WHY is it more of a struggle to find quality and character in Italy's white wines than its reds? Part of the problem lies in the raw material: the ubiquitous trebbiano, often odourless, colourless and tasteless. But by pandering to price and stretching the quality of the wines, the industry must take most of the blame for the downmarket image of wines such as soave, frascati and verdicchio.

So it is encouraging to see a revival of interest in varieties such as arneis and cortese from Piedmont, verdicchio from the Marches, the tocai friulano of the north-east and greco and vermentino from the south. With both native and classic French varieties, the Italians are at last putting up a fight.

The contribution of 'flying winemakers', such as Geoff Merrill, Kym Milne and Gaetana Carron, is giving them a start. The modern style emphasises body, fruit and flavour, such as in Carron's characterful, hop-

flavoured 1993 Soave Classico 'Corte Olive', Lenotti, pounds 3.49, Asda; the peachy dry 1993 Pinot Grigio Teresa Rizzi, pounds 2.99, Morrisons; and Merrill's ripe, appley 1993 Grechetto dell'Umbria, pounds 3.69, Sainsbury's.

Chardonnay may be heresy for the Italian purist but its wide appeal cannot be doubted. There is no shortage of freshness, fruit or flavour in the Angela Muir/ Gruppo Italiano Vini's 1993 Teresa Rizzi Chardonnay, pounds 2.99, Morrisons; or Milne's peachy, oaked 1993 Chardonnay del Salento, Le Trulle, pounds 3.99, Tesco, Victoria Wine, Oddbins, Safeway, Thresher; and Merrill's stylish 1993 Chardonnay Atesino, Barrique-Aged, pounds 4.95, Sainsbury's.

Showing its class, Milne's 1993 Chardonnay del Salento, Vigneto di Caramia, pounds 5.99, Oddbins, is an overtly new world, toasty, barrel-

fermented style. More self-evidently Italian styles include the cool, citrusy 1993 St Michael Giordano Chardonnay, pounds 3.99, Marks & Spencer, and delicate, crisp 1993 Le Monferrine Chardonnay, pounds 3.75, Safeway.

At the cheaper end, look for drinkable wines such as Tesco's soft, lemony dry Bianco del Lazio, Fontana Candida, pounds 3.29, Tesco, and Asda Sicilian Bianco, pounds 2.69. Good value, too, are the 1993 Pinot Grigio del Veneto, Pasqua, pounds 3.59, Majestic; a refreshingly tangy 1993 Pinot Grigio, Fiordaliso, pounds 3.59, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up; and Tedeschi's fruity 1993 Soave Classico, pounds 3.99 from Majestic.

The 1993 Tesco Verdicchio Classico, Garofoli, pounds 3.69, is nutty and fruity with a faintly bitter twist. Frescobaldi's 1993 Albizzia Bianco di Toscana, pounds 4.49, Oddbins, is a refreshing, lemony Tuscan dry white. For a Piedmontese dry white try the 1992 Arneis, Castello di Neive, pounds 6.99, Thresher Wine Shops; it is delightfully perfumed with a hint of angelica.

From Italy's north-eastern corner of Friuli, its greatest white wine region, the local brew is full of character as is clear from the 1993 Tocai Friulano, pounds 6.89, Winecellars; it is a perfumed, lemony-dry white of some distinction. And if you have not heard soave and finesse uttered in the same breath before, Anselmi's richly concentrated 1993 Soave Classico Superiore, pounds 6.89, Victoria Wine, may surprise you.