Grechetto, Procanico, Verdello, and Drupeggio are not, as it may sound, four of the Italian Seven Dwarfs. They're actually the Italian grape varietals that typically make up the white wines of Orvieto, a magical, Umbrian hilltop city. Conventional wisdom says that such regional wines are best drunk close to the point of origin, but improved winemaking techniques have made this and other once-obscure wines world travelers worth seeking out. Because they're not made of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, or even viognier, they are inexpensive - and perfect for summer drinking.
Among the Orvietos, check out the latest vintage of any Antinori bottling and expect crisp flavors of light fruit with a touch of pear. San Gimignano, in Tuscany, also produces a unique white from the vernaccia grape, an ancient varietal with clean, flowery notes. Teruzzi & Puthod is a favorite producer. A little more Old World and resiny on the nose, Falesco's 2003 Est!Est!Est! di Monte Fiascone, from the malvasia and trebbiano grapes that are often part of Orvieto's blends, shows citrus and green apple on the palate, with perhaps a touch of almond-stuffed olives.
Though Spanish reds can go for princely prices, the impossible dreamers among us can still find bargain whites, and the albariño grape provides some especially good examples. Look for the 2003 Mar de Frades Albariño, with its crisp citrus and almond notes, and the very appealing Marques de Cáceres 2004 Rioja Dry White Wine of 100 percent viura, a personal favorite due to its smoky-peachy nose with mineral notes and green apple and lemon-lime qualities on the palate. Blending viura and verdejo, the 2003 Condado Real Vino de la Tierra Castillo y Leon is another winner with its bracing acidity and clean, refreshing palate.
Across the border in Portugal, the albariño grape is known as alvarinho and is the backbone of many of the best Vinhos Verdes. The Fâmega 2004 Vinho Verde Branco is a curious wine with a crisp, herbal nose and a slight spritz overlaying green apple. That effervescence is also found in the Casal Garcia Vinho Verde - and, yet, it's almost oily in its mouth feel. Verdelho, a Portuguese varietal used in the making of Port, may come into its own as a table wine of distinction in Australia. Try the Hope Estate 2002 Hunter Valley Verdelho. The nose is restrained, but creamy lime-sherbet flavors make this a real stunner. Though verdelho isn't listed on the label, it's the primary component of the 2004 Marquis Philips Holly's Blend, another Aussie. Fruit aromas leap out of the glass, followed by flavors of viognier-like peach and apricot.
France's less prestigious wine regions can also produce immensely appealing everyday wines from less-than-noble grapes. The 2003 Domaine de Pouy Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gasgogne is made from the ugni blanc grape that forms the backbone of Armagnacs and Cognacs but rarely makes worthwhile stand-alone wines. This is the land of the Three Musketeers, and the wine has all the swashbuckling snap of the legendary trio, ranging from citrus when cold to peach and apricot when warmer. Equally intriguing is the 2004 Domaine des Lauriers Coteaux du Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet made from the picpoul (or picquepoul gris) grape, often with clairette and terret gris. I didn't know this trio, either, but in the right hands it produces a wine with beautiful green apple and citrus flavors that are perfect for seafood - or just sipping while counting your savings of a sultry, summer afternoon. •
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