Category Archives: Italian indigenous Grape Varieties

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.


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


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


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 for $45.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Franconia Nera & Fubiano Bianco

italy 600

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)

emilia romagna

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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Chianti Colli Fiorentini D.O.C.G.: Always The Bridesmaid Never The Bride


The denomination Chianti Colli Fiorentini Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.) is just like someone who is always a bridesmaid and never a bride. While not the least mentioned of the seven sub-zones of Chianti D.O.C.G., it is rarely talked about and I think that’s a shame. This production zone is located in and around Florence and the Arno river valleys. Like its other six cousins, Chianti Rufina, Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colline Pisane, Chianti Montalbano and Chianti Montespertoli, producers can chose to use the denomination or not. The area was defined in 1932. With DPR 290 of July 2, 1984, the Chianti Colli Fiorentini area was officially granted DOCG recognition; The Chianti Colli Fiorentini Consortium was founded on September 20, 1994.

The wines must be at least 70% Sangiovese. They can also contain Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah in small quantities. I was introduced to the Chianti Colli Fiorentini in 2010 by their wonderful PR manager, Stefano. Despite living in Florence for many years, I didn’t know there was a specific denomination for the wines.

Some 18 communes can used this denomination including the following: Montelupo Fiorentino, Fiesole, Lastra a Signa, Scandicci, Impruneta, Bagno a Ripoli, Rignano sull’Arno and Pontassieve as well as Montespertoli, San Casciano Val di Pesa, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Certaldo, Barberino Val d’Elsa, Incisa, Figlini; Pelago, Reggello and Florence. Some 27 wineries are members of the Consortium.

The terroir in this area is mostly alluvial soils with good drainage. They also tend to have a high percentage of clay. Most of the vineyards are located on hills ranging from 150 to 400 meters above sea level. The exposition is quite varied. Some vineyards face southeast and southeast while others face north.

Generally, the wines from this region are well structured. While they have good tannins and acidity, they can be more approachable than some other Chianti wines. Some are more modern than you find in other areas, fruitier and easy to drink even when young.


One producer who I have met numerous times throughout the years is Malenchini. I liked both the wines and the winery owners. Another producer from the area that I know well is the Conte Ferdinando Guicciardini family who own Castello di Poppiano. I met the Count years ago at a tasting in Milan and have since come to known the family a bit better as well as the wines. I’ve tried to get them to adopt me but he chose his nephew Bernardo. What can you do….

I’m hard press to explain why these wines aren’t better known in the United States with their specific denomination. I think the theory is that Americans know Chianti Classico and Chianti only and that the rest confuses them. I disagree. I wonder if the new Gran Selezione will make any difference in getting these sub-zones their day in the sun or if they will continue to be a minor player, at least in terms of their denomination…

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Forgiarin and Forsellina From Friuli and the Veneto, Respectively

Me and Dad Fishing

I’ve been away on Cape Cod fishing with Dad and enjoying the beach. It shows on this blog where readership last week was at a low for the year. I guess it matters how often you post but every once in a while, it’s nice to kick back and not do any work or writing. Here we are though, back in the swing in this lovely month of July.

This week’s grape varieties hail from two regions in Italy – Friuli Venezia Giulia and the Veneto. Forgiarin is a red grape that produces wines with good acidity for a red grape and red fruit aromas and flavors. One producer is particularly noted for his wine from this variety, Emilio Bulfon. Bulfon has helped to rediscover ancient grapes from Friuli. His winery is located near the city of Pordenone.

The second variety for this week is Forsellina from the Veneto. Also a red grape variety, this one can be found in a variety of DOC wines such as Bardolino and Valpolicella. It is usually used as a blending grape with other red varieties such as Molinara, Rossignola, Rondinella, and Corvina.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Forastera Bianco from Ischia (Campania)

italy 600

I have some gorgeous photos of a sailing trip to Ischia that I took years ago but they aren’t digital and thus, here I am left with my trusty map of Italy. This week’s grape variety hails from Ischia in the Campania region of Italy. Ischia is the largest of the Isole Flegree or the Phlegraean islands. The others are Capri, Procida, Vivara, and Nisida. Forastera is a white grape variety that produces dry white wines generally with other white varieties such as Biancolella. However, it can also be made into a mono-varietal wine.

The soils on the island are quite fertile and tend to be volcanic. Sea breezes cool the vines and they grow at a considerable height. When looking up this variety I discovered that it was recognized in 1966 and that Ischia became Italy’s second DOC wine.

Forastera is also sometimes called Uva dell’Isola. It is used to make both still and sparkling wines. I have never tried this particular wine from the Casa D’Ambra but the description of how and when the winery began made me want to run out and buy a bottle. Check it out.

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Wine Wednesday: Torcolato Hits The Sweet Spot


Recently I went to a celebration of Italy’s National Day, La Festa della Repubblica, celebrated on June 2 every year. The day commemorates the referendum of 1946 when the Italians voted for a republic rather than a monarchy. This year’s celebration at the Trade Commission in New York showcased Italian delicacies. In addition to cheeses, charcuterie, chocolate, fashion and design, wine was part of the offering.

The wine they selected and paired with cheese was Torcolato from Veneto producer Cantina Maculan. I first tried this wine in 2000 during my first Associazione Italiana Sommeliers class in Milan. I will never forget the experience of this rich and luscious example of an Italian sweet wine. Again this month, I marveled at its beauty and power.

Torcolato is made from indigenous variety Vespaiola that has been affected by noble rot or botrytis. The grapes are dried for four months before they are fermented. In the Veneto, making this wine, means winding twine around the bunches and hanging them from the ceiling. This is where the name comes from as well, because in local dialect, torcolato means “twisted.” After fermentation, the wine spends one year aging in barriques and then six months in the bottle before it is released.

It is a perfect wine for dessert or cheese, not overdone or unctuous, but smooth and delightful with honey, apricot and dried nut aromas and flavors. Maculan makes a series of incredible sweet wines that all merit a taste. This one has particular significance for me however because of fond memories. If you haven’t tried it yet, definitely put it on your bucket list. It is available from Winebow.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Foglia Tonda


This week’s grape variety hails from Tuscany. It was originally mentioned in conjunction with the vineyards of the Castello di Brolio of Barone Ricasoli. It is said to grow only in Chianti where it adds color and body to Sangiovese based wines. A number of Tuscan producers work with this grape variety. I have had the pleasure of also tasting this wine as a mono-varietal or “in purezza” as they say in Italian, near the city of Arezzo at Mannucci Droandi, a winery in the Valdarno area of Tuscany near the town of Montevarchi in the past few years.

Ceppeto - vigneto-vineyard Ischio - estate-summer 2006

The Mannucci Droandi family has been farming their land for many years, but used to sell their grapes until the 1990s, when they began making their own wines. The owner Roberto Giulio Droandi and his wife Maria Grazia Mammuccini run the estate They have two properties: the first is the Campolucci that has 6.5 hectares and is located on the eastern slopes of the Chianti Mountains at about 250 meters above sea level. The family has owned this property since 1929 and its alluvial, sandy and silt soils are organically certified. The second property is called Ceppeto, and is surrounded by dense woodland. This property is on the western side of the Chianti Mountains at 450 meters above sea level. The soils are a mix of clay and stones and are also organically certified.

The winery has been a hub for a project with the Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura; they are working to bring back extinct and nearly extinct Tuscan varieties. Because of legislation and market forces, Tuscany, and the rest of Italy, now have many fewer varietals. Roberto said he used to have field blends throughout his lands and, at one point, grubbed them up. He is now quite sorry he did that. He also found numerous grapes growing on his land that are unique. The study with the university is to see how some of these older varieties can grow today. According to the University, the change in viticulture is a negative consequence of specialization, and is harmful for the genetic patrimony of the vine. Some of the grape varieties that were growing did well on the property while others did not. Foglia tonda was one of those that did well.

In the cellar, the Foglia Tonda grapes are de-stemmed and gently crushed and then fermented in small vats (10–15 hectoliters), with prolonged maceration (20 days) and pumping-over alternated with delestage; a two-step “rack-and-return” process in which fermenting red wine juice is separated from the grape solids by racking and then returned to the fermenting vat to re-soak the solids. This step is then repeated daily. The wine is aged for eight months in French oak barrels used for the 2nd and 3rd time and then in the bottle for three months. I enjoyed the wine and particularly the novelty of it all.

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