A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pelaverga - Verduno, Piedmont, Italy

Pelaverga is a tough grape to research.  My first line of attack, The Oxford Companion to Wine, has exactly one sentence about it: "pale, rare, red grape of Piemonte making slightly fizzy, strawberry-flavoured wines."  Pretty much all of my other books on Italian wines make no mention of the grape whatsoever.  Perhaps if it was grown in a less prestigious area, more writers might spend a little more time on it, but since it's grown exclusively in Piedmont, the land not only of great Nebbiolo but a wealth of other interesting indigenous varieties, it doesn't get very much attention.

It's definitely an obscure grape, grown in incredibly minute quantities in the Verduno and Saluzzo regions of Piemonte.  Verduno is located within the Barolo region and is just a few hills over from the famed Barolo site of La Morra, while Saluzzo is a little further west, on the foothills to the Alps.  There may be two different clones of Pelaverga grown in these two regions (Piccolo in Verduno and Nero in Saluzzo) but I'm not entirely sure.  In any case, it has a very long history in the Piedmont region, dating back to the 15th Century, but it was mostly used as a blending grape and, occasionally, as a table grape.  Pelaverga has been playing the starring role in wines only over the last few decades, and with the granting of DOC status to Verduno in 1995, there was a bit of a renaissance for the grape.  The DOC regulations stipulate that a minimum of 85% Pelaverga be used for the DOC designation (though I believe most producers use 100%).  Jeremy Parzen over at Do Bianchi has a cool story about how Pelaverga became a buzz wine in New York due to a mention in the NYT in 2006.  It hasn't exactly taken over the world since then, but it has made some inroads to the US market.

The name of the grape is also kind of interesting.  If you take the word apart, "pela" is the Italian verb "to peel," and "verga" means branch, so it means something like "branch peeler."  Jeremy postulates that the name has something to do with a viticultural practice used to train the vine itself.  But he also notes that "verga" is the Spanish word for male genitalia, and that the people of Verduno claim that the grape acts as an aphrodisiac.  I can't say that I noticed any particular changes when drinking this wine, but like pretty much all wines, it certainly doesn't seem to have any deleterious effects in that department.

I was able to find a bottle of the 2009 "do ut des" (which essentially means the same thing as "quid pro quo" I guess) Pelaverga from Ascheri for about $19.  When purchasing this wine, I was led to believe that it would be a little frizzante, and the research I did seemed to indicate that most Pelaverga is sold slightly spritzy, but this wine was totally flat without even a hint of effervescence.  The wine had a pale ruby color in the glass with little saturation and a shy nose of strawberry, raspberry and tart red cherry.  On the palate, the wine was light to medium bodied with high acid and virtually no tannin.  There was light strawberry and red cherry fruit with a kind of wet leather mustiness to it.  The alcohol here is a pretty hefty 14.5%, but it doesn't particularly stick out when drinking.  Overall, this is an enjoyable lightish red wine that reminded me somewhat of Schiava.  I tried this with a slight chill to it, but quickly abandoned that plan as it seemed to bring out a harsh bitterness to the finish.  I would really love to try one of these with a little spritz to it, but it's understandably difficult to locate.


Do Bianchi said...

thanks for the shout out! I've never tasted the Ascheri... Need to get on that! Great post...

Colin Talcroft said...

I just tasted a Pelaverga Bianco for the first time last night, also from Verduno. I had never heard of this grape. Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes has a single line about it, apparently referring to the red form of the grape (she calls it "a pale Piedmontese rarity making crackling strawberryish wines." I was impressed by the white wine I had. No strawberries, but it had an intriguing musky, smoky sort of flavor. For what it's worth, this looks like a grape that deserves some attention. Glad to see someone writing about it.


Anna Savino said...

love this wine! but i am lucky to live practically in Verduno:) The best one so far that I have tried has been Castello di Verduno! See if you could get that one!

Anonymous said...


Spent Labor day weekend (two weeks ago) in Verduno and made my third attempt in three years to buy the Castello di Verduno version of this wine. It'a always gone when I get there! Unforunately we couldnt Stay for the Sunday Festival. I did get some of the COMM G.B Burlotto version. Can't imagine much of this wine makes it to the US.