No one really knows how many grape varieties are planted throughout Italy today for the production of wine. There are at least 300, but the number could be as high as 1000 – or perhaps even higher. The reason that there is not fixed number is that growers are constantly finding a few rows of an obscure variety that they thought was extinct, yet there it is, mixed in amidst other varieties.
Of course, Italy has so-called international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Chardonnay planted in various regions, but the numbers for these varieties are small compared to the total acreage of indigenous varieties found throughout the country. It’s varieties such as Greco, Fiano and Aglianico in Campania, Sangiovese and Canaiolo in Tuscany and Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Arneis in Piemonte that are only a few of the distinct indigenous grapes that define the Italian wine world today.
I’ll cover some of the more important indigenous varieties in the next four posts; this will be A-C, while I’ll cover D-Z over the next few posts.
One of Italy’s greatest red varieties, primarily found in the southern regions of Campania and Basilicata. The most famous red wines made from this variety are Aglianico del Vulture, the best red wine of Basilicata and Taurasi and Aglianico del Taburno, both from Campania. Taurasi is one of the country’s most complex and longest-lived reds.
Popular thought has it that the word “aglianico” is a derivation of the word “hellenico”, an adjective for Greece; thus a reference to the Greek colonists that first planted this variety over 2000 years ago. Other linguists disagree with this reasoning.
Red variety with very good acidity and flavors of cherry, currant and plum used for production of lightly sweet dessert wine in Tuscany and Puglia.
White variety grown in Piemonte, most famously in the Roero district, across the Tanaro River from the Langhe. Usually non oak aged, the flavors are of pear and pine. Arneis in local dialect means “rascal” or “crazy.”
Grown in Piemonte, this is a red variety with light tannins and high acidity. Most famous examples are Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba (see post on Barbera).
A white variety with high acidity grown along the coastal zones of Campania, most famously in the Amalfi Coast and the island of Ischia. Many excellent whites from these areas have Biancolella as part of the blend.
There is both a Bombino Bianco and Bombino Nero. These varieties are found in Pugila – generally in the north (Castel del Monte DOC) – and are usually blending varieties.
A lovely red variety used most often to produce a charming lightly sparkling (frizzante) wine, especially Brachetto d’Acqui from Piemonte. Flavors of strawberry and raspberry. Some producers also make a passito version of Brachetto.
A traditional blending variety used in the Chianti zone. Light tannins with cherry fruit flavors. Many producers today in Chianti have gotten away from this variety in favor of better-known (and deeper-colored) international varieties.
Grown in Sardegna, this is known as Grenache in France. Produces light, earthy red wines with berry fruit and moderate tannins.
Also grown in Sardegna, this is known as Carignane in France (it is also grown in Spain). Deeply colored with raspberry and black cherry fruit, good acidity and rich, but not heavy tannins.
A white variety, found in the Etna district of Sicily. A few producers work with this variety and produce a long-lasting white with rich fruit (pear, lemon) and very good acidity. The name is translated as “constant.”
A white variety from Sicily, this produces simple, clean citrusy and apple-tinged dry whites meant for consumption in their youth.
A synonym for Nebbiolo as used in the Valtellina district.
Literally “cherry,” this is a red variety used in Tuscany, especially in the Maremma. Often used as a blending variety, there are a few examples of 100% Ciliegiolo that are quite full on the palate. Cherry flavors (naturally) and moderate tannins.
Another blending variety from Toscana, often used in Chianti. More deeply colored than Canaiolo.
The principal grape of Gavi (also known as Cortese di Gavi), a dry white from southeastern Piemonte. Flavors of pear with notes of almond.
One of the major red varieties used in the Valpolicella district (and in the production of Amarone). Rich tannins, plenty of spice and cherry fruit. This is the variety that gives the most intensity to a Valpolicella or Amarone.
Another variety used in the Valpolicella district. Similar characteristics to Corvina, but with fewer tannins and more forward fruit.
See my companion website: learnitalianwines.com
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