Posts tagged ‘chiavennasca’

Italian Varieties – A to C


Vineyard in the Taurasi zone planted to Aglianico (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Vineyard in the Taurasi zone planted to Aglianico (Photo ©Tom Hyland)



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).


Barbera vineyards below the town of Castelnuovo Calcea, Asti (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Barbera vineyards below the town of Castelnuovo Calcea, Asti (Photo ©Tom Hyland)




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.


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August 6, 2009 at 12:49 pm Leave a comment


Given that Italy’s wine industry is based on indigenous varieties, it’s no surprise that many of the country’s finest wines are not very well known. One of the great red wines that few people know much about is Valtellina, from northern Lombardia, not far from the Swiss border.

The wines here are made from the Nebbiolo grape, the same variety that is the source of the famous offerings of Barolo and Barbaresco from the neighboring region of Piemonte. In Valtellina, the Nebbiolo grape is known as Chiavennasca and it is the basis for all the best reds here, most importantly Valtellina Superiore, which must be made from a minimum of 90% Chiavennasca.

Valtellina is an east-west zone (I believe the only east-west wine valley in Italy) and many of the best plantings are 1200-1500 feet above sea level. As this area is located so far north in Italy and is quite cool, it becomes necessary to plant vines at such altitudes to catch as many of the sun’s rays as possible for optimum ripening conditions. This however, makes things a bit difficult, especially for work in the vineyards. Plantings run every which way and are often shored up by rock walls, to prevent erosion. This is extreme viticulture at one of its most extreme sitings and it assures that big corporations will not be investing in this area anytime soon; rather is it the small families that are the producers of wines from Valtellina.


Vineyards at the Castello di Grumello, Valtellina (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Vineyards at the Castello di Grumello, Valtellina (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


The most common wine here is Valtellina Superiore with the best bottlings named for five districts. The districts are: Grumello, Valgella, Sassella (named for the rocks in the soil), Maroggia and Inferno, this last zone named for the summertime heat in the vineyard which can get as hot as you-know-where.

These Nebbiolo-based wines do not have the sheer power of Barolo or Barbaresco, but do offer excellent richness and complexity. Think of these wines are more subdued than their Piemontese cousins, often with a distinct spiciness. The wines are gently rustic and feature flavors of cherry, dried brown herbs and notes of rosemary and thyme backed by good acidity and firm, but not overpowering tannins.

The best producers of Valtellina include:

  • Ar Pe. Pe.
  • Nino Negri
  • Aldo Rainoldi
  • Triacca
  • Conti Sertoli Salis
  • Fay
  • Mamete Prevostini



Aldo Rainoldi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Aldo Rainoldi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)



The greatest red wine of Valtellina is a Valtellina Superiore known as Sforzato (also known as Sfurzat or Sufrsat). The word sforzato is loosely translated as “forced” and it refers to the appassimento process used to produce this wine. This is the same process used to produce Amarone from Valpolicella; it concerns the initial steps in which newly harvested grapes are placed on mats or in boxes in special humidity-controlled rooms and natually dried for a period of about three months. The grapes lose a large percentage of their water, shriveling up to very small berries, almost like raisins; thus some of the flavors are “forced” in the wine with this process.

These are remarkable wines, among the best of Italy, with great power and distcintive spice. They generally age for 10-12 years (a few even longer) and tend to need very rich game or red meat to accompany them. Among the best examples of Sforzato are the “Ca’Rizzieri” from Rainoldi, the “Feudo del Conte” from Sertoli Salis, the “Roncho del Picchio” from Fay and the amazing “5 Stelle” from Nino Negri.

A few final words on Valtellina regarding foods to accompany these wines. The most famous cheese of the area is Bitto, a D.O.P. cheese that is aged for periods from 70 days to 10 years! As you can imagine, the longest-aged examples are quite powerful, making them fine partners for a Sforzato.

One of the area’s signature dishes is pizzocheri, which became one of my favorite regional foods from anywhere in Italy on my recent trip. A number of ingredients make up this dish; at the center is a pasta made with a local rye grain known as grano saraceno, a medium-width pasta much like fettucine that is cooked with casera, a local cow’s milk cheese and a cabbage known as verza. This cabbage has an exotic blend of swetness along with earthy, lightly bitter flavors. It’s unlike any other pasta dish I’ve tried in Italy and its complexities and flavors perfectly accompany the earthiness and spice of a Valtellina Superiore from Grumello or Sassella.

July 9, 2009 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

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