These Italian whites will stay the course(s) of your feast
Aside from the expected traditions of the season, there are a few other givens this time of year: gift guides, annual roundups, “best of” lists and a few interpretations of the “Feast of the Seven (or 11 or 13) Fishes.”
The Christmas Eve tradition is mainly an American concept says food historian and author Fred Plotkin, author of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, noting that the seafood extravaganza was born of a more humble cuisine, cucina di magro—“lean food”—a menu adapted by Roman Catholics on Fridays or during religious observations such as Lent.
But, in America, Plotkin says, “it became this opulent feast” contrived by Italian-Americans.
Still, restaurateurs, especially in Eastern Seaboard cities with large Italian-American populations, pull out all the stops on Dec. 24 to satisfy both Italophiles and seafood lovers. And that includes wines. In past times when I’ve done similarly themed stories, the experts have stayed the course with Italian whites. New York City/Philadelphia sommelier Michael Madrigale recommended a crispy white such as Fiano di Avellino from southern Italy. New Jersey chef-turned-wine-consultant John Foy (The Wine Odyssey) who counts Italian wine and cuisine among his specialties, counted Verdicchio from the Marche region among his go-tos for a dish like Branzino al Forno. Francis Schott, co-owner and wine director of Catherine Lombardi in New Brunswick, N.J., heads to the hills of Soave in northeast Italy for a weightier dish such as linguini with clam sauce. Victor Rallo, a New Jersey restaurateur and host of the television show, Eat! Drink! Italy! also looked north—to Alto Adige for a Pinot Bianco pairing with crispy fried calamari.
For as many ways there are to prepare your feast—no matter how many fishes you choose—there’s a wine out there to stay the course(s). Here are a few to try:
Alois Lageder “Versalto” Pinot Bianco 2020, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT. A solid and approachable offering from a well-regarded biodynamic producer in Alto Adige, this pretty wine offers yellow fruit, anise/fennel and wild mountain herbs along a backbone of smoky minerality. The vines are grown at altitudes of 1,580 – 1,710 feet.
Antonella Corda Vermentino di Sardegna 2020. This wine blends flavors and textures deftly. It’s lithe, tarte and green, lime and floral flavors playing starring roles. Good fresh shellfish partner from this island wine region.
Attems “Cicinis” Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Collio DOC. Has classic markers of Sauvignon Blanc but more in the Loire Valley style than new world. It jumped out at first, but calmed down after a couple of days, mellowing into an even sip that pairs well with heavier fish with cream sauce.
Attems Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Venezia Guila IGT. Similar to its Collio sibling this SB is more Loire-inflected than Marlborough, but still has plenty of zest, featuring sharp lime. It nuanced—not in your face, nor green-aggressive. Balanced, suave, well made with intention.
Castelli del Grevepesa Elianto 2021, Vermentino di Toscana. Light and zingy with lime and green apple, almond and white honeysuckle. Good all year ‘round, too.
Danny Seo “Philosophy” 2020 Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC. Made from organic grapes, the rather silly label (a refreshing twinkle of acidity”) unfortunately plays into some of the cliches about Pinot Grigio as a lightweight. But this wine defies those with a good weight in the mouth, a linear concentration of apple, pear, nectarine without veering off into the tropics, and a bit of anise on the finish.
Duca di Salaparuta “Calanica” Grillo 2020, Sicilia DOC. Always a pleasure to taste wines from this producer. This interpretation of Grillo is medium bodied but still fresh and sprightly with tropical fruit notes playing nice with lemon curd layers.
Fina Kebrilla Grillo 2020, Sicilia DOC. Loved the Moorish-looking label with its palm tree and pelicans. Also loved the exotic wine within—full and round with tropical fruits such as seared pineapple, honeycomb and wild herbs. Aged 20% in oak. From the Marsala/Tripani region on the western coast of Sicily.
Garofoli Supera Verdicchio di Matelica DOC 2021. This mountain wine from the Marche, indeed, speaks of place: It is high toned and fresh with clean white fruit flavors (apple and pear) tangy acidity and a wild herbal underlay. From a reliable name in a region that’s coming up fast on the radar for approachable wines of quality.
Librandi “Critone” Bianco 2020, Calabria IGT. Savory and herbal nose with anise and apple taking stage. ON the palate, medium bodied, with a deep lemon profile like compote or otherwise cooked and concentrated. Very savory with some herbal snap – a well-intentioned, well-made and wine made of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon.
Librandi “Segno Librandi” Ciro Bianco 2020 IGT. From the “geo label” series, this fragrant floral wine made from Greco Bianco is creamy, round and pleasurable in the mouth. Tropical, and yellow and white orchard fruits are fleshy but not flabby. Hints of almond.
Nestore Bosco Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGP 2021. Medium bodied with a rich, persistent flavor profile of lime and green herbs. Nice glycerol mouthfeel that doesn’t compromise the lively and vibrant citric overtone.
San Felice Perolla Vermentino 2020, Maremma Toscana IGT. Classic markers of tangy lime. Some citrus pith and white peach. Aromatic, and uplifted by zesty acid. Pair with ceviche.
Tenuta Sallier de la Tour Inzolia 2021, Sicily. Full of zesty lime, accompanied by pear and a hint of spice, this is a fresh and structured wine that’s sharp, linear and has lots of personality. Four months on the lees gives it a nice textured roundness. Good with fattier fishes.
Zenato San Benedetto Lugana 2020. This medium-bodied white has a showy nose of white flowers and a bit of anise. It’s yellow mellow: lemony, quince and yellow pear. Glossy mouthfeel makes this a great fall transitional food-friendly wine.