Playing it safe

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Spare a thought for pinot grigio. The Italian synonym for dry white wine is fashionable enough but like an ageing supermodel, its catwalk strut is faltering as consumers are turning to more interesting (Alsace pinot gris) and cheaper (Hungarian) versions. I have never really understood the appeal of this inoffensive quaffing dry white that rolls even more effortlessly off the tongue and down the throat than chardonnay.

Spare a thought for pinot grigio. The Italian synonym for dry white wine is fashionable enough but like an ageing supermodel, its catwalk strut is faltering as consumers are turning to more interesting (Alsace pinot gris) and cheaper (Hungarian) versions. I have never really understood the appeal of this inoffensive quaffing dry white that rolls even more effortlessly off the tongue and down the throat than chardonnay.

According to one sommelier-turned-wine writer, "pinot grigio is the ladies who lunch wine; the less it tastes, the better is sells". If you think this a bit cynical, it struck a memory chord as I recalled a former supermarket buyer who asked a customer why she always bought the same pinot grigio. "Because it doesn't taste of too much," she shot back.

How depressing to buy a wine because of the lack of flavour. But the success of popular wine brands is often due to safety considerations. This is a shame, because the prevailing image of bog-standard Italian whites obscures some of their more characterful compatriots. They may yet be the exception rather than the rule, but it is worth seeking out some of the new wave of whites made from native Italian grapes.

At the basic level of good value dry white, the 2002 La Prendina Pinot Bianco (£4.99, Booths), for instance, is refreshingly dry with a touch of smokiness and lemon-crisp acidity.

Halfway down Italy's Adriatic coast in the Marche region, verdicchio has suffered from an antiquated image, reinforced by the naff amphora-shaped bottle. Its reputation, however, is growing. For a good value style, try the spicy, pear-flavoured 2000 Tesco Finest Verdicchio (£4.99). And typical of the Etna-like explosion of value increasingly to be found in Sicily, the 2001 Inycon Grecanico (reduced from £4.99 to £3.99, Safeway until 27 July), is a wine that delivers flavour and fruit in abundance.

When you spend over a fiver, you're entitled to expect (but admittedly don't always get) a higher degree of fruit quality and richness. The evidence for improving quality in soave shows in wines like the full-flavoured, nutty 2002 Soave Classico, Prà (£6.99, Booths), the ripe and spicy, floral 2001 Inama Soave Classico (£7.99, Sainsbury's) and the cleansing, appley dry 2002 Suavia Soave Classico (£7.49, Oddbins). Taking verdicchio into a new dimension of quality, the zippy, delicately floral and lime-like 2002 Le Vaglie, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico from Azienda Santa Barbara (£8.29, Booths), is a beautifully crafted, spicy dry white, as is the delicate, refreshingly intense and richly concentrated 2001 Il Coroncino (£10.45, Lay & Wheeler, Suffolk, 0845 330 1855; sales@laywheeler.com).

From the Neapolitan region of Campania in "hidden Italy", Feudi di San Gregorio sets high standards in making some of Italy's most intriguing dry whites from native grapes. Most notable are the 2002 Falanghina (£9.39, Oddbins), a delicate, yet full-bodied dry white made for food with its refreshing acidity and apple and pear flavours, and its stablemate, the 2002 Fiano di Avellino (£9.99, the new vintage arrives at Waitrose shortly), a wine that offers a generous helping of greengage plum fruitiness and pineappley acidity. Wines like these are heartening examples of Italian diversity beyond the narrow confines of me-too chardonnay and shrink-wrapped pinot grigio.

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