Of the 13 indigenous white wine grapes permitted in Southern Italy’s DOCs and DOCGs, the most widely planted are Greco (also spelled Grechetto) and Fiano, both of which are the dominant varieties in their respective DOCs, the Fiano di Avellino in Campania/Irpinia and Greco di Tufo in Campania/Irpinia and Puglia. The third best-known indigenous grape of the region is Coda di Volpe, and then only a bit less so is Malvasia, which is responsible for the production of one of the most important white wines of Southern Italy: the Malvasia di Lipari in Sicily.
The white wines of Southern Italy are a bit of an underdog, often overlooked in favor of the region’s more famous (and more often exported) reds. However, this collection of wines is quite diverse, and has much to offer both the new wine-drinker and the experienced oenophile. In this post, we will explore the indigenous white wine grapes of Southern Italy, from the floral and fruity Fiano to the flinty Greco. Hopefully this list will help you find your next favorite white wine!
Some of Italy’s most exquisite white wines are produced in Campania, in the south of the country, and on the two main islands, Sardinia and Sicily. It is dominated by grapes that have been grown locally for thousands of years. Careful vineyard management and modern vinification methods produce unique, spicy white wines with their own character.
Discover the best white wines of southern Italy, made from local grape varieties.
Fiano grapes at Villa Raiano / Photo provided by Villa Raiano
Fiano is primarily associated with Campania, where it is widely grown. This indigenous grape variety produces structured, medium-bodied white wines with beeswax and floral aromas. Their rich orchard aromas are often accented by irresistible smoky minerals, honey, aromatic spices and hazelnut. The best ones have both great energy and intriguing complexity. To preserve its freshness and flavor, Fiano producers usually vinify in steel tanks.
This variety thrives in the hilly area of Irpinia, around the city of Avellino, where Fiano di Avellino DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) produces wines with mineral variants and great aging potential. Although Fiano’s acidity is not as high as Greco’s, it is still noticeable, especially if the vineyards are on the high plains.
Recommended Manufacturer: Feudi di San Gregorio, Mastroberardino, Villa Rayano
GrapesGreco in the cellar of Mastroberadino / Photo: Giuseppe Calabrese
Together with Fiano, Greco is one of the noblest white grape varieties of southern Italy. It is primarily a wine from the Greco di Tufo DOCG, a sulphuric area with upper limestone and volcanic soils and a cool climate with frequent rainfall.
The wines have crisp acidity, flinty minerality and intense flavors, including peach and citrus. They are full of complexity and grace. The extremely long growing season of this grape makes it even more complex, and the best examples have good medium-term ripening potential.
Recommended Manufacturer: Cantine di Marzo, Feudi di San Gregorio, Mastroberardino
Falanghina bottles at Mustilli / Photo courtesy of Mustilli
Falangina produces dry wines with tropical fruit and floral aromas, but also structure and freshness. There are two different biotypes: Falangina Beneventana, which is used in the Falangina del Sannio DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), which also has four sub-zones, and Falangina Napoletana, whose grapes are used in the Campi Flegrei DOC. Each type of wine has its own characteristics, as do the respective wine-growing regions. The vineyards of the appellation Sannio are at higher altitudes and the soil is composed of limestone and clay. The vineyards of Campi Flegrei, near Naples, are closer to sea level and have sandy and volcanic soils. Falanghina del Sannio is more structured and acidic, while Campi Flegrei is lighter and crisper, with saline mineral notes and more floral aromas.
Recommended Manufacturer: La Rivolta, La Sibilla, Mustilli
Vermentino is known as Pigato in Liguria and Favorita in Piedmont and is grown on the mainland coast, but is most commonly associated with the island of Sardinia. Vermentino has been grown for centuries mainly in Gallura, at the northern tip of Sardinia, where it thrives in windy vineyards. It is no coincidence that Vermentino di Gallura is the only DOCG of Sardinia.
Vermentino does not have the sharp acidity of most Italian white wines, and the varieties in Sardinia range from round and fruity to tight and mineral. Vermentino di Gallura is an elegant, structured and full-bodied wine. It has palpable sensations of minerals, almonds and Mediterranean scrub, as well as salty and spicy notes.
Recommended Manufacturer: Capichera*, Pedres, Vigne Surrau.
Catarratto grapes at Gorghi Tondi / Photo: Ivan Gennuso
Cataratto is the most commonly planted grape in Sicily and produces fresh, sweet, medium-bodied wines. They are often divided into two different varieties, Catarratto Bianco Comune and Catarratto Bianco Lucido, but research shows that they are clones of the same variety, Catarratto Bianco. DNA tests have shown that Catarratto is related to Garganega, the famous Soave.
Innovative winemakers prove that it is possible to make fresh, spicy, full-bodied wines from this often-overlooked variety. Maceration on the skins and maturation on the must for several months give aromas of spring flowers and intense flavors of lemon, orange peel and a pleasant finish of bitter almond.
Recommended Manufacturer: Caruso & Minini, Gorgi Tondi, Tasca d’Almerita
Grillo is a cross between the local grapes Catarratto and Moscato d’Alessandria (Zibibbo). The grillo used to be used exclusively for the production of Marsala, the famous Sicilian fortified wine. Thanks to his experiments in making white wine, Grillo is today one of the most famous Sicilian wines. The Grillo, commonly called Sicilia DOC, is produced in a wide variety of styles. The lighter varieties make an excellent aperitif with floral aromas and a tangy citrus taste. The most aromatic versions yield passion fruit, grapefruit and herb sensations reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc, while contact leaching and barrel aging yield complex, mineral wines with apple, peach and citrus aromas.
Recommended Manufacturer: Alessandro di Camporeale, Baglio del Cristo di Campobello, Tasca d’Almerita
Carricante, the queen of Etna’s white wines, can produce bright, mineral wines with notes of citrus blossom, Meyer lemon, white stone fruit and star anise, as well as bright acidity. Some producers add grapes like Katharratto to enhance the body, but more and more winemakers are creating varietal selections. The best excel in sharpness and speed, remarkable finesse and precision. Thanks to the volcanic soil and high altitude vineyards, they have an almost impeccable purity and good medium-term aging potential.
Recommended Manufacturer: The Planet, Tornatore, Torre Mora…
Another historic Sicilian white grape, the Inzolia or Insolia, is also found in the coastal regions of Tuscany, where it is called Ansonica. Known as one of the three main grapes used to make Marsala, in Sicily it is often blended with Catharratto and Grillo. Known for its light acidity, timing and location are key to creating the best examples of Insolia. When made with precision, Inzolia can produce superb wines with aromas of white stone fruit, salt and nuts.
Recommended Manufacturer: Feodo Montoni, Marilena Barbera, Salle de la Tour
Zibibbo vineyard at Azienda Agricola COS / Photo: Stefano Scata
Grecanico and Zibibbo
Grecanico, also known as Grecanico Dorato, is a late ripening grape that produces wines with floral aromas, flavors of apple, pear and lemon. They have a soft texture that is loaded with tart acidity and spicy, salty notes. According to DNA analyses, this variety is identical to Garganega, which grows in northern Italy and is the main grape variety of Soave Veneto.
Zibibbo is also called Moscato d’Alessandria and has been grown in Sicily since Phoenician times. It is mainly grown in the province of Trapani and was traditionally used as a table grape. Traditionally, sweet and aromatic wines are produced here, such as the Passito di Pantelleria, which is characterized by honey, figs, walnuts and dried apricots, balanced by good acidity. Only a few companies now produce dry, crisp, highly aromatic versions, with aromas of citrus, yellow peach and white rose.
Recommended Manufacturer: COS (Grecanico), Donnafugata (Zibibbo)
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