A Rare Opportunity

Today I had the rare opportunity to taste 19 rare wines made from little known indigenous grapes. Since I decided to focus during this Vinitaly 2017 on lesser known Italian wines and wine regions, this was the perfect tasting for me! I have to admit, I had not heard of the grape varieties Minutolo or Nascetta, or Catalanesca or Procanico for that matter, but hey, don’t you just love surprises?

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True to their style, Le Donne del Vino sponsored an interesting and edifying tasting, making an important contribution to the culture of wine by allowing the fortunate attendees a unique occasion. So not only were these rare wines made from less cultivated grapes, they were also produced by women! And believe me, these wines are not to be missed.  Ian D’Agata of Vinitaly International Academy, an expert on Italian grape varieties, led the tasting. Ian was the perfect person to navigate these unknown waters, as his book Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press) was named Louis Roederer International Wine Awards Book of the Year in 2015.

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So here is the list of the grape varieties and wines we tasted today, with their regions:

  1. Asprinio from Campania, a Martinotti method spumante Trentapioli Aversa DOC
  2. Valderbara/Vernaccia Bianca/Nosiola from Trentino, another sparkling wine, Blanc de Sers Brut Nature
  3. Canaiolo bianco di Toscana, an IGT white from Tuscany, Borgo Prunatelli
  4. Procanico, La Maliosa Bianco, another IGT white from Tuscany
  5. Minutolo, an aromatic white wine from Puglia, called Crè by the producer, Vetrere
  6. Nascetta from Piedmont, a Langhe DOC white wine
  7. Catalanesca, a surprising white Vino da tavola from Campania
  8. Piculit Neri, a red IGT wine from the Veneto
  9. Pelaverga Piccolo from Piedmont
  10. Frappato from Sicily, a DOC Vittoria Frappato from Valle dell’Acate
  11. Olivella, a red from Lazio, called Espero by the producer
  12. Canaiolo nero an IGT from Tuscany
  13. Freisa, a Langhe DOC red
  14. Pallagrello Nero, a red from Campania called Ambruco by the producer
  15. Magliocco, one of the better-known Calabrese red varietals, from Librandi
  16. Uvalino, a Monferrato DOC red wine from Piedmont
  17. Oseleta, a Veneto red, here 100% Oseleta, a grape sometimes used in Amarone
  18. Picolit, a delicious DOCG dessert wine from the Colli Orientali of Friuli
  19. Picolit, in grappa form from the famed Nonino family in Friuli Venezia Giulia

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I must say, this was fun! New tastes, new emotions. As D’Agata pointed out, native varieties have appeal and market value. And there’s so much potential for development. Yes, we love our Cabernet Sauvignon – even when that international variety is planted in Italian soil. But let’s take a walk on the wild side! Try a little Pallagrello Nero!

The personal touch was wonderful, as these producers explained how the grapes were found, identified, nurtured, and why they decided to persist in making even small quantities of bottles of these unusual varities. Often, there was ‘a little old farmer’ in the picture, who for some reason was still making wine from a grape that others had forgotten about.

These grapes speak worlds about the territory, about Italy, and remind us that there is more than just Sangiovese and Nebbiolo out there! We need to be reminded about Italy’s wealth of biodiversity, and applaud those winemakers who are keeping it alive, preserving a precious cultural heritage.

Some flash impressions:  IMG_8630the Procanico is ‘an ancient taste’, as the producer described it, quite unlike anything else you’ve had. Its rusty color also makes it an unusual white, due to the berries’ late ripening, when they turn a lovely pink color.

The aromatic Minutolo grape may become the next ‘hot white’ after Pecorino – something everyone will want at aperitivo time. Cré in dialect means tomorrow, and it is the producer’s vision and hope for this unique grape.

Catalanesca comes from near Vesuvius and is a delicious, lip-licking, full-bodied red, while Piculit Neri is a spicy, crunchy, fruity red that would make a splendid alternative to the tired and often overrated Pinot Noir. Pungent, floral Frappato may not be so unusual to Italian wine connoisseurs, but surely is not as well known as it should be in the general public. And Olivella? It gets its name from the shape of the berry – similar to an olive – and Marina Perinelli is the only producer of it in Italy! So elegant, so tasty, and so rare! Pallagrello Nero from near Caserta has great balance, big structure, and will knock your socks off. Masi’s Oseleta, called Osar – which means joy in dialect, and to dare in Italian – is a little gem, only 5000 some odd bottles. And the two variations of Picolit – one a sweet dessert wine, and one in grappa form – were the perfect conclusion to the event.

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Can’t believe I made it to the end!

The infinite variety of Italian wine is a source of joy and satisfaction. There is always something new to discover!

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