"Forgotten" grapes of Italy

Last week, I wrote about the Wine Century Club. Since then, I have had a number of people contact me about how to get started. It is actually pretty easy. Download their list of grapes, and start trying wines that contain those grapes. Okay….maybe it isn’t that easy. You really need some background, preferably through wine classes, or local wine tasting clubs. While we are seeing more and more unusual, or forgotten, grapes in the United States, the Old World still has the lock on the availability.
This week, I am conducting a wine tasting of Italian wines. As the president and Sommelier for the Arrowhead Wine Enthusiasts, I get to choose the wines to serve.  Italy offers a never ending supply of forgotten grapes.

Before it was known as Italy, the country was known as Oenotria (due to its’ abundant vineyards). Many of those grapes were brought to the region by the ancient Greeks, and the mysterious Etruscan people (thought to be the refuges of the fallen city of Troy).  There are literally thousands of grape varieties in Italy, but Italy's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, has only documented a bit over 350 grapes and granted them "authorized" status.  With DOC and DOCG regulations, only a handful of grapes are really known by most wine drinkers. Chianti (Sangiovese), Barolo (Nebbiolo) and Soave (Garganega) are probably the best known.

So, when it comes to Italian wine tastings, the door is open…as long as I can find the wines (not easy). This week, I was lucky. While I still have the “standard” Barolo, I was able to find some less common wines.

Italy isn’t really known for its white wines, other than Pinto Grigio or Soave, but that might be changing. The first wine in my tasting is Cherchi Pigalva Vermentino di Sardegna 2013. This white wine from the island of Sardegna is 100% Vermentino. The color is straw yellow and has aromas of apple and white flower. It is dry and has moderate plus acidity. 

The second wine is La Ginestraia Pigato Riviera Ligure di Ponente 2013. The white wine is from the Liguria region and is 100% Pigato. This is where things get interesting! If you check Jancis Robinson’s reference book, “Wine Grapes”, you’ll find that DNA evidence now shows that Pigato and Vermentino are the same grape. And for those registering their tastings for membership in the Wine Century Club, they are listed as separate grapes. Tasting them side by side, they do taste different. Pigato has more pear, apricot and hazelnut aromas. Is it the terroir or they just different expressions of the same grape?

There is no argument about two of the red wine choices. For the first red, I am serving a Rubino Oltreme Susumaniello Salento IGT Rosso 2012. This wine is produced from 100% Susumaniello, and is grown exclusively in the southern region of Puglia. Susumaniello has most commonly been used as a blending grape for the better known grape of Puglia: Negroamaro. The wine is ruby red, and has aromas of red fruit: cherry,raspberry and red plum. The tannins can sometimes be a bit rough, but this version has soft tannins, and is fairly elegant.

The second red wine is Corte alla Flora Pugnitello Toscana 2011. This Tuscan wine is 100% Pugnitello. Since Tuscany is home to the famous Chianti wines, which are made from the Sangiovese grape, it is no surprise that Pugnitello was long thought to be a clone of Sangiovese or Montepulciano, but recent DNA analysis has shown that the grape is its’ own variety. This grape was almost lost, but in the 1980’s, “rescuers” saved the variety, and in 1993, the first barrels of 100% Pugnitello where produced.  Historical evidence suggests that the grapes name comes from the Italian word for “fist” (pugno), the shape of the grape clusters. The wine is deeply colored, with aromas of rich fruit: black cherry, prune, cranberry and hints of clove and tobacco. 

To finish the tasting, I do have to bring in one of my favorite Italian wines, Barolo. The last wine is an Oddero Barolo 2009. I have written about the Nebbiolo grape in the past, so won’t spend time recapping it here.

With a simple five wine, Italian tasting, we have covered five (if you count Nebbiolo) “forgotten” grapes. When you add these to your Wine Century Club list, you will be well on your way to reaching 100 grape varieties. And, hopefully you will find a new variety that will become a favorite.

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