ust as Memorial Day rolls around every year telling North Americans it’s time to wear white, break out the barbecue, and go sailing, Italy has its own array of summery signals.
Some are not-so-subtle. A sommelier at a trendy three-star eatery quivered visibly when I recently requested a Beaujolais Nouveau to pair with the chef’s fagiano ripieno al cartoccio — a perfectly acceptable request in Lyons in autumn, but enough to make well-heeled springtime Italians blanch.
Other signs are far more pleasant. Cafes and restaurants sprout umbrellas, cheery outdoor table clothes, and attentive cameriere in crisp white aprons. Enoteche open their doors and their clients spill into the streets, glasses and bruschette in hand. On sunny mornings bancarelle hawkers sell their goods while showing off colorful tank-tops and newly-acquired tan lines. Women shop in flouncy linen skirts that hint at tawny legs. Sandaled feet have red-painted toenails. Gelaterie, even at midnight, overflow with customers and cone flavors switch from cioccolato and crema to limone — and my annual favorite frutti di bosco.
These tell-tale hints remind me that it’s time to adjust my red-centric wine clock to post-Memorial Day white.
As summer begins, Italians move away from heavier comfort foods, and seasonal fare leans draws more from fresh vegetables, lighter grilled meats, and (by the shore) catch-of-the-day seafood. Picnic lunches in the park are all about bold and vibrant flavors that demand pop-in-your-mouth ripeness.
Dining and after-six aperitivi focus on chilled wines, and it is the rare glass on the outdoor café table that isn’t white. Season-focused cognoscenti select bottles that are bold enough to stand up to fresh strong flavors yet light enough to refresh the drinker without adding heaviness to the heat of the day.
In that spirit, here are some vini bianchi sure to raise a happy eyebrow with friends at home or at a seaside eatery.
Lo Sparviero Franciacorta Brut 2001 This marriage of green-apple and pepper is the perfect bubbly for a hot summer afternoon. Nice as an aperitif and elegant with lobster and delicate rice salads.
Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio 2002 The ultimate upscale picnic wine. It’s fresh, dense and snappy. Stick this one in the freezer a few hours before you head out and enjoy its lively fruit and long-balanced finish.
Taburno Falanghina Vigna del Monaco 2002 A fisherman’s stand-by favorite for cozze and spaghetti alle vongole, this wine from Naples doesn’t break the bank and is also excellent with insalata di polipo. With a bouquet rich with melon and green fruits, it just feels right on the palate and has a freshness that feels lascivious.
Aldo Conterno Chardonnay Printanie 2003 A bright crisp wine that has no resemblance to its bigger-oaked California relatives. It’s a chardonnay with an aroma of fresh hay and apple herb spice that has a nice bit of heat at the finish. Serve it with crabmeat and cream sauces.
Vin Santo Avignonesi 1994 This winery produces my favorite Vin Santo, a perfect dessert wine to finish a slow summer meal. A rare treat made from a blend of Malvasia Toscana, Grachetto and Trebbiano Toscano, the wine is patiently matured for a decade in very small barrels, a testament to the wonders of slow food. Incredibly rich and as sweet as a saintly wine gets, I’d drink this one when you are in Montelpulciano enjoying the Tuscan sun.