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, April 4, 2012

Groppello - Garda, Lombardy, Italy

The last time I counted the number of entries on my Wine Century Club application, I had over 350 different grapes crossed off, so it isn't all that often that I come across something completely new to me.  Such was the case, though, when Paul Turina, of Turina Italian Wines, emailed me a few weeks ago.  Paul had read my posts on Marzemino and Turbiana and was wondering if I'd ever tried any wines made from the Groppello or the Vespaiola grapes.  I informed him that I had not, and so Paul made the trek down from Portland, Maine, to bring me a half case sampler of wines that he imports from various regions in Italy.  I wrote about his Grechetto a few days ago and will be writing about the Vespaiola and the Sagrantino he brought me in a few days, but today I'd like to take a look at the Groppello grape, three wines made from it, and the man who brought them to me.

Paul Turina became a wine importer pretty much by accident.  He'd always enjoyed having a glass of wine with dinner (he is Italian, after all), but he wasn't too fussy about what he drank and didn't spend too much time thinking about it.  About ten years ago, he and his family decided to take a trip to Italy to visit a set of his cousins.  Paul had never been to Italy before and had never met this particular branch of his family tree.  He and his relations struck up a fast acquaintance and began traveling back and forth across the Atlantic on a somewhat regular basis to visit with one another.  On one of Paul's trips, he and his relations stepped into a local restaurant for dinner.  Paul's habit was to order the house wine at Italian eateries, which is usually a fairly anonymous wine made by the proprietor or one of his associates, but on this visit, he decided to take a look at the wine list to see what kinds of things they had to offer.  As he scanned the list, he noticed his own last name, Turina, next to one of the listings.  Curious, he asked the server about the producer and was informed that it was a local family winery which was located just a few doors down the road.

Paul went to investigate the winery and discovered that the proprietors were distant relatives (3rd cousins or so) of his who were fairly well known in the Garda Bresciano region of Lombardy, which is on the western bank of Lake Garda.  The winery is run by Luigi, Dario and Paolo Turina, three brothers who are the latest proprietors of a family winery that goes back a few generations.  The Turina winery is the largest producer in the Brescia region and is quite well known there (one of their rosé wines won an award for best rosé in Italy at one point), but they had no American importer and so their wines were unavailable and unknown in the USA.  Paul decided to change that.

Paul and his awesome Vespa Ape
For sixteen years, Paul had been a chemical importer and distributor.  If he could do it with chemical products, why not wine, he thought to himself, so he procured an importer's license from the Federal Government and began to import his family's wines more as a hobby in order to, as he put it in an email to me, supply his brother with a wine that had his own name on the label.  Over time, his wine-making relatives began to introduce him to other producers who were looking to move into the American market, so Paul would visit with them and, if things went well, he would buy a few cases from them to bring into the US.  He currently represents about 10 different producers who are scattered across nothern Italy and who, together, put out about 40 different labels.  He is frequently traveling back to Italy to find new producers to add to his portfolio and is thinking about branching out more into southern Italy in the near future.  Most of the wineries he represents are small family owned operations that don't produce a ton of wine (the exception is the Turina winery, which produces about 150,000 bottles per year from about 18 hectares of land).  Many of them farm organically and nearly all of them have invested heavily over the past decade or so in their own wineries in order to raise the quality of their wines, which was certainly evident in the wines that I was able to try from his portfolio.

Paul is passionate about the wines that he imports and his enthusiasm for his products is infectious.  He met with me because he is trying to catch the attention of distributors outside of Maine, particularly in Massachusetts, so that he can offer the wines in his portfolio to a larger set of consumers.  The current laws in Massachusetts stipulate that Paul cannot sell his wines directly to retailers, restaurants or individuals within Massachusetts because his business is located in Maine and direct shipping from any out of state producer is prohibited (for the purpose of the law, Paul is considered a producer despite the fact that he is an importer).  He can only sell to a distributor located within Massachusetts who can then apply their markup and sell the wine to Massachusetts retailers who can then apply their markup and then sell it to us, the consumers.  It's a complicated and ridiculous system that is insanely cumbersome, outdated, and unfair, but it is the system we live in and its rules are the rules we have to abide by (those who are interested in changing those laws should check out Free the Grapes and contact their local elected officials to express their displeasure).  I really do encourage any retailers who may be interested in his wines to contact Paul through his website or to contact one of their local distributors to try and urge them to pick up some of Paul's wines.  There are some products he has, like the three different Groppello's I'll take a look at below, that are currently not available in Massachusetts and which are good and interesting enough that wine drinkers will want to seek them out.  I've had the opportunity to sample all six wines he brought to me by now and all of them were unique and tasty while some of them, like the Grechetto, bordered on exceptional.  Paul hasn't paid me a dime for anything I've written and I don't stand to profit at all if his business takes off.  I'm merely a fan of the wines he brought me and hate that more people may not be able to try them because we live in a system that is designed, set up and maintained out of greed rather than out of a genuine concern for quality or consumer choice.

With that out of the way, we can now take a look at one of the grapes grown by Paul's family on the western bank of Lake Garda.  That grape is called Groppello (they also grow "Lugana," aka Turbiana, though I've not had the opportunity to taste any of their wines made from it), and there isn't a lot of information available on it.  The Oxford Companion to Wine's entry reads in full: "red grape variety grown to a limited extent in the Italian wine region of Lombardia."  There seem to be at least three different subspecies of Groppello:  Groppello Gentile and Groppello di Mocasina, which are red grapes, and Groppello Bianco, which is obviously white.  Groppello di Santo Stefano is mentioned as a sub-variety in some places but is probably just a synonym for Groppello di Mocasina according to the VIVC.  The German Wikipedia site does have a page for it (and is, remarkably, the source of nearly all the info I could find on Groppello), though, and they indicate that it is planted on less than 30 hectares of land on the western shore of Lake Garda.  The VIVC does have separate listings for Groppello di Mocasina and Groppello Gentile so it is possible that they're completely different grapes, but most other sites treat them as sub-varieties of the same grape, so I'm following suit.  It doesn't appear that anyone has done any genetic research on these two varieties, but it is probably the case that they're mutations of the same grape or are very very closely related.

The Mocasina subvariety is the lesser planted of the two, covering only about 47 hectares of land, and is so named because it is found primarily in the Mocasina area around Lake Garda.  Groppello Gentile is planted on just under 500 hectares of land, and, like its compatriots, is planted almost exclusively on the western shore of Lake Garda.  Groppello Bianco is generally a synonym for the Nosiola grape, but there does appear to be a white grape called simply Groppello in the VIVC that appears to be distinct from the Nosiola grape.  I'm unsure what its relation is to the other grapes and, further, am unsure what Nosiola's relationship is to any of the other Groppello grapes.  What I do know is the name Groppello comes from the Italian word grop, which means "knot" and refers to the knot-like appearance of the berry clusters on the vine.  Luigi Turina, grandfather to the three brothers currently running the winery, began his Turina Winery because of his belief in the quality of the Groppello grape, and the winery currently offers four different wines that depend on Groppello to some degree.

The first wine that I tried was the Fontanamora Chiaretto, which is at least 50% Groppello (by law), 30% Marzemino and the rest Barbera, though the exact percentages vary from year to year.  The winery also has a wine that is just called "Chiaretto," which I wasn't able to try.  The difference, I think, is that the grapes for this wine come from a prized vineyard site called Fontanamora (and that Sangiovese is used more than Barbera in the final blend for the basic Chiaretto).  For some reason the Turina winery doesn't list this wine on their website, though they do have a page for the regular Chiaretto bottling.  When Paul was telling me about this wine, I thought it was interesting that the final blend of grapes is actually determined prior to pressing.  For most blended wines, each grape variety is pressed and vinified separately and then the finished lots of wine are blended together.  For this wine, all the different grapes are crushed together, left on the skins for less than 24 hours (by law; the actual timing for this bottling was more like 8 hours Paul tells me), pressed, and then the combined juice is all fermented together.  It's a tough way to make wine since if you're off at all, there's no chance to adjust prior to bottling.  You have to make your blending decision based on the grapes themselves and just live with it.

All three of the wines reviewed below were given to me as samples directly from Paul.  I have not been compensated in any way other than receipt of the bottle and I do not have any business affiliation with Paul Turina or any of his associates.  The vintage for this bottle was 2011 and the price that he lists on his website for those interested in purchasing directly from him (if you are fortunate enough to live in a state where that is possible) is $13.  In the glass this wine was a vibrant pink color with perhaps just a hint of onion skin orange around the edges.  The nose was nicely aromatic with tart cherry, strawberry, abd crushed fresh red berry fruit with something slightly floral as well.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity.  It was bone dry with bright, juicy tart cherry, maraschino cherry, watermelon, strawberry and fresh raspberry fruit.  It was a bit like drinking a fresh red berry fruit cocktail.  It was clean and refreshing with lovely pure fruit flavors.  This would be a great thing to open up after mowing the lawn on a hot summer day or just to sit on the porch with to watch a July sunset.

The next wine that I tried was the 2010 entry level Groppello which Paul has listed for $12 on his site.  The grapes are hand sorted prior to crushing and are left on their skins for five days.  Once the fermentation is complete, they are racked into oak barrels (some new but I'm not sure what percentage) and aged for six months prior to bottling.  In the glass this wine was a medium purple ruby color.  The nose was fairly intense with dusky red cherry and raspberry fruit with tea leaves and spice.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity and low tannins.  There were juicy fresh cherry and red berry fruits with black tea and black pepper on the spicy finish.  The Turina winery website suggests beef or lamb with this, but I don't think it's quite big enough to handle that.  It actually reminded me more of a cross between a nice cool climate Pinot Noir and a Cru Beaujolais.  I actually think this might be nicely refreshing with a slight chill on it, thought it was quite nice at room temperature as well.  It would go with a wide variety of foods and would be an ideal match for almost anything in a tomato sauce.  Fans of bright, juicy, fruit-forward wines with nice acid and soft tannins will find a lot to like here.

The last wine that I tried was a reserve bottling of Groppello sourced from the Seselle vineyard which, according to the Turina winery website, is an ideal location for Groppello.  Groppello is fairly thin-skinned and so is very vulnerable to fungal diseases and moist conditions.  This particular site is situated so that the winds sweeping off of Lake Garda keep the air circulating and prevent any moisture from accumulating on the grapes as they ripen.  As a result, the grapes can hang on the vine a little longer and get a bit riper than in other places.  This wine is aged for two years in oak (some new) before bottling without any filtration.  The wine I tried was the 2007 and Paul lists the price for it on his site at $18.  In the glass this wine was a medium purple ruby color.  The nose was very aromatic with spicy black cherry, plum, charcoal, smoke and black pepper.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity and medium tannins.  There were flavors of red and black cherry, raspberry, smoke, black pepper, baking spice, cola and a hint of brown sugar.  Some of the smoke blows off a bit as this opens up and the red berry fruits step a bit more into the forefront.  The baking spice and cola notes are very pronounced and the wine has a nice spicy complexity that the basic Groppello bottling lacks.  It reminded me quite a bit of the Cesanese I had a few months back.  This wine has a bit more stuffing than the basic Groppello, but I'd probably stick with the same kinds of foods.  I'd be more inclined to open this with grilled meats because of the smoky notes that I picked up in it, but I still think tomato sauces are probably this bottle's best friend.

If any of these wines interest you, please visit Paul's website and send him an email.  He's a fascinating guy who is absolutely in love with what he does.  He's one of the good guys and I really hope someone agrees to pick up the distribution for some of his wines in Massachusetts soon.

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