Category Archives: Italian indigenous Grape Varieties

Italian Indigenous Varieties: Garganega from Veneto


Garganega is this week’s grape variety hails from the Veneto region. Garganega is the principal grape used to make Soave, an Italian white wine that we are all familiar with in the United States. According to DNA studies, it is related to Grecanico which is a grape variety widely used in Sicily. Garganega is able to produce a host of wines whether they are dry or sweet, such as the Recioto di Soave version.

The grape has moderate acidity and lovely fruit and floral aromas. It often has a slight almond taste on the finish as well. Hard to pronounce, Garganega is not listed generally on the Soave label but at least 70% of all Soave must be Garganega. The other 30% can be Trebbiano, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay.

Garganega is a vigorous grape variety and in the past was used to make mass market wines. That trend has completely changed and the grape is now used to make elegant, age worthy wines.

Many producers are worthy of note. Eric Asimov of the New York Times wrote this piece earlier this year on Soave. I’m very partial to the ones that can age such as those made by Antonio Fattori of Fattori Wines.

I had the opportunity to try wines from this region last week at a Wines from the Veneto (Uvive) event. If you live in New York or Chicago, you too can taste versions of Garganega at Eataly.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Gaglioppo from Calabria

italy 600

It’s December, it’s snowing on my blog and it has been three months since I have written a post about an Italian indigenous variety. I have a good excuse, a beautiful three month old baby, but I do miss writing about all of the gems that Italy has to offer so here we go with the first grape that starts with a “G.” This grape which is now associated with Calabria is likely of Greek origin and may be genetically related to the Sicilian variety Frappato. This hearty grape variety produces full bodied wines that are somewhat tannic when young and can be called “rustic” at times. It is used in a variety of denominazione d’origine controllata (D.O.C.) wines from Ciro’, Bivongi, Donnici, Lamezia, Melissa, Savuto, Scaviglia and others. The grape can be made into a mono-varietal wine or blended with red or white varieties, according to the rules of the particular D.O.C.

I have written a number of articles about wineries in Calabria. Here is another one about an organic winery in the region. Perhaps I am due for a visit…

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Wine of the Week: Nino Franco Valdobbiadne Superiore D.O.C.G. Brut

Nino Franco Brut

Earlier this year I had the occasion to meet Primo Franco of the Nino Franco winery at an intimate lunch organized by Tony Didio. Primo was fascinating and an incredible “Signore del Vino.” His family winery is one of the first to make a name for themselves in the Prosecco trade, quite unimaginable today when Prosecco is so easy to find but according to Primo at the beginning there were just a very few producers trying to make a name for themselves and their area.

His family got started in 1919 just after World War I. His grandfather, Antonio and his father, Nino built up the winery. Primo, himself a graduate of the prestigious oenology school in Conegliano, took over in the 1970s and thereafter put in some modern techniques.

We tried a number of his wines, including a Rose’ calle Faive and Grave di Stecca. Both were interesting and the Grave di Stecca a very elegant and special cuvee but it is the brut that I feel represents the area and the category most profoundly.

Faive Nino Franco

There are many areas for Prosecco as we know and generally different styles as well, according to the level of residual sugar in the wine. The Brut is the driest version of Prosecco. This one had very bright acidity and was a real joy as it paired with a salmon burger.

So many others have also written about their encounters with Primo Franco, including Charles Scicolone in this relatively recent post, Dobianchi earlier this year, and Alfonso last year. What I found throughout everyone’s posts is a common sense of how wonderful both Primo and his wines truly are.

Primo Franco Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G.

I like Alfonso’s vision of Primo as a great tree but when I met him, he was in his version of a very dapper Italian in midtown Manhattan. We all have our individual experiences with winemakers, either in Italy or in the States, but its the shared impressions that they leave on each of us, that strikes me. Meeting Primo was a highlight of my New York wine life this year. Thanks Tony for introducing me, again, to wonderful producers.


Filed under Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, Italian wineries, italy, Memorable Events, Travel, Veneto, wines

Wine of the Week: Faro from Palari (Sicily)


This week’s wine pick is Faro from Azienda Agricola Palari from Sicily. I first tasted this wine at a Tre Bicchieri event in New York some years ago. I was impressed with its unique blend of indigenous Sicilian grapes including Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Nocera, Acitana, and Jacche’.

The wine was ruby red in color with loads of berry fruits, spice and a hint of vanilla. It was velvety and harmonious on the palate with juicy tannins. A great wine to age, I was very impressed with this beauty.

I’m having a Sicilian thing this summer with many memories of a couple of wonderful trips I took to Sicily years ago. This winery is located near Messina. Faro is a very ancient wine that was produced in this area for many years. Production was then interrupted both because of production issues and because of Phylloxera. The wine is made in a very particular area with a great micro-climate and on a series of vineyards that change dramatically in terms of their altitude from sea level to 1,475 feet with an eight mile range. The vines grow on very steep slopes and are bush trained requiring hand harvesting.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel but ages in new French oak and then in the bottle for at least 18 months before release. This is a big Sicilian wine and needs hearty dishes to support it. A land of contrasts, this is one side of Sicily – big, passionate and intense.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Fumin from the Valle d’Aosta

Valle d'Aosta

This week’s grape variety is Fumin. It is the last variety that starts with the letter “F.” Amazing to me to note, but I have written 111 of these sorts of posts through the years. Italy has such an endless number of grape varieties, there is always something new to learn.

Fumin is a variety that comes from the Valle d’Aosta. It can be made into a blend but it is also used to make mono-varietal wines and is used in the Valle d’Aosta Denominazione d’origine controllata (D.O.C.) wine. In a blend it brings both color and acidity. In fact, it is a wine that should age a bit before drinking to mellow out some of its robust and rustic aromas and flavors.

Valle d'Aosta

Every year at Vinitaly, I try to spend time at the Valle d’Aosta booth. I like the wines and the people, straight forward and frank. Some examples of great Fumin are from the top producers in the Valle d’Aosta, including Grosjean, Les Cretes, and Ottin, among others.

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Women in Wine Fridays: A Chat with Ambra Tiraboschi, Producer of Lugana from Ca Lojera (Lombardy)


Earlier this year I was lucky enough to go on a press trip to Lugana. Carlo Veronese, the Director of the Consortium for the region, was wearing the above sweatshirt which really struck my fancy. The first evening of the trip, a small group of journalists and I were invited to a dinner at Ca Lojera where we were greeted by the lovely and extremely coridal Ambra Tiraboschi. Ambra and five of her colleagues from Lugana offered us different wines to try at that occasion along with the traditional foods of Lake Garda. My friend and fellow journalist Dave Buchanan had this to say about part of our trip.

Lake Garda

I was happy to see Ambra in late July at a class on Lugana at Eataly. Lugana is being celebrated at the Italian luxury supermarket this month as I wrote in a previous post on Avvinare.

This post is instead a women in wine Fridays post with Ambra as it’s subject. Before I put up Ambra’s answers to my questions though, I want to mention her wine. I very recently tried the 2013 Lugana made from 100% Turbiana grapes (Trebbiano di Lugana). It was a beautiful and mineral rich wine with good body and acidity. Aromas and flavors of fruits and flowers abounded with a hint of an herbal note as well. It paired beautifully with the dishes that Eataly served at the Scuola and even better with the traditional fare in Italy in April but that’s always the case. Their vineyards are located in Sirmione and have white clay soils typical of this area. I love this wine and it is surprisingly easy to find in New York thanks to Ambra’s importer, Moonlight.

Ca Lojera

Here’s my interview with Ambra:

How did you get into the wine business?

I became involved in viticulture by choice and in winemaking by chance because during the harvest of 1992, our grapes were not sold as they usually were to the typical buyers. It was a difficult time for Lugana, as it was an unknown wine and our grapes used to be used to strengthen other local wines.

What has been the hardest part of the wine business for you in terms of gender issues, if any?

Doing business as a woman can be complicated in all sectors because it calls for a good balance between our emotional life and our determination to reach our objectives. In the wine world, the men were curious at first about how I would do but everything worked out well because the story of a wine needs to be told and women are traditionally great story tellers, look at Scheherazade!

What trends and changes have you seen since you started? What do you see happening in the next 5-10 years in your sector of the business?

In today’s world, consumers want to hear the story of your wine and to read about it on all the communication channels that we now have at our disposition: social media, bloggers, wine lovers,etc. Guides have lost some of their magic and are considered less interesting by some consumers. Today and in the coming years, we will need to open and visit new markets. I personally find this very stimulating because I need to understand the culture and habits of other peoples.

What do you see happening in the Lugana area?

The area where Lugana comes from is small but well-loved and it is in a great geographical position. I’m sure we will have a wonderful and long-lived period of fruitful work.

What do you think about the level of wine education on Lugana in general in the US?

Lugana is getting to be more well-known in the United States. It is already appreciated by those who are well-educated in the wine world and know how to drink well. That’s what we want to see in every market.

Do you think we are still too Tuscany and Piedmont focused?

No, that wasn’t my impression during my visit.

Who is the average wine drinker today?

The average wine consumer today is between 30-50 years old who invests their money wisely and who enjoys trying fine wines.

Where are women going to be in the industry in the next 10 years?

Women will be quite active in industry during the next 10 years as a new generation comes to the fore, especially in the textile industry and I hope in wine & food. Women are already quite present in both the communications industry and in artisanal products and I believe their influence will only grow.

What do you think will happen with Expo 2015?

Expo 2015, which will take place in Milan, will surely be a great occasion for our country. I’m confidant that my countrymen will make it a great success for all.

Do you think Lugana could replace Pinot Grigio on most wine lists?

I’m not sure that is where we are looking for Lugana to go. Rather what I do think is that many consumers will begin to ask specifically for Lugana when they are looking for wine that they are familiar with, that isn’t banal, but that is instead an authentic representation of a particular terroir and a particular history.


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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Freisa from Piedmont


This week’s grape variety hails from Piedmont – Freisa. It is often made into a pure varietal wine but is also blended with Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto.

It is a red grape that has heavy tannins and at times is made into a frizzante wine to make it softer. Freisa’s native area is near the city of Asti, although it grows in various parts of Piedmont. I have always enjoyed Freisa and found it to be quite floral on the nose and on the palate. I first heard of this variety from a producer called La Montagnetta. Domenico Capello and his family collaborate with the University of Turin to study this variety.

A number of wines made from Freisa are available on the U.S. market, among them one from importer Domenico Valentino.

You may find that each one you try is different than the previous version because this grape is quite versatile and can be aged in oak or in steel tanks, made into a sweet version or a frizzante one. What I think you’ll find in any version you try is an interesting wine that you will look for again and again. It’s also a great one to stump your friends in a blind tasting, not that I am advocating for that but I’m just saying…

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