There are so many myths and misconceptions about white wine among the general public. For example, people think white wine must always be chilled until super cold. Or, people think you can never pair red meat with white wine. Most erroneous of all, people say white wines can’t age.
As for the question of temperature, the truth is that many complex, rich white wines are best at cellar temperature (only slightly colder than room temperature), similar to red wines. And as for food pairing, some of the most amazing combinations in my memory involved a good amount of animcal fat and a crisp white wine. Think about Prosciutto and Tocai Friulano, or something equally foreign to the general American public… steak and Franciacorta… (try it and you’ll never pair red wine with steak again!)
More to the point. White wines CAN age.
It’s not easy to find great old Italian white wines in the US. In this country we do not have a culture for old white wines (perhaps in our deepest collections of white Burgundy or Austrian Riesling, but even those old white wines can be obscure and esoteric to the general public). For this reason, one of my favorite things about eating out in great Italian restaurants are the wine cellars. Exceptional establishments like Enoteca Ferrara in the heart of Trastevere, Roma, have well-stocked cellars with deep verticals of Italian wines going back may decades. These cellars have been carefully curated by expert sommeliers for many years. Sommeliers who know which white wines can and DO age well. Old white wine is all over this wine program.
Old White Wine at Enoteca Ferrara
We went to Enoteca Ferrara already excited about their extensive cellar. What I was not prepared for was the organized and absolutely gorgeous wine lists. Enoteca Ferrara requests wine labels from each producer so that every page in their wine lists contains the label of the wine as well as extensive information about the wine and winery. I wish I could have purchased one to take home- they were works of art in themselves. The restaurant had separate books for white, red, “Italy”, and “outside of Italy”. I could have spent hours perusing each list.
We quickly settled on two bottles of old white wine (thank goodness for my winegeek friends, Brittany Carlisi and Jenny Blake!). Borgo del Tiglio’s “Studio di Bianco” from 1996 and Walter Massa’s 2005 “Costa del Vento” Timorasso. Esoteric enough, natural enough, and old enough to be more than interesting. What an absolute treat to enjoy these wines with a bit of age, in the proper glassware, at just the right temperature (not too cold!) and in such a beautiful place.
Walter Massa’s wines have had a special place in my heart for many years. Massa’s Timorassowill teach you quickly about why a white wine can age. Structured and tannic enough and with loads of acidity, especially when young, make his wines perfect candidates for ageing well. The 2005 was still plush and ripe with bruised yellow apple, punctuated liberally by all that gorgeous minerality- a trademark of the Timorasso grape, as well as a result of the terroir from this part of Piemonte.
Borgo del Tiglio’s Studio di Bianco 1996 was an absolute masterpiece. Aromatically this wine slayed me. I could have spent all night simply smelling the glass. Nuanced and bright, like a forest after rain. All those clean, floral, piney notes. Petrichor. Sage. Honeysuckle. Another trademark for age-able white wines- the aromatics only improve with time. Again, the wine had acidity to spare and was linear and was clearly structured to begin with. These are the reasons white wines can age. In fact, white wines like these should be aged!
Dining out in Italy is an education for many reasons, but especially for wine. At restaurants like Enoteca Ferrara, who pride themselves on their cellars, there is no better University for Italian wine. How else are you going to taste older vintages of Italy’s best white wines, especially at attainable prices? Next time you plan a trip to Italy, I beg you to find a place like Enoteca Ferrara, wherever you go.