By Frank Cipparone
One of the most exciting developments in Italian wine over the last 20 years is the attention paid to native grapes, many of which had been all but abandoned by growers and winemakers. Some of them had been phased out in favor of more profitable and popular varieties. Others have a long history of being part of regional blends, or only known locally. Some were disregarded to the point of near extinction, a few scattered vines remaining.
Given Italy’s wealth of grapes it’s obvious that not all of them will literally or figuratively have their day in the sun. Those that have been “rediscovered” and given new life are gradually making headway among consumers around
What follows are a dozen examples of grapes whose time has come, evenly divided between the red and white wines made from them.
Perricone — Traditionally used for Marsala or blended with Nero d’Avola to add texture and density. A handful of dedicated producers in western Sicily make a range of styles from earthy and sharply herbal to assertively fruity and full bodied. This could be Sicily’s rising star.
Lacrima di Morro d’Alba — Described by a winemaker in March as a wine to drink with a beautiful woman, this “crying” grape is gaining fans. Intensely seductive, exotic aromas of flowers and spice combine with dark fruit flavors for a unique drinking experience.
Ruche — Grown in Piedmont around the town of Castagnole Monferrato, it has some comparisons to Lacrima but is spicier, less concentrated and leans more to red fruit aromas and flavors. The best versions have unassuming elegance and aging potential.
Rossese — Liguria is known for refreshing white wines, but this eye-opener from the western hills is the premier rosso. Light in color and body, it is best to drink it young. Similar to a French Cotes du Rhone, with lively acidity that makes it adaptable for pairing with seafood, mushroom risotto and substantial pasta dishes.
Cesanese — The resurgence of Cesanese is a prime example of care in the vineyard and modern techniques reshaping a historic grape that was relatively unknown a decade ago. This Lazio native can more than hold its own against the region’s bigger, riper and higher priced reds based on Cabernet and Merlot.
Schioppettino — Fittingly, the name means gunshot, because it explodes in the mouth, peppering the tongue with Syrah-like black berries and tannins. Dating to the 13th century, the commitment of a single producer in the 1980s is responsible for its renaissance. With increased acreage it is vying with Refosco and Pignolo to become Friuli’s signature red wine.
Erbaluce — This highly acidic varietal from the northern Piedmont became the region’s first DOC white wine almost fifty years ago, Erbaluce di Caluso. Lightweight and crisp, it can also be made as a dessert wine that offers a complex mix of honey, almond, figs and an aftertaste of apricot and peaches.
Carricante — Once found all over Sicily, it now is planted in the volcanic soils of Mount Etna. Overshadowed by the recent hype of Etna’s red wines, Carricante is that rare white that can age for up to 10 years, characterized by zesty, saline-laced acidity that partners well with the island’s bountiful frutti di mare.
Ribolla Gialla — Made in a variety of styles, including sparkling and sweet, but shows its true nature as a light bodied dry wine with tangy citrus flavors and cleansing acidity meant for warm weather sipping. Another grape with a historical pedigree and widely sought in the 19th century.
Coda di Volpe — Known to the Romans for its foxtail shaped clusters, it thrives in the interior of Campania. Depending on where it grows it can be rich, complex and tropically fruity or mildly astringent and less concentrated.
Prie Blanc — Coming from Valle d’Aosta’s high altitudes, the lightness and crystal clear scents and flavors of green apples and aromatic herbs are like plunging into an alpine lake. Also known as Blanc de Morgex et LaSalle.
Cococciola — Along with Pecorino and Passerina this pleasantly dry wine of lemon and menthol scents and noticeable salinity and herbs proves that Abruzzo can be more than just Montepulciano.