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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bombino Bianco - Puglia, Italy

Today's grape has one of my very favorite grape names of all time.  Bombino Bianco is so fun to say and makes me picture these little white bombs growing on grapevines.  Sadly (for me anyway) the name has nothing to do with bombs, but exactly where it comes from isn't totally clear.  One story has it that the grape bunches look a child with its arms outstretched, so the name Bombino comes from the word Bambino, meaning baby.  It would take a Herculean effort of imagination to picture a baby with arms outstretched in any of the images for Bombino that I've seen, so I'm extremely dubious about this particular story.

There is a slightly more believable story that relies on the grape's purported heritage for its explanatory power.  It thought that the grape may have come over from Spain, though no one offers any evidence (ampelographical or genetic) that I can find to support this hypothesis, and I'm not aware of any vine currently planted in Spain that may be Bombino in disguise.  In any case, the story goes that the Spanish name for the grape was Bonvino (meaning "good wine"), but since the Spanish "v" is pronounced like the Italian "b," the name got corrupted to Bombino once it took hold in Italy.  This story is convincing only to the extent that you buy that the grape is from Spain, and I find myself wondering if perhaps this origin story was concocted because of its linguistic convenience and is itself ultimately the source for the purported Spanish connection.

Wherever the name's origins truly lie, the grape is today known as Bombino Bianco, except when it isn't.  Bombino has a wide variety of synonyms, and these synonyms get us into trouble as we move from region to region within Italy.  The grape is known as Pagadebit or Pagadebito in some places, but this is a relatively common synonym for many different grape.  The name means "debt-payer" and is commonly used for several grapes that give very high yields and produce a lot of juice for the grower.  In particular, there is a grape in Emilia-Romagna known as Pagadebit that was (and, for the most part still is) thought to be the same as Bombino, and a lot of it may be Bombino, but at least some of it is another grape altogether (see my post on Mostosa for info on this grape and on the Pagadebit name more generally).  Some sources also indicate that Bombino and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo are one and the same grape, though this also may turn out to be untrue.  While Wikipedia lists Trebbiano d'Abruzzo as an accepted synonym for Bombino Bianco, The Oxford Companion to wine indicates that they are distinct grapes, and Nicolas Belfrage, in his Brunello to Zibibbo concurs.  Belfrage quotes two Italian writers, Salvatore del Gaudio and Domenico Giusto, who, in their Principali Vitigni, examined the ampelographical characteristics of the two vines and concluded unequivocally that the two grapes are distinct.

So our current situation is essentially this: we find ourselves in Puglia with a grape called Bombino Bianco, which is sometimes called Pagadebit, but which is different from the Pagadebit in Emilia-Romagna, or is at least different from some of the grapes called Pagadebit there, and which was also thought to be identical to Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, but is not.  Our Bombino is, as the Pagadebit synonym (and the more colorful Stracchia Cambiale synonym, meaning "tear up the invoices") suggests, a cash crop, grown primarily because it yields explosively and reliably.  Few producers bother with bottling the wine, and a great deal of it is shipped to Germany, where it is bottled as ordinary, anonymous EU Table Wine.  Nicolas Belfrage's assessment of the potential quality of the grape is summed up when he says "Bombino Bianco can make as dull and tasteless a wine as you could hope to find."  He mentions that some producers are experimenting with lower yields in an effort to coax some character from the grape, but ultimately says the wines produced even from these estates are "more for the drinker than the thinker."

Despite that lackluster endorsement, I picked up a bottle of the 2009 Cantele "Telero" Bombino Bianco from my friends at Curtis Liquors for about $8.  In the glass, the wine was a pale silvery greenish lemon color.  The nose was moderately aromatic with crisp apple, pear, and grapefruit peel aromas.  On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity.  There were flavors of pear and lemon with a grapefruit/lemon citrus peel sort of thing lurking in the background.  There was something vaguely floral about it, but it wasn't really strong enough to pin down to anything more specific than that.  It finished with a chalky kind of minerality that I wasn't particularly crazy about.  Overall, it was pretty generic, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it was the most dull or tasteless wine I've ever had.  There's nothing here to offend anyone unless you're offended by mediocrity.  I will say that if you open this bottle, finish it the same day as it went sharply downhill on day two and became nearly undrinkable.  For people who are fans of inexpensive, mild white wines, there's probably a lot here to enjoy. It could sub in very well for some of the high volume Pinot Grigio or Garganega based wines made in northern Italy so if you just feel like switching it up a little bit geographically, give this a shot.

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