“We’re now selling almost as much of the society’s verdicchio as we do of the pinot grigio,” said Sarah Knowles, Italy buyer (among other countries) for the Wine Society. Verdicchio? Rivalling pinot grigio sales? Who’d have thought it?
If you’ve reached peak pinot grigio, or whatever else you usually drink on a hot summer’s day, verdicchio is a good alternative bet. Verdicchio is the white grape grown in Marche, Italy – the region to the east of Umbria that borders the Adriatic. It’s also found in Veneto, where it’s known as trebbiano di soave and used, alongside garganega, to make soave. In one of its appellations, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, it makes refreshing white wine with a lemony, almond and pleasingly herbal, astringent flavour – I always think of a green Italian garden.
In another, Verdicchio di Matelica, it usually tastes comparatively succulent and floral; think of the addition of lemon blossom and lemon syllabub to the underlying astringency and tautness. Over the last few years, verdicchio has quietly been making inroads into many supermarket as well as independent merchants’ ranges.
Part of the reason for its success at this level is that the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi appellation is dominated by co-operatives making wines that often offer brilliant value, and beautifully meet the thirsty need for a crisp, citrusy white for less than £10. It must be said, though, that it’s not in a position to seriously rival pinot grigio in the volume stakes, simply because there isn’t nearly so much of it planted.
Only at the Wine Society can they compare wines in the same range and see an almost-parity, in sales terms, between verdicchio and pinot grigio.
“Gavi is closer in terms of sales,” says a Waitrose spokesman, who adds that the co-operative-made Moncaro Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2019, Italy (12.5%, Waitrose, £6.49) has a very “solid” following. As it should: it has a green flavour with bitter almond finish – crisp and excellent with food.
In the same vein is Pontemagno Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2019, Italy (12.5%; Haynes Hanson & Clark, £8.75/£7.75 single bottle/case price; Tanners, £7.95). For a fleshier verdicchio, try Borgo Paglianetto Petrara Organic Verdicchio di Matelica 2019, Italy (Waitrose, 65 stores and waitrosecellar.com, £12.99), which tastes of greengages, green apple and melon.
The hunt for an inexpensive but refreshing white should not ignore Spain. Verdejo from Rueda in Castilla y Leon is, apparently, Spain’s bestselling white wine. For a long time, Rueda mostly produced fortified wines, similar to sherry and also made from the palomino grape. Then in the 1970s, Bodegas Marques de Riscal began to use Rueda grapes to make a crisp white wine – a move that completely changed the region and its output.
I usually prefer not to borrow tasting notes, but the Taste Rueda marketing campaign is very evocative when it describes the grape as tasting of “scrubland, herbs, hay and fennel… with refreshing acidity”. Bang on. That smell of grass dried brown and tindery meadows that you get at the peak of a late-summer heatwave (and I know because I cycled through some this morning before tasting the wines) – that’s there in the nose of the wine, followed through with a refreshing squeeze of green and yellow citrus.
As with the verdicchio, you tend to find more juice as you pay more money. So, for instance, Beronia Rueda Verdejo 2019, Spain (13%, Waitrose, Ocado, £8.99) is all about the sweet smell of dried grass and fennel tops.
The vivid, clean strokes of dry Australian riesling are also very welcome on a warm evening. Riesling is a high-acid grape, which gives its wines a tingling spine and a nervous energy.
In combination with dryness, you get a white with serious cut-through. The Great Southern region in Western Australia makes magnificent riesling and still flies somewhat under the radar.
A beautiful example is Robert Oatley Signature Series Riesling 2019, Great Southern, Western Australia (Cambridge Wine, £13.99; Fareham Wine Cellar, £12.95; The Solent Cellar, £14.99). It’s a glittering wine, a kaleidoscope of lemon, lime and mandarin flavours, with a steely line of acidity running through it. Sipping it made me think of a David Hockney swimming pool picture. A little too longingly, if I’m honest; there have been no blue swimming pools in my summer this year.
Finally, there’s a style of white that I love to drink towards the end of summer that has nothing to do with the crisp, refreshing whites I’ve been talking about here. On the contrary, it’s pretty much their antithesis. Yet as the mornings and evenings get a nip to them, as summer becomes backendish, I enjoy the relaxed opulence and perfume of a Rhône white.
These wines, made with a blend of grapes, often with a hint of honeysuckle, almond paste and white peach, feel to hold a moment of golden sunlight and allow you to luxuriate in it. Domaine de Piaugier Sablet 2018, France (redbottle.co.uk, £14.99; Nethergate Wines in Suffolk will have the 2018 soon at £15.23) is one such beauty.
It’s made from white grenache, viognier, roussanne and marsanne grapes and has some oak. The smell is really a perfume – a touch of honeysuckle, waxy white flowers, vanilla and poached apricot. I drank it with truffled brie, and the mingling of the perfumes and the silky, feather-duvet meeting of textures was heaven.
Wines of the week
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo il Poggio dei Vigneti
Italy (12%, Co-op, £5.35)
If you’re after a red to pour in a beaker and wash down pizza, then this should do the trick: there’s a sniff of cherries and of tar, and a pleasingly refreshing nip on the finish that works so well with food.
La Vieille Ferme White 2018
France (12.5%, Tesco, £6.50 down from £7.50 until Aug 31)
Always such a great buy, and this year is no exception. This white is a blend of bourboulenc, grenache blanc, vermentino and ugni blanc, and combines freshness with a slightly peachy florality.
Domaine Coudert Clos de la Roilette Fleurie 2018 Beaujolais
France (13%, The Wine Society, £12.95)
Beaujolais, and particularly the wines from the villages that have cru status, still offers some of the very best-value wine in France. Domaine Coudert is interesting because it’s in Fleurie but on the border with Moulin-à-Vent, and while you do find some of the classic Fleurie floral notes, the wine has the sinew of a Moulin.