Nerello Mascalese is starting to show up more and more in many wine shops, as is Frappato, which is undoubtedly one of my favorite grapes. Today I'd like to take a look at an even lesser known Sicilian grape called Perricone (which is sometimes called Pignatello, though it is not related to Pugnitello, Pignoletto, or Pignolo as far as I know).
When I started to research the Perricone grape, it initially looked like perhaps it wouldn't be suitable for inclusion on this site after all. Searching for Perricone on Wikipedia initially directed me to a page for a Dr. Nicholas Perricone, but below the header for that article it says "for the wine grape that is also known as Perricone, see Barbera," which, to me at least, is certainly not Fringe Wine grape. I was surprised, but went to the article on Barbera where I read "in Sicily, the grape [Barbera] is used in various blends under the names Perricone or Pignatello." The source for this bit of information was the Oxford Companion to Wine, and in its entry for Barbera, the OCW says "in Sicilia some argue that the local Perricone, or Pignatello, is Barbera." The OCW also has an entry on Perricone, though, which reads in full: "Sicilian red grape variety planted on hardly more than 1,000 ha/2,500 acres of the island. Soft varietal wines are sometimes called by its synonym Pignatello." No mention is made of a possible relationship to Barbera, so I decided to expand the search and see if there was anything more substantial that could prove or disprove a connection between the two grapes.
The VIVC cultivar name database has separate listings for Barbera and Perricone, which means that they are considered separate cultivars by the database. The VIVC microsatellite database had an entry for Barbera, but not for Perricone, so I set out to try to find a DNA profile of Perricone to compare to the VIVC profile for Barbera. The first paper that I found (citation 1 below) evaluated 82 different Sicilian grapes and published the microsatellite profile for each. When I checked this against the Barbera entry in the VIVC, it was clear that they didn't match. This was encouraging, but I felt like I needed a little more before I could feel confident that the two grapes were not identical and, furthermore, not related.
The VIVC's entry on Perricone indicates that one of its parents is Sangiovese. The bibliographic entry for this bit of information led me to a second paper (citation 2 below), which I had actually read before while I was doing research for my post on Ciliegiolo. In this paper, the authors provide microsatellite data that was consistent with what was in the first paper, and which also didn't match Barbera. Further, the authors were able to show that Perricone is likely an offspring of Sangiovese, though the other parent is unknown. Barbera is definitely not an offspring of Sangiovese, and if you don't want to take my word for it, you can plug each grape into the VIVC microsatellite database and see in the results (the fact that they don't match at either site on VVMD7 & VrZAG62 proves there is no parent/offspring relationship). All of this information together means that Perricone and Barbera are definitely two different cultivars.
Now that we know what Perricone isn't, let's see if we can learn a little bit about what it is. The phrase "blending grape" pops up a lot in descriptions of Perricone as its deep color, full body and tannic structure make it suitable for blending with lighter Sicilian grapes. Nicolas Belfrage, in his Brunello to Zibibbo says that it was more widely spread throughout Sicily as recently as 100 years ago, but plantings have fallen over the past century as plantings of Nero d'Avola have risen since the grapes share many of the same oenological qualities, but Nero d'Avola is considered superior to Perricone in the quality of the wines it makes. There are a couple of DOCs (namely Eloro and Contea di Sclafani) that permit the inclusion of Perricone and which also allow for varietal wines to be made from it, but the two wines that I was able to find were both IGT.
Spirited Gourmet. In the glass the wine was a fairly deep purple-ruby color. The nose was fairly intense with smoky black cherry and black raspberry fruit along with some savory charcoal and meat aromas. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity and medium tannins. There were flavors of black cherry, blackberry and raspberry fruit as well as some smoky leather and charred meat. There was something a little bit like burnt rubber on the finish, but it wasn't prominent enough to throw the wine off. Overall I thought this wine was juicy, fruity and savory and actually reminded me quite a bit of Nero d'Avola or Syrah. I thought it was a very nice value at only $11 and imagine that it would be a great match for pretty much any grilled red meat, though it is definitely soft and friendly enough to drink on its own.
Winestone for around $25. In the glass this wine was also a fairly deep purple-ruby color. The nose was moderately intense with smoke, black cherry, black plum, charred wood and dried fruit aromas. On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity and fairly low tannins. There were big, gushing fruit flavors of black cherry, blackberry and dried blueberry fruit backed by smoke and char. This was a much bigger and denser wine than the Montoni, loaded with rich, dark black fruits. Again I was reminded of Nero d'Avola while drinking this wine, but the similarity to Syrah was much stronger here than in the Montoni. Fans of rich, generous, hot weather Syrah-based wines will find a lot to like in this particular bottling. Is it worth the extra money? Well, it probably depends on what the occasion is and what you like to drink. $25 seems like a fair price to me for what you get with this wine, but bargain hunters may be more comfortable with the $11 wine. It would be difficult to go wrong with either choice, though, as both are very good.
1) Carini, F., Mercati, F., Abbate, L., & Sunseri, F. 2010. Microsatellite analyses for evaluation of genetic diversity among Sicilian grapevine cultivars. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 57, pp. 703-719.
2) Di Vecchi Staraz, M., Bandinelli, R., Boselli, M., This, P., Boursiquot, J.M., Laucou, V., Lacombe, T., & Vares, D. 2007. Genetic structuring and parentage analysis for evolutionary studies in grapevine: kin group and origin of the cultivar Sangiovese revealed. Journal of the American Society of Horticultural Science, 132(4), pp. 514-524.