For some reason, the Marche region of Italy keeps popping up around here. It's not a particularly prolific region, but I am continually finding oddities from there on the shelves at my favorite local shops. Today's wine is Bianchello del Matauro, a white wine made from the Bianchello grape in the valley surrounding the Matauro stream in the northern portion of the Marche. The wine history here goes back a long ways. There's a story about a battle by the Matauro stream where the Roman army defeated and turned back a Carthaginian force led by Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal. As the legend has it, the Roman army's triumph was inspired by their copious consumption of Bianchello wine prior to the battle (which is strikingly similar to the tale about Bull's Blood).
The grape goes by several different names. Biancame is the most common synonym, though Bianuccio and Greco Bianchello also are used (it is thought that Bianchello might be a clonal variant of the Greco grape). One source seems to think that Bianchello is the same grape as Ugni Blanc/Trebbiano Toscana, which is the grape most famous for being the base of Cognac. I do not find this information duplicated anywhere else, so I'm wary about the claim and will doubt it until I see corroboration from somewhere else. In any case, Bianchello is thought to be native to Italy and has a history dating back to at least 500 BC. The Bianchello del Matauro region was one of the regions inaugurated into the first DOC classification undertaken in Italy in 1969.
And, that's about it. There isn't a lot of information out there about this grape, it seems. I was able to pick up a bottle of the Fiorini "Tenuta Campioli" bottling from 2008 for about $14.50 from my friends at Bin Ends. The Fiorini website says that they produce about 70,000 bottles (less than 6,000 cases) of this per year and that the wines are sourced from 100-year old vines. It is typically advised that one should drink this within one year of the vintage, but it seems like Fiorini has tried to create a wine with the structure to age a bit. In the glass, the was a pale straw color and brilliantly clear. The nose was a bit reserved, with some crisp pear aromas. It was pretty full bodied with a thick, creamy texture in the mouth and medium acidity. There were some creamy pear flavors, but that was about it for the fruit. This wine was all about steely minerality, which was very surprising to me given how heavy it felt on the palate. Usually all that weight carries a bigger fruit load, but this was definitely more clean and fresh on the palate. My guess is that this wine was a little past its prime and had lost a good portion of its fruit content. It was certainly enjoyable as it was, but some fresh fruit flavors could have really put it over the top. It may be pretty difficult to find this in the US within a year of the vintage, but if you do, I'd recommend that you go for it and take a chance.