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Exploring Italy’s Indigenous Grapes

Vinitaly celebrated its 56th annual wine fair in Verona this month with an estimated 30,000 attendees and 4,000 exhibitors.

While it was an amazing opportunity to explore some of Italy’s top producers from world renowned wine regions showcasing the best of Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and other iconic Italian grapes, Wine Fogg dedicated time to exploring the lesser known wine grapes and the heroes dedicated to reviving and recovering these.

The story was often a familiar one: local grapes that were often used in blends for colour, alcohol or tannins, gradually fell out of favour with international Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot proving easier to grow. Thankfully some producers have started looking closer to home for grapes with an identity that is rooted to their region.

Of the 70+ lesser known grapes tasted at the event, below is a snapshot of some of the wines, wineries and people dedicated to their local heritage through reviving historical grapes.

Albino Armani (NE Italy) – Casseta

Federico Armani
Albino’s son Federico Armani

Recovering Casetta was the first project of Albino Armani in the 1980s, spending 15 years identifying 200 clones of the grape of which 6 are used today.

The grape was used in blends by surrounding wine regions to add colour and tannins, but fell out of favour and white grapes were planted in its place leading to its near extinction.

The winery continues to recover ancient grape varieties from the glacial valley with unique grapes and expects to find one success story every 10-15 years.

Foja Tonda” Casseta was showcased at Vinitaly : it had luscious berry aromas with baked cherry flavours and light toast. Lovely balance and texture with rounded tannins.
IG: @albinoarmani_1607

Venissa (Veneto) – Dorona

Venissa LabelsA rare grape, even rarer as a single varietal wine, grown in the walled garden of the Venissa estate on Mazzorbo island on the Venetian Lagoon.
The owner Gianluca Bisol is reported to have saved the grape from extinction after finding the last 3 vines on the neighbouring Sant’Erasmo island
They now have around 3Ha of Dorona, producing 8-10,000 bottles / year under the name “Venusa Bianco“.

There is a premium bottle produced in only specific vintages “Venissa Bianco“. 10 local artisans are involved in the process including bottle making, labelling and production of the wooden box.
IG: @venissa_tenuta

Le Cimate, Lazio : Trebbiano Spoletino

Le Cimate range
Le Cimate range

From Spoleto DOC in Montecalco, Lazio (central Italy between Florence & Rome)
Although not so rare, Trebbiano Spoletino is not widely encountered outside of Italy, and producers are increasing their attention on this grape.
Le Cimate was first producer to make a passito style and the only producer to have both a passito and a sparkling in their range.
IG: @cantinalecimate

Piandaccoli (Tuscany) – rare local varieties

Piandaccoli Labels
Piandaccoli’s rare grapes

Piandaccoli have 20 Ha of vines dedicated to reviving the autochthonous Tuscan varieties, some of which were revived by the University of Florence from seeds found in the Medici family tombs!
Barsaglina – a rare grape that is usually blended, so unusual to find as a mono-varietal wine.
Foglia Tonda – twice forgotten, twice revived – a grape whose deep pigmentation helped to deepen the colour of Sangiovese.
Pugnitello – an ancient, rare grape with small bunches that look like a fist. Low yields with intense colours, plump tannins and and good acid.
Mammolo (aka Sciaccarello/u in Corsica) – the only producer in Tuscany to make a sparkling Mammolo
IG: @piandaccoli

Bentu (NW Sardinia) – Arvesiniadu

Alberto Ragaglia & Antonio Nurra
Alberto Ragaglia & Antonio Nurra

Bentu is a small 2Ha family organic vineyard in NW Sardinia that focuses on 5 native grape varieties : Vermentino, Cannonau, Bovale, Cagnulari and the rare Arvesiniadu grape, so unique that it is considered “genetically isolated”

The wines are named after the different winds across the island.
Traessàle : SW wind
Maisthràri : NW (Mistral) wind
Livànti : E wind

It was a privilege to taste their Arvesiniadu “Livànti” with juicy apple flavours with citrus, almond notes and light minerality.
IG: @bentu.winery

Podere Sabbioni (Marche), Maceratino

Sabbioni Maceratino

Maceratino comes from the town of the same name where 14 growers manage 150Ha.
It shares the same lineage & DNA as Verdicchio, but is thought to be even older.
Podere Sabbioni was one of the few producers to showcase this grape and had 2 on display – a fresh version fermented in stainless steel to highlight the “citrus, white flowers and minerals” and one fermented & aged in concrete that was deeper with more herbal and honey notes.
IG: @poderesabbioni

Tenuta Fontana (Campania) – Sciascinoso

Fontana Sciascinoso

Sciascinoso is a grape of uncertain origin and some confusion as to whether it could actually be the same grape as Olivella.
Previously used in blends with Aglioanico & Piedirosso, it lost out to Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot.
Tenuta Fontana showcased their single varietal Sciascinoso “Civico 1” aged in a mixture of stainless steel, amphora and oak: an elegant wine that displayed red fruit, flowers and spices.
IG: @tenutafontana

Santa Tresa (SE Sicily) – Orisi

Santa Tresa - Orisi
Santa Tresa – Orisi

A forgotten ancient grape variety, rediscovered and brought to life at Santa Tresa as part of their project to find and revive ancient grapes.
Santa Tresa is the only producer of Orisi, a crossing of Sangiovese x Montonico, with 1Ha of vines growing 12km from the sea in Vittoria, SE Sicily.
It is proving to be quite heat resistant which could lead to a promising future in light of climate change.

Dark fruit character with soft tannins, fresh acidity and lovely saline finish.
IG: @santatresa

Cambria (NW Sicily) : Nocera

Mastronicolo Nocera

Apparently the favourite grape of Julius Caesar, only 20Ha of Nocera exist across 2 DOCs in the Messina region on Sicily’s NE corner.
Cambria Vini showcased an aged 2016 bottle of their Mastronicola, a barrel aged Nocera that displayed juicy bramble fruit on a soft and silky palate with lingering smoky minerality.
IG: @cambriavini


Cherchi (NW Sardinia) – Cagnulari

A rare local grape from NW of Sardinia historically used in blends and hard to grow.
Giovanni Cherchi grafted a single vineyard of Cagnulari to make a mono-varietal “Billia” (young vines) and “Cagnulari” (older vines) in the hope of inspiring other producers to follow.They also use this in a blend with Cannonau in their “Luzzana” and “Soberanu“.
IG: @vinicolacherchi

Valle d’Aosta DOC

A number of producers from Valle d’Aosta attended the event showcasing the variety of wines from the region.
While most producers had a Petite Arvine (a grape that has recently come into its own on the other side of the Alps in Switzerland, but is still finding its “style” in Aosta), there were a number of lesser known grapes outside the region such as Torrette, Fumin, Vuillermin, Mayolet and Petit Rouge.

Château Feuillet: IG:@chateau.feuillet
Ottin: IG:@ottin_vini
Feudo di San Maurizio:
Grosjean: IG:@grosjean.vins

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Tags: Albino Armani, Arvesiniadu, Barsaglina, Bentu, Cagnulari, Cambria, casseta, Château Feuillet, Cherchi, Dorona, Feudo di San Maruizio, Foglia Tonda, Grosjean, Maceratino, Mammolo, Nocera, Orisi, Ottin, Piandaccoli, Podere Sabbione, Pugnitello, Sciascinoso, Tenuta Fontana, Venissa, vinitaly

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