A comparative tasting of Italian white wines seemed a good idea. Perfect wines for summer, one would think. Prices appear reasonable and - more important in an inflationary market - stable. But the tasting was a chore because there is just not much there to compare.
Pale colors. Bright but not brilliant hews. Bouquets that would elude the searching nose of a bloodhound. It's not that these wines don't travel well; there was nothing wrong physically with most of them. But such shy and timid personalities should hesitate to go abroad without the scenery and music of Italy as companions.
Why then do these wines sell so well? It's partly due to the enormous demand for dry white table wines in this country and partly due to promotion. People know about them because several of the wines, those from the Soave area for example, are in national distribution and heavily advertised. Also, the very thing that frustrates the dedicated wine drinker - lack of character and nuance - becomes a plus for the hostess of restaurateur. They may be boring as a taste experience, but these Italian whites are adequate to wash down food and as long most of them are sufficiently chilled, they will offend no one.
A total of 16 wines were chosen from a single retail store. A&A on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and the prices given are those at that store. All but three, Corvo, Riesling and Vernaccia, are in general distribution. As befits Italy's most famous white, five of the wines were Soaves. There were three Verdicchio, two Frascati, a sample of the legendary "Est, Est Est" and two generics, the Roman White from Villa Banfi and Ruffino's Del Magnifico.
Soave is a town to the east of Verona in foothills that rise toward the Alps. Verdicchio is a grape, grown to best advantage in the Castelli de Jesi area near the Adriatic coast. Frascati, "Est, Est Est" and - one presumes - Roman White are from grapes grown near Rome. Del Magnifico is identified as a "mellow" wine on the label, but has a drier taste than that word implies. It is said to be Tuscan. Corvo is made in Sicily, the Riesling is from grapes grown near Vience and the Vernaccia (a very popular wine in several of this city's leading Italian restaurants) comes from grapes of the same name grown in the Marches region, the home of Verdicchio as well.
Despite the adverse comments of the tasting panel, there is no doubt that the general quality of Italian white wines imported into this country has improved. A modernization of production facilities and a more scientific approach to vinification have helped insure cleaner, fresher and more consistent wines. While the stale, over-aged quality of wine aged too long in wood was evident in a few of the bottles tasted, it is not nearly as prevalent as once it was.
Nonetheless, there are white wines with more depth and character available. In local wine shops at similar prices there are a number of candidates for comparative tastings from California, some from South America and even a few from France and Germany.
In weighing value, it is necessary to consider the size of the bottle as well as price and taste. The bottles purchased for The Post's tasting held from 23.5 ounces (for the Corvo at $3.99) to 67 ounces (for the Soave of Folonari at $3.99). That means the Corvo costs nearly 13 cents an ounce, compared to a per-ounce price of just under 6 cents for the Soave. Bottle sizes between the two were 24 ounces (the standard fifth), 25.4 ounces (the new, 750 mililiter size) and 50.7 ounces (the 1.5 liter size).
The tasting was done "blind," which means the 11 persons who participated were unaware of the identities of the wines until after all scores had been recorded. Wines in distinctive bottles were decanted. Under the scoring system used, 20 would have been awarded a "perfect" wine. The comments printed beside each listing are distilled from individual reactions. Therefore any seeming contradictions indicate differences of opinion within the group.