On vacation in Italy last August, we were in Liguria, on the coast south of Genoa, an area so devoted to fish that the only meat I saw was prosciutto—and white-wine country. Obviously, this was the place to discover what sort of white wine Italians like to drink. The local wine is mostly made from the Vermentino grape, which was almost the new Pinot Grigio a couple of years ago, but couldn’t quite get there. Still, it’s tasty enough, especially when you’re on vacation, eating grilled fish and gnocchi in the sunshine, in the place where pesto sauce was invented. Every wine list we looked at led off with plenty of Vermentino, and some Pigato, the other local grape. None bothered with Gavi, the over-priced white wine of neighboring Piedmont, nor Soave. Here and here, we caught glimpses of Verdicchio.
What most restaurants and the one upscale wine shop had from outsiders was Fiano from Campania, and a whole lot of different wines from Friuli, source of most of Italy’s best whites. And, of course, invariably, Pinot Grigio (though not always from Friuli, where Italy’s only distinctive versions come from).
And everywhere we went, to the exasperation of my wife, I interviewed the waiters: What do people here mostly drink? The local wines, I was told. Do they drink Pinot Grigio? The reply, invariably, "Oh yes, signore." Italians? "Oh no, signore—the Americans, the English, the Germans, the Swiss--it’s very popular with them."