It often seems like the white grapes of Italy get short shrift, when compared to the stellar red grape varietals in the country, along with the heated debates that have accompanied them. The white wines are not only amazing, but have deep and storied traditions, some of them dating back to the Greeks.
Trebbiano Toscano. Trebbiano grapes are an interesting place to start, as there have been difficulties if deciding whether or not it is an actual family of grapes, as opposed to a group of white grapes. Trebbiano Toscano and Trebbiano in Umbria seem reasonably distinct, but the grape is grown in central and southern areas of Italy, in warmer areas, and they seem more like a general grouping. The name goes back centuries, even Pliny writes of “vini tribulanum,” and there may be evidence of it being grown in Campania, as well as places in Umbrian and Tuscany. Others suggest the possibility of the Trebbia River, in Emilia-Romagna, as a possible source.
Trebbiano Toscano starts a bit later in spring, helping to avoid frosts, and then needs a fairamount of heat to get it ripe, and it generally is not a wine that you would age. One way to identify it in the vineyards is through its split ends of its clusters.
Malvasia Bianca. Here we have a grape family with ancient origins that can be found in virtually any color, and I was actually more familiarly with Malvasia Negra, before I knew about Malvasia Bianca. It can be used to make reds, whites,

A Vernaccia and Malvasia Bianca blend from Tuscany

sparkling and sweet wines, in part because of its many adaptations over time. It’s thought that the Malvasia family of grapes are of Greek origin, and central to Mediterranean commerce for the better part of 2000 years. The name of the grape is deriviative from the coastal Greek town of Monemvasia, where the Venetians had a strategically important fortress and trading post during the time of their empire.Throughout the Middle Ages, Malvasia wine became so ubiquitous among Venetian merchants that they started naming their wine stores “malvasie.”

I’ve found that Malvasia Bianca tends to be used in a lot of the blends I’ve run across. It tends to be low acid, and not very high alcohol. But it adds great aromatics and body to wines. I had a couple of wines on my trip where Malvasia Bianca was blended with Trebbiano Toscano for just that purpose.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Generally, when we think of Tuscany, we think of black grapes and red wines, but Vernaccia is a white grape that has a long and storied tradition in the region. An autochthonous grape that can only be grown in San Gimignano, it was even mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy in 1276, where he sends Pope Martin IV to purgatory to atone for the sin of gluttony – in large part for the Bolsena eels that were marinated in Vernaccia. Michelangelo Buonarroti talks about how it “kisses, licks, bites, pinches and stings,” and it even gets a mention in Chaucer to help old Januarie strength to survive the night with his young bride!
Vernaccia di San Gimignano has high acidity, and a bit of a bitter aftertaste, and is a white

A Vernaccia di San Gimignano vertical tasting at Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara

wine that reflects terroir from the sandstone in which it is grown. It tends toward gold hues, and has an amazing floral bouquet. The rules for DOCG Vernaccia require that wines must be predominantly of that grape, but up to 15 percent may be used (and grown in the area) of Traminer, Muller Thurgau, Malvasia di Candia, or Moscato Bianco. Riserva wines are made from the best grapes, and must spend at least 11 months aging in cellar (in oak or stainless steel), and then another 3 months in bottle before release.

If you have a chance to travel in Tuscany, be sure to occasionally try the whites… they are pretty amazing!