Italian Indigenous Varieties: Falanghina from Campania

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This week’s grape variety is Falanghina. I’m going back to the beginning of the “F” series because I skipped over this variety as I was looking for something particular related to it. Falanghina as we know hails from Campania and was first mentioned in 1825. In the past this vine was attached to spikes which were also called Falanghe and apparently that’s how the grape got its name.

It is used in many denominazione d’origine controllata (D.O.C.) wines in the region including, among others, the Campi Flegre D.O.C., Guardiolo D.O.C., Penisola Sorrentina D.O.C., Sant’Agata di Goti D.O.C. (in the news after De Blasio’s visit), Solopaca D.O.C., Taburno D.O.C. and Falerno di Massico.

Falanghina is a lively white grape variety that has great body, beautiful color and a floral and fruity bouquet on the nose and palate. I’ve always found it to have some sapidity as well which I enjoy. There are numerous delicious examples of Falanghina available in the USA including that of Feudi Di San Gregorio, Cantina del Taburno, Mustilli, and Villa Matilde, among others.

Falanghina was said to be part of the blend of Falernian, a wine renowned in ancient Rome. Whatever the definitive history is of the grape, one thing is certain, it makes wonderful wines and many producers are working every year to improve on their grapes.

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Austrian/German Varietals Grown in Lodi, CA – Mokelumne Glen Vineyards

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I am endlessly interested in indigenous grape varieties and also why vineyards in certain areas decide to plant grape vines that are not indigenous to their area. California is rife with these stories whether it be Tempranillo or Nebbiolo, it seems that someone somewhere is planting it in California. Years ago at the Society of Wine Educators conference I came upon a vineyard in Lodi called Mokelumne Glen that decided to try their hand at Austrian/German varietals.

I remember tasting the wines because of the varietals and last week as I was writing about Franconia (Blaufrankisch) in Italy, they came to mind. I promptly found the small brochure I have kept for years from the winery.

The family run winery grows Lemberger, Dornfelder and Kerner, among other varieties.

Co-owner Bob Koth, a Lodi native with German heritage, grew up around a vineyard. He began commercial winemaking in 1998 after years of amateur home winemaking. His daughter who now teaches German, studied in Germany and after he visited her there he decided to grow German grape varieties.

The vineyard is located on sandy soil along the Mokelumne River. According to their website, their “viticultural practices include cane pruning (seldom used in the Lodi area) and expanded vertical trellis. They also use a dual irrigation system utilizing the most favorable benefits of both drip and sprinkler…. to establish a “natural balance” in their fields including biological controls, a minimum of pesticide use and ground covers.”

Apparently they also make a proprietary blend late harvest wine called Dreirebe but I don’t have any recollection of tasting it. I do remember the Lemberger and enjoying it much to my surprise. That particular grape has caught my fancy from a variety of locales including New York State.

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Growing Grapes on Linosa – A Project by the Istituto Regionale Vini e Oli

I’m lucky enough to attend various seminars throughout the year, some on a specific appellation or grape variety or a particular wine region, others on topics more about some aspect of the wine trade. Still others on experimentation.

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Last year at VinoVip Cortina I was able to participate in one on a host of interesting topics including the use of sulfites in wine and a new form of yeast as well as experiments that were done growing grapes on the island of Linosa, in the same archipelago as the more famous island of Lampedusa. Apparently the name for the grouping of three islands is the Pelagie Islands which also includes Lampione. Lampedusa is famous these days as the arrival point for most of the refugees who are fleeing African shores and trying to reach Europe through Italy. There’s much to say and write about this tragic topic but this is not the forum for that.

To me the area was also famous for its turtles, in fact I have a keepsake of one from Lampedusa that a friend gave me years ago, but Linosa was not somewhere that I thought about as a location for wines. The islands are also not so far from Gozo, an island that is part of Malta. Linosa had a glorious past under the Romans but in modern times has been very underdeveloped. There are only 400 people living on the island. In fact we were told there was no way initially to anchor the boat to get onto the island.

Turtle from Lampedusa

Of volcanic origin, it makes sense that grapes could grown on the island despite the extreme heat, thanks to the ever present breezes.
In this seminar, the Istituto Regionale Vini e Oli in Sicilia spoke about a project that began on the island in 2007 using small cultivations of Zibibbo (Moscato d’Alessandria) that were found on the island. The Istituto wants to aid Linosa both with giving it a way to prevent erosion and a means of making a living. While Pantelleria is considered to be an extreme place for grape growing, a number of wineries have been very successful there, while Linosa is considered even more extreme. It has both less rain, more humidity and strong and more consistent winds, we were told in the seminar.

I found the idea very interesting and it made me want to see what this extreme viticulture looks like. The vines are necessarily bush trained with that kind of wind which is true on most islands that grow grapes.

We tried a 2011 Passito made from Zibibbo. According to my notes, the wine was quite sweet with considerable residual sugar, 196 grams. It was made with the addition of dried grapes. Certainly not yet mainstream, I’d be interested to see which wineries look to work this land.

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Women in Wine: Donnafugata – Lighea, A Burst of Summer

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Donnafugata, a winery near Marsala, is extremely well known on the international market. Usually, I try to shy away from these types of wineries and prefer to try something from a smaller producer however I am an unbashed fan of most of Donnafugata’s wines. Whether it is their Tancredi made from Nero d’Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon or Angheli made from a blend of Merlot and Nero d’Avola or the two wines made from 100% Nero d’Avola, Sedara, and Mille e Una Notte, I am always transported back to trips I have taken to Sicily and memorable experiences related to that region. These are heady wines and while it sounds extremely trite, they evoke that passion that one associates with Sicilians. Donnafugata also makes delicious white wines such as Lighea from Zibibbo, Anthilia from Ansonica and Catarratto and Vigna di Gabri from Ansonica. One of my favorite wine from Donnafugata is the exquisite Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye’. I have never had the pleasure of visiting Pantelleria but it is absolutely on my long bucket list.

The flag in the picture is the Trinacria. It was first created in 1282. The winged head represents Medusa and three wheat ears, according to an entry in Wikipedia. The bent legs instead are for good luck and prosperity. Trinacria was also the ancient name for Sicily.

I first tried Donnafugata wines years ago at MIWINE, a trade show in Milan where I worked as a Sommelier, thanks to an Italian Sommelier and I have been hooked ever since. I have had the pleasure of meeting the members of the family many times, most recently at VinoVip 2013 in Cortina.

Donnafugata is headed by José Rallo. The winery was started in 1983 by Giacomo Rallo and his wife Gabriella. Josè is the next generation and leads this innovative winery together with her brother Antonio. The historic winery lands are located near the towns of Marsala and Contessa Entellina on the western coast of Sicily. Marsala is best known for the dessert wines of the same name.

The name Donnafugata comes from the legendary novel, “Il Gattopardo” or “The Leopard” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. It was published by Feltrinelli after his death after having been passed over by the publisher Einaudi, a tremendous mistake. That novel is extraordinary in its depiction of Sicilian life and a must read for anyone hoping to understand Sicily. Often, it seems to still be an appropriate description of the immutable nature of Italy. It describes a world where no matter what happens, nothing really ever changes. One of the most famous quotes from the novel is “Se tutto deve rimanere com’è, è necessario che tutto cambi.” If everything is to remain as it is, then it is necessary that everything changes. That is a quality that I find true today in Italian life but not one that always displeases me. In some ways, it is very frustrating while it can also be strangely reassuring. I worked for three years with a group of Sicilians. It was very enlightening and a totally different experience. In the novel, the name Donnafugata is associated with country properties which the novel’s protagonist, the Prince of Salina, owns. The Rallo family’s Santa Magherita palace where Lampedusa spent his summers was the backdrop for many of the most important scenes in the novel.

Today I want to mention one of their wines that I tremendously enjoyed last year at Vino Vip at a dinner at Il Campanile. The food was mountain oriented as we were in Cortina but this wine was pure Sicily.

Made from Zibibbo (Moscato d’Alessandria), the wine was floral and fruity with good acidity and minerality as well as a hint of residual sugar, according to my notes. I was drinking the 2012 last year but now they are promoting the 2013 vintage.

According to their website, “on Pantelleria 2013 was a vintage with slightly more rainfall than in previous years, with temperatures in line with the average of recent years. The harvesting of the grapes for the production of Lighea, which come from vineyards in the cooler districts, began on August 25. The wide temperature range between day and night enhanced the aromatic richness of the Zibibbo.”

Donnafugata is a real go-to winery for me. I have found they never disappoint.

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Wine of the Week: Valferana, Gattinara D.O.C.G. 2005

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This week’s wine of the week is from Piedmont, from the winery Nervi. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Enrico Fileppo, the oenologist from the winery who has worked there since 1984, last year at a dinner during VinoVip 2013 in Cortina. I had never had the pleasure of tasting this exquisite wine previously and it was such a treat that I highly recommend it to everyone.

Nervi, founded by Luigi Nervi in 1906, is one of the older wineries in the area if not the oldest. They have 24 hectares (59.3 acres) of Nebbiolo vines, spread among different vineyard sites. The Valferana vineyard dates all the way back to 1242 according to local documents. The vineyards are protected from Northernly winds by the nearby mountains which also ensure cool breezes for the vines. The soil is a combination of volcanic and clay soils. They have a high pH and the combination favors the absorption of minerals (manganese, iron and zinc).

In order to qualify for the designation Gattinara D.O.C.G., the minimum aging requirement is three years of which two in wood. The Gattinara D.O.C.G. Riserva and single vineyard minimum aging requirement is four years of which three in wood. Gattinara is certainly less well known than some of its counterparts in Piedmont but it is definitely a wine to put on your list. The wine must be made from 90%-100% Nebbiolo which they call Spanna locally. A very elegant wine in my opinion, it was recognized as a D.O.C.G. in 1990.

In order to make the Valferana Gattinara D.O.C.G. wine, Nervi used about 10% whole grapes and fermentation lasted at least 22 days in concrete vats. The oak fermentation vats, which are from the 1960s, have no temperature control beyond their thick oak staves. They use ambient yeasts and the wine spends at least 40 months in oak barrels. Nervi uses only large oak casks for aging, ranging in capacity from 750 to 8,000 liters. Nervi´s casks are all made in Slavonian oak with the exception of six 3,200 litre casks made in oak from the Black Forest in South Western Germany.

The wine was gorgeous and balanced according to my notes with freshness and minerality as well as the wonderful violet and floral notes typical of Nebbiolo. It also had hints of blueberries, eucalyptus and earth. I loved this wine and couldn’t get enough of it that night but there were many of us at the table and of course I had to share…

I found the wine on wine-searcher.com for $45.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Franconia Nera & Fubiano Bianco

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I have a goal for this month’s indigenous varieties series: I need to reach the end of the “F” varieties by the end of August. This is to explain why I am jumping around a bit this month instead of going strictly in order.

Back to our weekly grape varieties, Franconia Nera is a grape that grows in Friuli Venezia Giulia, specifically used in a variety of denominazione d’origine controllata (D.O.C.) wines such as those of Friuli Isonzo and Friuli Latisana.

While it is not 100% documented, the general idea is that this grape came to Italy from Austria. The grape is widely planted in Austria and Germany as well as Eastern European countries where it is known as Blaufrankisch and/or Lemberger. It was first mentioned in Friuli in 1879 and also grows in the Trentino, the Veneto and Lombardia. The grape is a hearty red grape that is quite resistant to diseases of the vine. It is a grape that produces fruity wines with good color and full body as well as alcohol and acidity. It used to be used in Italy as a blending grape but today is mostly vinified as a mono-varietal wine. I have not had the pleasure of trying one from Italy but have had many from Austria and even from Long Island. I like wines made from this robust variety although at times they do suffer from a lack of elegance.

This week’s white variety is Fubiano Bianco, a cross made by Giovanni Dalmasso in 1936 from Furmint and Trebbiano Toscano. Dalmasso created many new varieties throughout his long career. This one was created as a possible alternative to Furmint because it doesn’t suffer from millerandage where uneven sized grapes grow in the bunch. I couldn’t find any producers of this grape today but I am still on the look out. In 2004, less than 10 hectares (24.7 acres) of this variety were grown throughout Italy.

Only five more varieties that start with the letter “F” to go. Thus far I have written about 110 grape varieties in this series over the course of a number of years.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Fortana Nera (Emilia) & Francavidda Bianca (Puglia)

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One of this week’s varieties hails from Emilia Romagna. It’s called Fortana Nera and is originally from France, specifically from the Cote d’Or. In fact it is also sometimes referred to as Uva d’Oro, even though is a red grape. It is only used in conjunction with other red varieties and can be part of the denominazione d’origine controllata (D.O.C.) of Emilia.

Here a post I wrote about Emilia Romagna. I’m quite partial to this region and its people as well as is food. I lived in Bologna for a year when I was in graduate school and have great memories of that time. I also have many friends from the region and they all tend to be open and warm with a great sense of humor.

A second variety for this week is called Francavidda Bianca. It comes from Puglia, specifically the province of Brindisi. Apparently the grape is not that hardy and can be susceptible to vine maladies. Here’s a post I wrote about Brindisi some years back. I love Puglia and have visited a few times through the years. An endlessly interesting region with beautiful beaches and great water, a perfect jaunt for the summer.

In other news, here’s a recent article I wrote for the Organic Wine Journal on a winery from Arezzo called Paterna. Tuscany perhaps more than any region in Italy feels like home to me thanks to the years I lived there and the people I met then and all those I now know in the wine world. One gorgeous country ovunque…

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