Our Northern Italy White Wines guest post comes via a favorite former expat, Diana Zahuranec. State-side again, her Italian wine adventures continue from the mean streets of NYC. Follow her grape adventures on Instagram and Wine365.
A glass of red might be what comes to mind when you hear “Italian wine,” but the boot offers plenty of crisp, fine whites, too. You just need to know where to find them. Often, great Italian white wines come from the north, having little to do with the ol’ northern vs southern Italian stereotype (passionate and hot-blooded vs cool and contained—totally a myth, or is it?) Rather, with wines, its about climate, geography, and terroir.
The Reason Northern Italy White Wines Rock
What makes a white wine great? While much of grape growing and winemaking isn’t straight-forward like a math problem—what works in one region will not in another—some factors hold true across the board. Without getting too technical, diurnal temperature variation and the right amount of sunshine helps white grapes both:
- Retain acidity, and
- stay fresh and flavorful.
Some of Italy’s best white wines come from regions with these traits.
Want to dig deeper into why the technical factors of what makes great white wines? Head over to Wine365 to read more.
Where to Find Great Italian White Wines
These northern Italian regions have plenty of altitude (in some cases in the steep foothills of the Alps), great diurnal temperature variation, and enough sunshine to give the grapes a healthy tan.
Top northern Italian white wines to try:
Italy’s northernmost wine region of Alto Adige borders Austria in the foothills of the Alps. The steep, terraced vineyards enjoy an especially wide diurnal range due to the altitude, giving us wines with great aromatic. The region is gorgeous, transporting you to Switzerland or Austria with its well-tended mountain chalets, cute huts, Alpine cows, and snow-capped peaks.
- Gewürztraminer: Aromatic and fruity, this grape has lush notes of lychee, tangerine, pink grapefruit, rose, and guava. Why the German name? Alto Adige used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
- Müller-Thurgau: Floral, nutmeg, and citrus aromas dominate this grape from Alto Adige. Northern Italy’s old vines and steep high-altitude vineyards give this varietal wine great aging potential and serious character.
- Sylvaner: Another variety whose origins may be German. A crisp, delicate wine with fruity notes of apple and lime, accompanied by a solid minerality.
Alto Adige food pairing:
- Pair gewürztraminer wines with vegetable-based dishes and fresh-water fish as well as blue cheeses and creamy risottos (gorgonzola and walnuts, yum!)
- Pair müller-Thurgau, a weightier and more serious wine, with roasted meats, savory mushroom dishes, and rich cheeses.
- Sylvaner’s delicacy pairs well with fresh vegetables, fruit-based salads, and fresh-water fish – an excellent choice for light summer evenings.
South of Alto Adige, technically Trentino sits in the province that includes both regions: Trentino-Alto Adige. With a wide valley, still today the vines are planted at high altitudes in pergolas. It’s another stunning region with postcard perfect views of the Alps.
Trento DOC (or Trentodoc): Made from chardonnay, pinot nero, pinot bianco, and meunier. One of the best sparkling wines you (maybe) don’t know. Strictly made in metodo classico (second fermentation is in the bottle, not a tank like Prosecco made of the Charmant method) and aged for at least 15 months on the lees—sometimes much longer.
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Trentino food pairing: Sparkling wine pairs with just about anything. Appetizers of fried finger foods, first courses of risotto or savory tarts, main courses of salmon, veal, or smoked meats, and even desserts such as classic apple strudel from Trentino-Alto Adige all match perfectly. Trento DOC is also great with heavily spiced cuisines like Indian curries or a Moroccan chicken tagine.
Fruili is the northeastern region of Italy that borders Slovenia. Fruili is best known for pinot Ggrigio, particularly from the Collio region.
Pinot Grigio: This grape and wine may not normally be synonymous with “concentrated,” but this corner of Italy produces more complex and more layered than any other pinot grigio off the shelf. Look for Friuli Grave DOC, Collio DOC, or Colli Orientali DOC.
Fruili food pairing: Collio’s fine pinot prigio wines pair well with fish, sushi, and white meats. The local food culture takes some influence from Slovenian and Germanic heritage, too, and jota, a savory cabbage, bean, sage, sausage, and potato soup, pairs well, as does their barley risotto, orzotto.
The northwestern region bordering France is most famous for its world-renowned reds like Barolo and Barbaresco, but these northern Italy whites match beautifully with the area’s famed white and black truffles, egg-rich pastas, and its bounty of cheeses.
- Gavi: Alpine and Apennine altitudes plus sea breezes help prolong this white’s ripening seasoning. Made from 100 percent Cortese grapes, these are light-bodied with high acidity and are very aromatic: notes of green apple, pear, and citrus dominate. Find these labeled Gavi DOC or Gavi di Gavi DOCG.
- Moscato d’Asti: Our lone sweet wine to make the list, Moscato d’Asti is a treat for your palate. At seven percent ABV, it is light and easy to drink, especially because of its frizzante bubbles. No overwhelming sweetness here—just delightful notes of honeysuckle, orange blossom, pear, and mandarin orange.
Piedmont food pairing:
- Gavi is light yet complex enough to stand up well to meaty deep-sea fish like tuna and swordfish, as well as grilled white meats and shellfish.
- Moscato d’Asti is a classic wine to serve with desserts, pastries, and fresh fruits. Moscato goes incredible with brunch (that low ABV makes it perfect for daylight hours!) and spicy cuisines—particularly Thai food.
For more Northern Italy White Wine Food Pairing Ideas, read:
The Ultimate Guide to Piedmont Food and Wine Pairing.
Another region known primarily for reds like Amarone, the Veneto makes another top Italian white wine: Soave.
Soave: This is grown at higher altitudes in clay soils—both factors that slow down ripening and create a backbone of acidity plus complexity. It’s made from 100 percent Garganega grape. Still up-and-coming compared to the other whites on this list, find Soave at a more specialized wine shop. Medium-bodied with notes of melon, tangerine, peach, and herbs.
Veneto food pairing: Rich seafood and fish dishes pair especially well with the lean, acidic Soave. Gnocchi with tender clams, squid ink linguine, penne with frutti di mare, buttery scallops, and flavorful lobster—break out the Soave. Another great pairing is with their local dish of creamy cod, Baccalà Mantecato, which is eaten as an appetizer or first course.
And, that’s our rundown of Northern Italy white wines! Don’t be afraid to try ’em out in the winter as well as summer. These babies have some heft that stands up to cold temps.
Got some favorite Northern Italian white wines not here? Drop us a note.
Meet Diana Zahuranec:
Diana studied Anthropology at Penn State and Food Culture & Communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. After living la bella vita in Italy for six years, she returned to the U.S. and landed in NYC. She has been working in wine since 2012 and holds WSET 2. Loves include nebbiolo and amaro. Talk to her about Italy on Instagram and Wine365.
Also by Diana: Five things to do for Free in Turin