Posts tagged ‘indigenous’

V for Vitovska – V for Vodopivec

The beautiful orange hues of Vodopivec Vitovska “Anfora” (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Face it, it’s a lot of fun going on the remarkable journey that is the world of indigenous Italian varieties. You get to try so many wines made from grapes you find nowhere else (sometimes not even in any other regions in Italy), meaning you learn so much and experience so many new flavors in wine. If that isn’t the definition of fulfilling pleasure, I don’t know what is.

One of the most distinctive varieties I’ve embraced over the past year has been Vitovska. If you’ve never heard of it, well, don’t be surprised, as this white grape is only found (to the best of my knowledge) in the relatively small Carso district in southeastern Friuli. This is the small peninsula that curves around the Adriatic Sea and borders with Slovenia.

Only 122 acres of Vitovska currently exist in Carso; the best-known producers to work with this variety are Edi Kante and Paolo Vodopivec. The latter vintner produces two versions of this wine: one aged in large oak barrels (referred to as classica) and one aged in anforae, clay pots once used by winemakers centuries ago. Friulian winemaker Josko Gravner made this vessel important again when he decided to age his white wines in them and Vodopivec, an admirer of Gravner’s traditional winemaking ways, has followed suit.

Vodopivec (pronounced vo-do-pee-vetz), works solely with Vitovska, so he has been able to do a great amount of research with this variety; he believes high density planting is what is needed (his planting regime is at 10,000 vines per hectare, an extremely high amount) and as he believes the variety displays its finest aromatics and qualities when aged in anfora, he has settled upon this for the primary percentage of his production. His vineyards are organically farmed and he uses no chemicals. While this makes his work more difficult, Vodopivec believes this is the proper way to produce the most distinctive version of Vitovska.

The Vodopivec Vitovska Anfora is what is referred to today as an “orange wine”, as it has a deep orange, light amber hue that comes partly from the skins (Vodopivec leaves the grapes in contact with the skins for six months) as well as from the anforae. As there are no wood notes, the variety’s aromatics shine through, usually with notes of Anjou pear, mango and cooked orange. There is good, but generally not extremely high acidity, although that depends on the vintage, as Vodopivec mentions. “In my wines, the acidity is normally not too high, but if it is expressed, there is a pronounced freshness.” The vintner also notes the pronounced minerality as well as notes of honey and almond in the finish.

Vodpoivec first made Vitovska from the 1997 vintage, fermenting and aging it in large oak casks; beginning with the 2005 vintage, he decided to also age some of the wine in anforae and from now on, most of the production will be from anforae. Not only does he love the complexities of the wine as aged in these vessels, he also believes the wine’s structure is improved in this manner.

I recently tasted the current 2006 vintage and was quite impressed at how much better this wine is than the excellent 2005 version. Whether that has to do with the particulars of that year or the fact that Vodopivec now has a better handle on things is up for argument, but the fact is that the 2006 Anfora version (noted by a small orange strip on the bottom of the front label) is an exceptional wine. The aromas are of apricot, baked pear and a note of canteloupe, while the wine glides across the palate; there is a very lengthy finish with lively acidity and excellent persistence. This beautiful looking deep orange wine has impressive texture; as rich and as deeply concentrated this wine is, it is also a wine of great finesse. The balance of this wine is impeccable, as everything is in harmony. What a joy to drink!

While this bottling is quite tempting now, it will greatly improve with time; I expect this wine to be at its finest in another 10-12 years. As only about 1000 cases were made (this is the average production for Vodopivec), the $75 retail price is an honest one. The wine is imported nationally by Domaine Select Wine Estates of New York City.

This is not a wine that anyone would drink every day (even if you could purchase enough), but it is a stunning wine that reminds us of the individualities of Italy’s indigenous varieties as well as the vintners that work with these grapes. Here’s to Paolo Vodopivec and his endeavors with the Vistovska variety!

September 28, 2010 at 11:06 am 2 comments

Wine Statistics in Italy

Vineyards in Alto Adige (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I am off to Puglia and Campania today, so a brief post. I’ll resume posts in about 2 weeks.

Here is a list I thought would be of interest to readers. This is a list of wine statistics in Italy that I saw on a poster in the tasting room of Brandini Winery in La Morra.


700,000 cultivated hectares

800,000 properties

0.9 ha – medium size property

30,000 producers

500 denominations

400 grapes (only 5% not indigenous)

50 million hectoliters produced

2 Euro medium price per liter

10 billion Euro – total wine business

84% of all Italian bottles in wine shops sell for less than 5 Euro

June 4, 2010 at 9:12 am 2 comments

The Charm of Italian Wines


Bottle of Ceretto Barolo with the town of Castiglione Falletto in the background (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Bottle of Ceretto Barolo with the town of Castiglione Falletto in the background (Photo ©Tom Hyland)



I’ve written quite a bit about specific Italian wines, from Piemonte in the north to Sicilia in the south, but today I thought I’d step back a bit and discuss the unique characteristics of Italian wines in general. I hope you enjoy this post! - TH



What makes Italian wines so fascinating? There are many explanations, but for me the primary reason is the fact that Italian wines are unique, a world apart from the follow-the-leader- wines being produced by so many estates today, eager for consumer acceptance.

The world of wine is becoming homogenized these days. Just look at the most famous offerings from France and California and you’ll discover that they are made from the same six varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay (the chocolate, strawberry and vanilla of the wine world), Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. I’m not forgetting about Zinfandel from California or Gewurztraminer, Riesling or Pinot Gris from Alsace in northeastern France, but they take a back seat in the press and in retail selections to the previously mentioned six.


Now think about the countries around the world that have become a major force in the wine world over the last decade. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and now South Africa. What grapes are their most famous wines made from? You guessed it- the Big Six. You can’t blame the producers in these countries for taking the lead of France and California, as success breeds success. What will a winery in South Africa have a better chance of selling to the American public – Pinotage, which is a local specialty or Cabernet Sauvignon? If you don’t know the answer to that, say hello to Santa Claus for me this Christmas as he comes down your chimney.


Vineyards in the Greco di Tufo zone, Campania (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Vineyards in the Greco di Tufo zone, Campania (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

That’s what makes Italy so special in the world of wines. Producers in Campania might be able to make a name for themselves if they planted Chardonnay, but they continue to craft lovely white wines from grapes such as Greco, Fiano and Falanghina. The same holds true for the vintners of Abruzzo, who are beginning to see the intricacies of the Montepulciano grape and are creating more complex versions that more consumers want as they move away from quantity and towards quality.

This is not to say that international varieties (such as the Big Six) are not planted in Italy. Tuscany has adopted them in some of their most lavish bottlings (the so-called Super Tuscans often contain Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot in large proportions) and there are thousands of acres of Chardonnay and Merlot in the Veneto that are used for inexpensive bottlings. But international varieties are not what Italy does best; it is the indigenous varietals that represent the heart and soul of Italian viticulture.

Try a Soave made from the Garganega grape planted in vineyards in eastern Veneto. When made by an artisan producer, this is one of the country’s loveliest whites with aromas of honeydew melon, pear and lilies and offering beautiful texture and a light note of minerality in the finish. Or go with a Pecorino (yes, the wine, not the cheese) from Abruzzo or Marche. This grape yields a lovely dry white with flavors of peaches and cream that is lovely for pasta primavera or white meats such as chicken, veal or pork.

One of the most interesting native red varietals in Italy is Dolcetto from Piemonte. While too many wine publications focus on the famous Piemontese red wines made from the Nebbiolo grape (Barolo and Barbaresco), the natives pay a lot of attention to Dolcetto. This is the everyday red wine in the same locales where Barolo is produced and it is a great choice for lighter pastas and meats. The Barbera grape, the most planted grape in this region has plenty of spice with naturally high acidity. Vintners are experimenting with this varietal today, with versions ranging from the traditional, high acid, rustic styles (perfect for salumi) to riper, more oaked, slightly less acidic versions that stand up to roast veal and pork.

The best way to experience these indigenous varietals is with food. The publications that are obsessed with scoring wines on a 100-point system miss the point as their scores represent a bigger-is-better approach. If you truly believe that concept is true, then awarding a wine points might make sense. But as a winemaker once told me, “Bigger isn’t better, it’s different.” Or as a winemaker in Soave told me recently, “There are wines for tasting and there are wines for drinking,” In other words, some wines are just better with food because the winemaker isn’t interested in power or making the wine as rich as possible, but instead is interested in balance and finesse. The better balanced a wine is – white or red – the more foods it can accompany. And isn’t that why we drink wine in the first place? A humble Primitivo from Puglia that sells for $10-12 per bottle may not stand up to prime rib, but drink it with a slice of pizza or spare ribs and you’ve got a great partnership and one that brings pleasure.

There are literally hundreds of indigenous varietals from the entire country – far too may to mention here, even if I knew all of them. Fact of the matter is, no one in Italy knows all of them either; it turns out that varietals thought to be extinct are being discovered in vineyards from Piedmont in the north to Sicily in the south. But that’s the charming thing about Italy and its native varietals; there’s always something new – and different – out there for our pleasure.


Vineyards in Alto Adige (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Vineyards in Alto Adige (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

September 11, 2009 at 2:42 pm 2 comments

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

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