White wine surprises during tasting

White wines. Who needs ’em!? Real wine is red, right?

Perhaps a bit of an overstatement, but most people “into” wine fascinate over the more pigmented members of wine world. Take a look in any collector’s cellar and you’ll see row upon row of reds with nary a white.

And while I often say that my one-wine-for-the-island might be a Montrachet (the Burgundian epitome of chardonnay), I’m a red guy, too. There’s just more “there” with aromas of berries and bitter-chocolate-tinged tannins that give a red wine its backbone. White wines come up short in those departments. So, sorry, white wines, I guess I’m just not that into you.

That is true until you meet an exciting white with the perfume of an angel and the exotic flavors of star fruit, minerals, anise, almonds and hint of earthiness that reminds the drinker that wine comes from a farm, not from an oak barrel. I met such a wine just about a week ago.

I organized a tasting of wines from Tuscany, homeland to Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and, of course, those powerful Super Tuscans. Reds all, but white wines are made there, too, such as verdicchio, vermentino, malvasia and the omnipresent trebbiano. It’s not impossible to make scintillating wines from these white grapes, but I can’t recall the last time I saw a wine made from these varieties on the cover of a wine magazine. Oh, that’s right, never.

I may just have found a wine that’s ready for its close-up. During the five-wine tasting that featured a wonderful Brunello and a beefy Super Tuscan from a well-regarded maker, I was introduced to a vermentino made by La Spinetta.

The wine’s proper name is Casanova della Spinetta Toscana Vermentino from the 2013 vintage. Spinetta should sound familiar to lovers of wines from Italy’s Piedmont region. The Rivetti family has been making wine in the foothills of northern Italy for nearly 40 years and has received acclaim for their barberas and muscular Barolos and Barbarescos.

In 2001, the Rivettis expanded into Tuscany, purchasing 160 acres about 25 miles southeast of Pisa in the village of Terricciola. Six years later a winery, Casanova, was built and three years after that, in 2010, its first Vermentino hit the shelves.

Like most of the 40-plus folks at the tasting, I was most interested in the three big reds, which I put at the end of the lineup. Somewhat curious, but mostly just obliged, I tasted through the two whites. The verdicchio was simple and crisp, but did not inspire any romantic poetry.

The La Spinetta Vermentino was quite another story. It was a “Wow!” wine. It pulled the rug from under the other three, highly anticipated reds.

I loved this vermentino at the tasting and was motivated enough to take a leftover bottle home, where I had the chance to linger over it and taste it with food. I found it at once sublime and potent. It had a nervous energy about it with bright, tart flavors that reminded me of star fruit and fresh ginger. It had a depth and complexity that changed as it grew warmer. All that and no tannins. And no blackberries, no vanilla, no oak, no coffee, leather or tobacco notes.

What does this wine think it is? A red wine? Well, obviously not. However, I found it to be cover-shot ready and well deserving of my first Golden Thumb Award in nearly two years.

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Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at gil.kulers@winekulers.com.

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