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#ItalianFWT Writers, Let's Look at Indigenous Grapes

For March, the Combined Wine Writers group is dedicated to #ItalianFWT. The Italian Food Wine Travel writers used to gather for a monthly event; 2024 has transformed all of our groups to a quarterly happening.



This month I am hosting. I know we have done this topic before, but there are so many native or indigenous grapes in Italy, we have plenty of fodder for our posts.


No country boasts as many indigenous grape varieties as Italy which is home to over five hundred officially-identified varieties. To give you some perspective, the number of indigenous grapes in France, Spain, and Greece - which are second, third, and fourth with numbers of varieties of their own - combined are still fewer than the number of indigenous grapes in Italy!


Why are indigenous grapes important? Grapes that come from a particular place express the terroir of that area; often they are specifically adapted to the environment in which they are growing. Also indigenous grapes are intimately tied to people, local culture, history, and winemaking-tradition in the area.



This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but will give you a starting point...


AGLIANICO

Aglianico, usually ground in Campania or Basilicata, has been nicknamed the 'Barolo of the South.' Its small, thick-skinned berries produce wines that are usually deep, rich, and fragrant.


In March 2018 the #ItalianFWT explored this grape. You can read all of the group's articles linked in my post Memories and Flavors of Campania + Feudi di San Gregorio Aglianico Rubrato 2014. In August of 2018, I poured an Aglianico from California's Central Coast.

 

ARNEIS

Arneis, in the local dialect, means 'little rascal' because it is challenging to cultivate. Though it shares no genetic connection to Nebbiolo, it's used to be called Nebbiolo Bianco. Typical aromas for the variety are straw, white flowers, chamomile, stone fruit, and almonds. The wines are usually fresh and crisp.


In June 2015 the #WinePW wrote about this grape. You can read all of the group's articles linked in my post Maltagliati e Trotte + Cascina del Pozzo Roero Arneis.


BARBERA

One of the most widely planted native grapes in Italy, Barbera boasts low tannins, high acidity, a gorgeous concentrated color. With its usual subtle red fruit, delicate spice, and dry finish, Barbera is one of my favorite Italian varieties to pair.


In May 2016, I shared a 2012 Cantina Casteggio Barbera from the Oltrepo Pavese appellation in my #ItalianFWT offering: Sbrisolona and Cantina Casteggio Barbera. In October 2021 I partnered with Q.B. Cucina and Wine365 to share Olive Malfadine and a pairing with Michele Chiarlo Cipressi Barbera Nizza DOCG 2018. And in March 2021, I shared Cheesy Bites, a Colorful Board, and a Barbera...from California.

 

BRACHETTO

An aromatic red grape, Brachetto is used to make both still and sparkling wines. Typically light-bodied, the tart flavors remind me of cherry pie in a glass; it's a perfect dessert pour.


In June 2017 the #ItalianFWT looked at sweet wines. I shared From Start to Finish with Brachetto d'Acqui.

 

CANAIOLO NERO

This red grape's name derives from the Latin dies caniculares, meaning 'the dog days of August,' which is when this grape changes its color. Pre-phylloxera Canaiolo was the main grape of the Chianti blend; then it was switched to predominantly Sangiovese with Canaiolo add fruitiness and soften the tannins of Sangiovese. The two varieties meld well together, and Canaiolo is still often added to Chianti blends today. As a single varietal, Canaiolo is soft and elegant.

 

CANNONAU

In Sardinia, Grenache is called Cannonau, a thin-skinned red grape with low-medium acidity and gentle tannins. The usual flavor profile of Sardinian Cannonau is a medium-bodied wine with notes of peppery spice and tangy red fruits.


In September 2022 the #ItalianFWT group explored the wines of Sardinia when I shared Culurgiones (Sardinian Pasta Dumplings) + Pala i Fiori Cannonau 2019. And in April 2019 when the group looked at wines from the Italian islands, I shared another Sardinian Cannonau in Island Memories, Slow-Roasted Lamb, and Cannonau Di Sardegna.

 

CARRICANTE

Carricante is an indigenous ancient white grape variety from Sicily. Its name comes from the Italian caricare meaning to 'load up,' referring to how the grapes were carried on a cart pulled by donkeys down the steep sides of Mt. Etna.


In January 2023 the #WinePW writers looked at new-to-them wines. I shared Pasta al Polpo with Carricante.

 

CATARATTO

Cataratto is another white grape variety that is mainly planted in Sicily. Its aromas lean toward citrus fruit with a touch of herbs and spices. But it also brings a salinity and minerality. It is commonly blended with Carricante or Inzolia.

 

CESANESE

Cesanese is one of the most important red grapes in Lazio and was very popular with Papal Rome and high society. On the nose the wines are heavy with red fruit along layers of vanilla. On the palate they are well-balanced with a moderate acidity.

 

CILIEGIOLO

Before DNA typing existed, this variety was often confused with Sangiovese and other red grapes grown in Tuscany and Umbria. Its name comes from the Italian word for 'cherries,' which is the dominant aroma in the wine. Often used as a blending grape, Ciliegiolo results in crisp, fruit-forward, and slightly sweet wine.

 

CODA DI VOLPE

A white grape whose name translates to 'fox tail' is typically grown in Campania near Naples. Coda di Volpe grapes are saffron yellow in color and low in acidity. On the nose the wines are almost tropical with underlying spices.

 

CORTESE

Cortese is a white grape variety most famous for its role in the bright, lime-scented wines of Gavi. There are also aromas of stone fruit and melons with layers of herbs and grass. It is also called Gavi.


In January 2020 the #ItalianFWT group turned their eyes toward Italian wines produced by cooperatives. I shared a 2018 Gavi Il Forte from Produttori del Gavi.

 

CORVINA

Unique to the Veneto, Corvina wines have nuances of black fruit, blue flowers, and herbs. You will not often see this grape as a single varietal wine; it is typically blended with Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara, and other red grapes for Valpolicella and Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG.


In October 2023 the #ItalianFWT group explored the wines of the Veneto. That is when I found a Corvina that Jake loves. We have purchased and re-purchased the Scaia Corvina 2019 many times after we found it. Read about it in my post Crumbs: Scaia, Pearà, and Mussels alla Buzara.

 

CORVINONE

Also a blending grape in Valpolicella and Amarone, its name means 'Big Corvina' because its grapes and bunch sizes dwarf those of its Corvina cousins. Due to both grapes' thick skins, they lend themselves to drying and used to make Amarone and Recioto.

 

DOLCETTO

Mostly grown in Piemonte, its name means 'little sweet one' and it is a component in eleven DOC wines made from this grape throughout the region.  Typically, Dolcetto has soft tannins and low acidity and the resulting wines are gently spicy with earthy, nutty undertones.

 

FALANGHINA

This is Campania’s signature white grape and was brought to Italy by settlers from ancient Greece. The resulting wines lean towards high acidity with floral, herbal, and tropical fruit notes on the palate.


In March 2023 I shared Coquilles Saint-Jacques + Paternoster Vulcanico Falanghina 2021 in preparation for the #ItalianFWT event about Molise, Basilicata, and Campania.

 

FIANO

Grown primarily in Campania, cultivation of Fiano dates far back to ancient Roman. With small, thick-skinned grapes, Fiano results in wines with intense honey and floral notes. As the wines age, those flavors transform to be more spicy and nutty.


In June 2022 the #ItalianFWT looked at indigenous white wine grapes. I posted Pasta al Tartufo + Terredora di Paolo Fiano di Avellino 2019.

 

FRAPPATO

One of Sicily's oldest grape varieties, Frappato is characterized by low acidity, low tannins, and low sugar concentration. The name comes from the Latin word fresia which means 'strawberry' that is also the most abundant aroma in the wine.

 

FRIULANO

Tocai Friulano is a historical grape and most commonly called just Friulano now because the term 'Tokay' may only legally refer to Hungarian wines. Most Fruilano have a pale straw green hue with aromas of white flowers, sweet almond, and green apple.

 

GAGLIOPPO

Gaglioppo’s name is derived from a Greek word meaning 'beautiful foot.' An ancient red grape variety, Gaglioppo results in full-bodied wines that usually high in alcohol and high in tannins.


In November 2018 the #ItalianFWT group explored this grape and other wines of Calabria. You can read all of the posts linked in my article Braised Beef Cheeks over Garlic Gnocchi + Statti Calabria Gaglioppo 2015.

 

GLERA

Grown mostly in the Veneto, this white grape is the main component in Prosecco in the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene zones. Complex and refined the resulting wines are with delicately floral and fruity.


 

GRECHETTO

Grechetto is a thick-skinner, white grape that makes light-bodied wines that abound with citrus and white flowers.


GRECO

This wine has unique bright yellow grapes. Its aromas and flavors are typically tropical fruits mixed with honey, apricots, and pears.

 

GRIGNOLINO

A red grape from Piemonte, Grignolino boasts aromas of fresh flowers and white pepper.

 

GRILLO

In the Sicilian dialect, the grape's name is another word for 'pips,' referring to the grape's seeds. It's an ancient white grape variety, most famous for its use in Sicily's fortified Marsala wines. The wines made from Grillo are brightly straw colored with aromas of wild flowers and citrus blossoms. On the palate the wines are tightly structured with generous minerality.

 

LACRIMA

The grape's name means 'teardrop', referring to the shape of the grapes. The resulting wines are aromatic and berry-forward with layers of intense spice and flowers.


In May 2023, when the #ItalianFWT group explored the wines of the Marche and Abruzzo, I paired Frecantò di Verdure, the Marche’s Version of Ratatouille, with the 2021 Colleleva Lacrima di Morro.

 

 LAGREIN

The grape's name has a Greek origin. Lagarinthos which means 'hanging.' The resulting wines are inky in hue with rims of violet. On the nose the wines have black fruit with hints of chocolate and spice. Lagrein traces its parentage to Teroldego, another Trentino variety, and so is related to Syrah and Pinot Noir.

 

LAMBRUSCO GRASPAROSSA

Lambrusco Grasparossa, meaning 'red-stalked', is one of several Lambrusco grapes. Grasparossa grows only on hillsides and create a creamy and full-bodied style with ripe black cherry and dark plum aromas and flavors.


In May 2019 the #ItalianFWT group looked at Lambrusco generally. One of my posts featured a Lambrusco Grasparossa - Torta Barozzi + Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Amabile. But that month I recognized that Lambrusco wasn't the bubblegumy bottle of bubbles I had previously thought. Read about my revelation in Every Wine Deserves a Second Look: Warmed Brie with Mulberry Chutney + Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena 2018.

 

MALVASIA DEL LAZIO

Malvasia del Lazio, also called Malvasia Putinata, is a white grape. Putinata means 'speckled' and refers to the rust-colored spots that appear on the ripe fruit. The usual aromas in this wine is spicy and musky. And its high residual sugar levels lend it to production in both sparkling and sweet wines.

 

MALVASIA DELLE LIPARI

Malvasia delle Lipari hails from Sicily and is usually dried before vinification where its condensed flavors are perfect for dessert wines.

 

MALVASIA NERA

Another grape from the Malvasia family, Malvasia Nera is a dark, thin-skinned grape that is mainly grown in Puglia where there are two different kinds of Malvasia Nera, Nera di Brindisi and Nera di Lecce. This aromatic variety is used for production in both dry, sweet, and sparkling wines.


In July 2016 the #ItalianFWT group looked at Liguria. I shared Piattino di Polpo e Patate with Skerk's Malvasia. I am unsure what branch of Malvasia was used in this skin-fermented wine.

 

MANTONICO

Mantonico is a tannic white grape variety that is very versatile in making either dry and sweet wines.

 

MOLINARA

Molinara is usually a blending grape used in Amarone and Valpolicella to add acidity. It is rarely seen outside of these blends.

 

MONTEPULCIANO

Often confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulicano, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape is one of the most widely planted grapes in the country.


 

MOSCATO BIANCO

This Piedmontese grape is used to produce both Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti. It has a distinctive bouquet that almost always includes peach, sage, and honey. In sparkling wines, the juice interacts with the yeast to add creamy notes and an elegant structure.

 

NEBBIOLO

This Northern Italian grape is responsible for two of the most renowned Italian wines: Barolo and Barbaresco. It is also key in many more DOC and DOCG wines throughout Northern Italy.  Its name Nebbiolo comes from the word nebbia which means 'fog.' The grape produces brightly colored wines that grow more brick-like with age. Nebbiolo's typical aromas are red fruits and roses with notes of coffee and anise.


Like Glera, this grape has made many, many appearances on my table. In July 2022 the #ItalianFWT writers explored the wines of Langhe; I shared Spicy Mussels with Chorizo + 2017 Villadoria Bricco Magno Langhe Nebbiolo. Every year I pour the Camilla Barolo - yes! I did buy my first bottle for the name - this might have been the first bottle: Family Favorites: Spaghetti Bolognese + Bruna Grimaldi Camilla Barolo 2016.

 

NEGROAMARO

Negroamaro’s name is derived from the Greek and Latin words mavros and niger which both mean 'black' and refers to the dark color of the grapes. Resulting wines are medium-bodied with expected aromas of black fruit, tobacco, and raisins.


 

NERELLO CAPPUCCIO

Nerello Cappuccio is a dark-skinned red grape whose name cappuccio comes from the capped appearance of the vine, hiding the fruit from view. The resulting Nerello Cappuccio wines are intensely colored with red fruit notes and flavors.


NERELLO MASCALESE

Nerello Mascalese is a dark, thick skinned grape varietal that mostly grows on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. The characteristics are medium to small oval grapes of light blue color. The varietal is actually part of the extended Sangiovese family.

 

NERO D’AVOLA

In the Sicilian dialect, Nero d’Avola means 'black from Avola.' It is a deeply dark-skinned grape that is high in tannins with medium acidity. Since it produces vibrant colored wines, it is often used in making Rosé wines.


In September 2020 the #ItalianFWT looked at sustainability in Italian wines. I paired Pasta alla Norma + Tasca d'Almerita Lamùri Nero d'Avola Sicilia 2016.

 

NOSIOLA

A versatile grape whose name derives from nocciola which means hazelnut, Nosiola is used to make wines that run the gamut from crisp and zippy to complex and sweet.

 

PASSERINA

This hardy grape makes herbaceous, high acidity wines with notes of ripe citrus and tropical fruit flavors. Passerina is used to make sparkling wines as well.

 

PECORINO

This grape's name comes from the shepherds who used to eat its fruit while tending their flocks grazing up and down the valleys. Pecorino is typically delicately herbal laced with notes of balsamic vinegar and with crisp winter fruits. As the wine ages, it develops an almost cheesy aroma

 

In August 2023 the #ItalianFWT looked at unexpected white wine pairings. I shared Pecorino Times Three: Two Cheeses and a Wine with a Lamb Burger.


PIEDIROSSO

Piedorosso means 'red foot' and is the most ancient and widely planted grape in Campania. Wines from this grape are red and black fruit forward with more complex, earthy characteristics of coffee and mushrooms.

 

PIGATO

Pigato's name means 'spotted' in the local dialect. It shares a salinity with Vermentino but with a creamier texture. Aromas and flavors have layers of summer stone fruit mixed with musky flowers.

 

PRIMITIVO

The name refers to this grape’s characteristic early ripening. This dark-skinned grape gives us an almost black, tannic wine that is earthy and rustic. Italian Primitivo is very different from its California counterparts where the grape is called Zinfandel.


In November 2020 the #ItalianFWT focused on this grape. You can read all of the posts in my article Pasta Fra Diavolo Topped with Stuffed Squid + Li Veli Orion Primitivo 2018.

 

REFOSCO DAL PEDUNCOLO ROSSO

The grapes of the Refosco vines are thin-skinned with an almost bluish grape. Aromas of wild berries mix with spice on the palate for a resulting wine that has a hint of bitterness.

 

RIBOLLA GIALLA

Grown mostly in Friuli Venezia Giulia, and neighboring Slovenia, the resulting wines verge on a reddish-amber color with high acidity of unripe apples and citrus fruits.


In August 2019 the #ItalianFWT explored the white wines of Northeastern Italy; I paired Coniglio in Agrodolce + Ronchi di Cialla Ribolla Gialla 2017.

 

RONDINELLA

Rondinella is a red grape variety that most often appears in the blend for Valpolicella, Amarone, and Recioto. 

 

ROSSESE

Rossese produces vibrant wines with high acidity and a dry mouthfeel. On the nose, aromas abound in florals and red fruits.

 

SAGRANTINO

A red grape from Umbria, Sagrantino makes full-bodied reds; and Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG is one of the most tannic wines produced in Italy. 


In February 2019 the #ItalianFWT group looked at this grape and other wines of Umbria. I shared Buridda for Befana + Còlpetrone 2011 Montefalco Sagrantino. Here are also Tasting Notes from a 2012 Montefalco Sagrantino.

 

SANGIOVESE

Cultivation of Sangiovese can be traced back to the Etruscans and its name seems to come from the Etruscan word sanisva, which refers to a funeral offering. This is probably the most well-known of the Italian grapes as it's the principal grape in Chianti which is the most exported wine from the country.


 

SCHIAVA

Native to the South Tyrol area, Schiava has been cultivated since the Roman time and makes light-bodied red wines with sweet aromas of cotton candy, strawberry, and bubblegum. In direct opposition to its nose, on the palate, the wine is much more dry and subtle than expected.


In September 2023 the #ItalianFWT group looked at the wines of Fruili and Trentino-Alto Adige. I posted A Small Sample from the Alto Adige: Whitefish Saltimbocca, Strangolapreti, and a Couple of Schiava.

 

TEROLDEGO

Teroldego is from Trentino and its name means 'the gold of Tyrol.' The resulting wines are inky hued with aromas that are fruity with underlying vegetal notes. It shares heritage with Syrah.

 

TIMORASSO

Timorasso is a Piemontese white grape that results in high acid, mineral-forward wines with white floral notes blended with peaches, apricots, and citrus blossoms.

 

TREBBIANO

Trebbiano Abruzzese is the official name of the variety, whose wines have aromas of white flowers and stone fruit. On the palate, the wines often have a creamy mouthfeel tempered with generous acidity and minerality.

 

VERDECA

While Verdeca's origin is uncertain, it was named for the green hue of its grapes. Historically it was used in vermouth production.

 

VERDICCHIO

As the name suggests Verdicchio's name comes from the green color of its fruits. Verdicchio wines are often heavily floral with a distinctive marzipan note.


I have paired Cascatelli, a Brand New Pasta Shape, plus Pievalta Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2017. And there was also the (unsuccessful pairing) Polpette al Forno + Sartarelli Verdicchio Passito 2013; the wine did go well with two sweets, however!

 

VERMENTINO

Vermentino wines run the gamut in flavors and aromas, but usually they are dominated by tropical fruits with floral notes and a bright salinity.


 

VERNACCIA

Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the name of both a white grape and a wine produced in Tuscany. It was the first Italian wine to receive a DOC appellation in the late 1960s, earning DOCG status three decades later. Vernaccia are typically citrusy and bright.


In November 2023 the #ItalianFWT group featured wines from Tuscany and I offered Polpo in Galera (Jailed Octopus) + La Lastra Vernaccia 2021.

 

VESPOLINA

Hailing from Northern Piemonte, this grape is often blended with Bonarda Piemontese and Nebbiolo. As a single varietal, Vespolina results in pale red wines with berry and balsamic notes combined with subtle floral notes.


How to Participate

Details for participation

Are you ready to jump in and participate in the March #ItalianFWT event? Here are the details…


Send an email to tell me you're in or post in the Facebook event group: Include your blog url. If you know your blog post title now, include that...but you can send me that a bit closer to the event, I'd like to get a sense of who's participating and give some shoutouts and links as we go. The email is culinarycami[at]gmail[dot]com.


Send your post title to me by Monday, March 4th, to be included in the preview post. I will do a preview post shortly after getting the titles, linking to your blogs. When your post goes live, the published title should include "#ItalianFWT" but it doesn't need to be included for the title list.


Publish your post by Saturday, March 9th, but you can publish anytime that week. You can always schedule your post in advance if you will be tied up around then.


Include a link to the other #ItalianFWT participants in your post, and a description of what the event is about. I'll provide the html code you can easily put in your initial post--which will link to people's general blog url--then updated code for the permanent links to everyone's #ItalianFWT posts. Get social! After the posts go live, please visit your fellow bloggers posts' to comment and share.


Sponsored posts OK if clearly disclosed. Please be sure to disclose if your post is sponsored or if you are describing wine or other products for which you have received a free sample.


Live #ItalianFWT Threads Chat March 9, 8 am Pacific: Participating bloggers and others interested in the subject will connect via a live Threads chat. It's a nice bring way to bring in others interested in the subject who didn't get a chance to share a blog post. You can definitely still join the blog event if you're not available for the chat.


I am looking forward to the explorations from this group. Stay tuned!

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