Seven Spectacular Italian White Wines For The Holidays

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Tonight marks the Feast of the Seven Fishes in some Italian families.  Others will choose to celebrate tomorrow.  But, it occurred to us that there will be a great deal of fish and seafood consumed in the next week as Christmas morphs into New Year’s.  Our own family traditions have come to include heaping amounts of San Francisco’s local dungeness crab. For Christmas, we make the local San Francisco seafood stew – Ciopinno – a medley of seafood and fish in a spicy tomato broth. For New Year’s, we get a smorgasbord of local shellfish – crab, shrimp, oysters and clams (if you are on top of things, order from Swan’s Oyster Depot, which has been slinging seafood in San Francisco for 100 years). What goes better with seafood and fish than white wine.

With seafood on the brain, we started thinking of what wines to pair with all that seafood. Being an Italia-phile and knowing about the impending Feast of Seven Fishes, I thought that it would be fun to do a pairing for am imaginary feast (and all the wines that would pair with the feast would go well with seasonal seafood consumption). I am hoping to actually cook a real Seven Fishes Feast next year and do an actual wine pairing.

Here are my recommendations for this year’s imaginary feast (feel free to imbibe in these great wines with any seafood at anytime):

  • Pinot Grigio (aka Pinot Gris) – there are many different styles of Pinot Grigio made around the world and within Italy. The Pinot Grigio in the Veneto tends to be crisp, light and marked with aromas of citrus and green apple, while Pinot Grigio’s from the Northern regions, like Alto-Adige/Trentino, reflect a richer style with honeysuckle and melon. Pinot Grigio goes great with just about any fish or seafood dish. A personal recommendation is to try it with mussels (think a white wine or beer preparation or a coconut based sauce).
  • Grechetto – this is a wine that more people should get to know. It’s from Umbria, the region bordering the famed Tuscany but not as well known. Part of the reason is that for years, Umbria supplied food and wine to the Vatican (so you can only imagine the quality bar). Grechetto produces concentrated wines with apple, pear, tropical fruit and herbal flavors. Try the Arnaldo Caprai Grecante Grecheto dei Colli Martani, which is produced in the finest growing area in Umbria (and vinified solely in stainless, preserving all of the grapes delicate aromas in the wine) with a dozen or two assorted varities of oysters.
  • Arneis. An amazing wine from Piedmont. Arneis was once used almost exclusively to tame the tannin in Nebbiolo but has become a great wine in it’s own right. Arneis has a fat, lush quality with floral and melon notes. Just thinking of Arneis makes me think of lobster!
  • Fiano – in my opinion, one of the finest white wines in Italy. Fiano is produced in the South in Campania and Sicily. Thanks to the interest in Italian indigenous grape varities, this wine is experiencing a renaissance. This wine is intense with notes of honey, spice and nuttiness. It is also one of those rare white wines that has the ability to age in the bottle. Try a Fiano with shrimp scampi!
  • Soave Superior – this wine is made from at least 70% Garganega (look for 100% Garganega based if you can find it) and other varities grown locally, like Trebbiano. Soave Superior is a medium bodied wide that resembles Chardonnay but with a bitter almond quality not possessed by Chardonnay. Use this wine as a Chardonnay substitute and try Garganega with grilled salmon.
  • Pigato – a hidden gem from Liguria, otherwise known as the Italian Riveria. I may be partially biased to Pigato as Liguria was the primary location of my best ever vacation and was imbibed with frequency. Pigato is grown on vines that hang on cliffs sloping down to the rocky ocean below. It’s clean, crisp with racing acidity and lemon notes. I like it best when it’s slightly effervescent. Try it with meaty whitefish with pesto (pesto is one of the other specialities of Liguria and works wonderfully with Pigato).
  • Frascati – a specialty of Rome where it is grown in the hills of Lazio. It’s been reported that this ancient wine has been made since the Roman Empire. Frascati is an easy drinking wine is generally of blend of Malvasia, which is floral and fragrant, and Trebbiano, which is acidic and neutral in flavor. Frascati is also generally reasonably priced and can sometimes be off-dry. Try with sea bass, a favorite dish in Rome.

* photo courtesy of

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