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Basics: Italy’s Best White Wines: 12 Essential Grapes to Know

Basics: Italy’s Best White Wines: 12 Essential Grapes to Know

For all the time people spend dreaming about luxuriating under the Tuscan sun, spritz in hand, or cruising around the Venetian laguna with a flute of Prosecco, the mention of Italian wine still tends to conjure bold, tannic reds ready to stand up to a big plate of pasta. But white grapes in Italy are having something of a renaissance, with more and more producers focusing on crafting exciting, delicious and satisfying wines with indigenous white grapes. These bottlings showcase Italy’s rare and dynamic terroir—and serve as a reminder that the peninsula has always had incredible wines of all colors.

The tricky part, as ever with Italian wine, is getting a handle on the vast landscape of possibilities, given the incredible diversity of white grapes and regional representations. Getting to know the top grapes takes a little time, but anyone willing to dive in can be sure they’ll be paid back in dividends. That’s because coming vintages of Italian whites are poised to be tremendous deals, with expressions that range from fresh, fun and eminently drinkable to serious, structured and ageable.

Where should an Italian white grape journey begin? The below varietals represent major players that are either widely planted across Italy or are huge stars in their region. While they’re all decidedly unique, what ties them together is their ability to capture the specific characteristics of the place they’re grown, the long history of their presence there and the people who shape them into wine.


Arneis (Piedmont)

If Italy is known for its reds more generally, Piedmont—home of the king and queen of Italian wine, Barolo and Barbaresco—is the ultimate example of a region you would never think of for white wine. Enter Arneis, a grape that produces an ethereal glass of white, laying jasmine and honeysuckle over white peaches and pears before a nutty, umami finish.

One to try:

Giovanni Almondo 2021 Vigne Sparse Arneis (Roero Arneis)

The Almondo family has been farming this area for generations and that practice shows immediately in the glass with vibrant aromas of fresh white peach, white flowers, crushed oyster shells and hints of fresh herbs. The palate is electric and textural, having spent extended time on the lees, which gives the wine a creamy texture full of apricot, lemon and almond notes. Perfect with composed salads, grilled fish or for sitting by the pool. Editor’s Choice. 92 Points —Jeff Porter

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Glera (Veneto & Friuli)

Have you gotten on the Negroni Sbagliato train and gotten in the habit of adding Prosecco to your drinks? Then Glera is already on your radar, even if you didn’t realize it. This grape is the backbone for Italy’s crowd-pleasing sparkling white, which can have high acidity that balances a healthy amount of residual sugar. Look out for a Prosecco col fondo to see Glera in its finest form.

One to try:

Adami 2022 Col Credas Rive di Farra di Soligo Extra Brut Glera (Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore)

The nose of this Prosecco is focused with aromas of tart green apples, Meyer lemon zest and lilies. The refined palate deftly follows the nose and continues the laser-like focus, finishing with a very impressive minerality. 92 Points —J.P.

Fiano Grapes
white grapes on a bright sunny day in a vineyard in Salento, Apulia, Italy, space for text

Fiano (Campania)

Sometimes hailed as the best white grape in Italy, and even considered to produce some of the best white wines in the world, Fiano is unquestionably a showstopper. In addition to tremendous age-ability, its ability to express flavors is uncanny—they can range from nutty to salty to smoky even as it also offers rich, round fruit and subtle floral qualities. A sip of a great Fiano brings to mind the Italian term “spreazzatura”—to make something complex seem easy.

One to try:

Planeta 2020 Cometa Fiano (Menfi)

Roasted hazelnuts, mixed herbs and capers fried in butter with lemon on the nose follow onto a palate that adds more citrus along with honey, sliced through with saline notes and bright acidity. 91 Points —Danielle Callegari


Garganega (Veneto)

An ancient varietal that is likely the parent of many other white grapes on the peninsula, Garganega fell victim to the same fate that befell many Italian grapes, white or red, when in the middle of the last century the global economic expansion of the wine market incentivized quantity over quality. The last decades have been good to Garganega, mercifully, and now it’s relatively easy to find these bright but sophisticated whites, especially from the Soave Classico zone.

One to try:

Inama 2021 Foscarino Garganega (Soave Classico)

Grown on the top of a dormant volcano, this Soave shows why Garganga is one of the great white grapes of Italy. The wine opens with apple and citrus blossoms with hints of acacia honey followed by fleshy white peaches, Fuji apples and well-defined minerality. The palate is creamy yet taut with fine acidity and tons of minerality accented by ripe stone fruits and citrus zest. Drink now–2035. 94 Points —J.P.


Grillo (Sicily)

Because it delivers an easy-to-love combo of citrus, stone fruit and salt on the palate, there are those who think of Grillo as the Sauvignon Blanc of Sicily, but don’t let that fool you. Grillo has the chops to make concentrated, focused wines with savory, mineral depth. And as the primary grape in Marsala, it reveals seemingly endless layers of flavor and texture worth meditating over.

One to try:

Feudo Montoni 2022 Timpa Grillo Grillo (Sicilia)

White peaches, apricots and jasmine are on the nose with a spritz of lime that announces the coming citrus-soaked palate, where limes meet lemons and oranges before a salty, sanguine finish. 92 Points —D.C.

You May Also Like: A Beginner’s Guide to the Wines of Sicily

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Malvasia (Everywhere)

Ok, this one’s a bit of a misdirect. Malvasia is indeed an important white grape in Italy, but it comes in so many forms and the name is used so loosely that it could refer to nearly any style or even an entire subgroup of the varietal, which has gained autochthonous characteristics (read: specific qualities associated with a hyperlocal terroir and climate). Held in esteem since at least the late Middle Ages, Malvasia has a long history that enriches but also complicates attempts to trace its origins and meanderings across Italy. Look out for Emilia-Romagna’s Malvasia di Candia, which can have flavors as unexpected as bergamot and cinnamon, or Malvasia Istriana (Friuli Venezia Giulia), with its searing acid and buoyant salinity.

One to try:

Raccaro 2021 Malvasia (Collio)

This wine is one of the standard bearers of Malvasia in the Collio. Elegant aromas of white peach, jasmine, magnolia, crushed rock and fresh herbs all ebb and flow with each whiff of the glass. Pine and fresh herbs meld with fresh apples and apricot on the palate, with layers upon layers of ever-evolving flavors. This wine also ages super well, so give it a try. Drink now–2030. 93 Points —J.P.


Moscato (Everywhere)

Like Malvasia, Moscato is a shapeshifter grown across the peninsula and used to make all different kinds of wines. The bad news: It’s hard to pin down. The good news, however, is that it’s almost universally delicious, whether in its ultra-popular form as an off-dry sparkler in Moscato d’Asti from the northwest, as a decadent dessert in Sicily, where it’s known as Zibibbo, or as its aromatic, easygoing self as a table wine from various regions.

One to try:

Michele Chiarlo 2022 Nivole Moscato (Moscato d’Asti)

Candied orange peel meets white peach and wild mint on the nose of this classic Moscato. Fresh, fruity and fun, Chiarlo’s Nivole continues to live up to its reputation of being a classic. 91 PointsJ.P.

Ribolla Gialla
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Ribolla Gialla (Friuli Venezia Giulia)

It’s striking how little traction Ribolla Gialla has gotten outside of its native region of Friuli, but exciting to imagine what’s still on the horizon for this absolutely delightful, resilient, aromatic but astringent grape. A particularly good candidate for crafting orange or skin-contact wines, Ribolla performs well after a little maceration and can even take a bit of botrytis (the Glinda of fungus aka Good Fungus), offering a sweet-savory balance that few others can achieve.

One to try:

Zuani 2021 Sodevo Ribolla Gialla (Collio)

Heady floral aromas dominate the glass in this very pretty wine. As you swirl the glass, fresh yellow pear and honey notes mingle with the floral essences. The palate is light, lively and fresh, with green apple and wet rock notes on the finish. 91 Points —J.P.


Trebbiano (Everywhere)

At first blush, Trebbiano seems to pose the same problem as Malvasia and Moscato—that is, a grape that’s grown everywhere and could be anything. The line Trebbiano walks is slightly different, however, in that it was long perceived as a hearty, productive but not particularly nuanced grape, suited for blending or for simple juice. Not so today, when wines from great producers using Trebbiano Abruzzese (Abruzzo), Trebbiano Spoletino (Umbria) or Procanico (aka Trebbiano Toscano from Lazio) have demonstrated that Trebbiano can be the star of the show.

One to try:

Masciarelli 2020 Marina Cvetic Riserva Trebbiano (Trebbiano d’Abruzzo)

Vanilla, pineapple and coconut and then a final hint of lemon and orange zest on the nose are repeated on the palate, where they gain depth from notes of spices and herbs cooked in butter before a citrusy, saline lift carries through a long finish. 92 Points —D.C.

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Verdicchio (Lombardy, Marche, Veneto)

An absolute stunner of a grape, Verdicchio, also known as Turbiana when it turns up in Lombardy or the Veneto (as opposed to its somewhat more famous iteration from the Marche), is distinguished by its searing acid and salty minerality, laid on top of citrus, bitter almond and wild herbs. When treated with care, it can age for years, even decades, becoming greater than the sum of its parts.

One to try:

Marchetti 2021 Verdicchio Verdicchio (Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico)

Savory aromas are the first to show on this intriguing wine from the Marche region. Fresh thyme, hints of sage, lemon zest, green almond and white peach wave in and out as the wine develops. The palate is well-structured with a base of stone fruit wrapped around an important mineral note that holds court among the more savory flavors of the wine. Drink now, or age it for a few years to see how it develops. Drink now–2033. 93 Points —J.P.

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Vermentino Getty Images
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Vermentino (Liguria, Tuscany, Sardinia)

Like squeezing a lemon on top of a plate of fritto misto while enjoying a sea breeze and the sun warming your face, Vermentino is the ultimate Italian beach party in a glass. Fresh, saline and citric, it’s gorgeous as an aperitif, and especially fun as a lightly bubbly frizzante, but still more than capable of holding its own through a full meal.

One to try:

Poggio al Tesoro 2022 Solosole Vermentino Vermentino (Toscana)

The nose is floral and citrusy before a slightly sweeter palate of green apple and candied lemon. Almonds dominate the finish, which has a salted almond flavor and almond oil texture. 90 Points —D.C.

Vernaccia grapes

Vernaccia (Tuscany)

A grape that has been appreciated since at least the late Middle Ages—the Tuscan poet Dante mentions it in his medieval masterpiece the Divine Comedy—Vernaccia is mostly found today in its ultra-crisp, refreshing, easy-to-love version. Though lively with notes of citrus and wild herbs, it can stand up to oak aging, revealing a savory, mature white wine that can last for years.

One to try:

Teruzzi & Puthod 2021 Isola Bianca Vernaccia (Tuscany)

Lightly briny and rubbery notes balance white flowers, white peach and lemons on the nose of this Vernaccia. The palate shifts to grapefruit and juicy, ripe melon with flinty notes highlighted by buzzy acid and more melon on the finish. 89 Points —D.C.

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