The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Praising the Unappreciated Wines

Posted on | August 31, 2010 | Written by Kerry-Jo Rizzo | No Comments

The "obscure" Riesling

After reading Jane’s recent blog post about the wine bar Terroir and its new location in trendy Tribeca, I was eager to give it a try. Not only am I obsessed with Terroir in its original East Village location, but when I heard there was another, even bigger Terroir only minutes down the 4-5-6, I was ecstatic.  Terroir’s “Summer of Riesling,” wherein it’s offering only Riesling for its by-the-glass whites, exemplifies how committed the bar’s owner is to being an advocate for this misinterpreted variety. Riesling is my most favorite white wine of all, but try telling someone who drinks oaky Chardonnay from Napa that they have to order a glass of that “ultra-sweet, boring” white from Germany, and you will see a striking response.

The Rieslings my friends and I tried at Terroir were diverse, unusual and enthralling. Enjoying glasses of the oft maligned Riesling got me thinking about some of the lonely white, Italian grape varieties that get overlooked in the face of their showier cousins. Take Pigato, for example. Grown on terraced vineyards and boasting notes of flowers and a salty minerality, Pigato—one of my favorite obscure varietals—is indigenous to Liguria and is a relative of the more popular Vermentino variety.  Hardly anyone has heard of it, and it’s yummy.

Malvasia, also known as Malvoisie and Malmsey in France and Britain, originates from ancient Greece and produces wines high in alcohol with some residual sugar. Most Malvasia is meant to be drunk within one to five years, although the Prince Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, of Fiorano fame, managed to create some superb and shockingly well-aging Malvasia wines. There’s also the late ripening, very vigorous Garganega, which grows in the Soave Classico region and is known for its light aromatics of lemon, almond, spice and appears mostly in blends. Paolo Bea’s Santa Chiara is a great place to try a complex blend, including 20 percent of the Garganega grape.

It’s easy to step into the known. It’s easy to drink that oaky Chardonnay, and there are times that call for the known quantity. However, drinking Terroir’s Rieslings, reflecting on the unsung Italian varietals, delighting in the less appreciated, I also see the beauty in the obscure. They’re new, they’re different and they’re just, well, so cool.

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