Friulano grape confers on this vintage.

Back to central Italy with Garofoli’s Serra Fiorese 2019 and one of Italy’s most famous white wines: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Riserva. Everyone remembers the amphora-style bottle of Fazi Battaglia. Here the Verdicchio is true to its name with greenish hints and an herbaceous nose including rosemary, sage, and all that grows near the Mediterranean. It spends 12 months in barrique and has that delicate petrol-like aroma, so yummy in a big white. This was a white to come back to, as it opened up during the remaining time in this vintage-packed tasting!

Reflection mid-tasting: how much fun did Gabriele Gorelli have picking the wines for this gig? And how hard a job was it to limit himself to 12 wines?            
What tasting of Italian whites would be complete without Campania? The Terredora Di Paolo Campore Riserva Fiano di Avellino DOCG 2018 comes from the Irpinia region, where it is cooler and wetter. The nose on this wine had me at ‘hello’. Must try this one again with food; it’s on my shopping list.

Our tenth wine brought us local: to the uber-famous Veneto white, Soave. Pieropan’s La Rocca 2021 shows what can be done with that Garganega grape. Unique to the Veneto and yet related most likely to Grecanico as the name might imply, it is aromatic and productive, producing wines of a darker gold color. Here we found acacia honey, flint, nectarines, tangerines and something cake-y, like vanilla, with that lovely hint of petrol. Definitely a wine that will age.           

By the time we got to wine number 11, you didn’t know whether to cry uncle, or just wish this moment would never end! This was perhaps the most unusual choice: a Viognier and Grechetto blend from Lazio, Tenuta di Fiorano’s Fiorano Bianco 2016, described on the label as simply vino bianco. A little spicey, the nose did not speak to me. But on the palate: another story. Cannot help but think though, why is it that Lazio is better known for international grape varieties when it does have the raw materials out there in Frascati and the Castelli?

And for our final wine: Piedmont, what else? Another fabulous surprise in a way, this Borgogno Colli Tortonesi Derthona 2019. Five points if you can name the grape variety! Good for you: Timorasso. This could be called ‘white Barolo’, but think Riesling! This single vineyard Timorasso is called Scaldapulce (call the marketing people: this wine needs a new name! Heat up the flea? Something about warming a flea? Yuck! I don’t care if it is the name of this cru’s vineyard. It deserves a more appetizing name!) This wine does not see oak, it stays on the lees for 18 months with 7 months aging in the bottle. An intense hint of petrol, apricots, stone fruit, lime, on the palate it explodes and like fireworks, keeps bringing up something new. What a great ending to a great tasting!

At least we don’t have to worry about bleaching our teeth after this tasting!

By the time we got to the end, there was only one thing left to say: WOW! What made this such a fabulous romp – in addition to the stunning, stellar wines – was the casual, intimate way Gorelli presented an enormous amount of information – as if he were speaking just to you, ’splaining everything about those wines, with redoubtable enological knowledge and a smooth simplicity and directness that was as easy to swallow as the vintages presented. Gorelli is a class act, and with all the aspiring Masters of Wine in Italy, a tough act to follow!

Throwback to Montalcino, when yours truly first had the pleasure of meeting the newly minted Master of Wine!

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