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, September 26, 2012

Spergola - Emilia-Romagna, Italy

If you only looked up the Spergola grape in the Oxford Companion to Wine, you might think it was a little disingenuous to include it on a site focusing on unusual wines.  The OCW entry for Spergola reads in full: "occasional name for Sauvignon Blanc in the Emilia region of Italy."  The online version of the OCW is generally kept pretty up-to-date with the latest information on grape synonymies, homonymies and relations, especially since they've been working so hard on their upcoming book all about wine grapes, which is due out late next month, so you might be inclined to take their word for it regarding Spergola and move along.  If you've followed this blog at all over the past year or so, though, you know that that's not how I do things around here.  I don't care who says it, I don't ever believe that something is true unless I can at least find corroboration from other sources or, preferably (where applicable), scientific evidence that clearly demonstrates the truth or falsity of a given claim.

My search for the truth about Spergola led me in a few different directions.  Tar and Roses has an entry on Spergola with some interesting historical information, such as the fact that the first mention of Spergola can be traced back to the 15th Century.  Their take on Spergola's relationship to Sauvignon Blanc is the same as the OCW, though, which was not an encouraging start.  On the other hand, the VIVC has a stand-alone entry for Spergola, which is usually a solid indication that it is a separate cultivar (if it was just another name for Sauvignon Blanc, searching for Spergola would lead you to the SB entry and Spergola would merely be listed in the accepted synonyms section).  Finally, the importer's website (the indomitable Louis/Dressner), in their section on the winery who made the bottle I'll be taking a look at below, says "for many years [Spergola] was considered a type of Sauvignon, but has now been genetically proven to be a grape variety of its own."

While I don't ever just accept the phrase "genetically proven" or "DNA studies have shown," seeing that phrase at least lets me know that someone has done the work and all I need to do is track it down.  For those interested, the two best ways that I've found to try and find academic papers published about wine are Google Scholar and the Vitis-Vea database.  A simple search for "spergola" in the Vitis-Vea database yielded only three results, but the title of the second result ("Morphological and genetic characterisation of the white grape cvs Spergola, Sauvignon and Sémillon") immediately told me that I'd found what I was looking for.  The problem was that the Vitis-Vea database doesn't have PDF copies of all of the papers they have abstracts for and since the university I work for (in an administrative and not an academic capacity) isn't primarily an agricultural school, it can be difficult to actually get my hands on some of these papers.  To compound matters, this particular paper was published in an Italian journal and was likely also written in Italian, so even if I could get the article, I probably wouldn't be able to understand it.

Fortunately, nearly every journal offers the abstracts of their papers for free, and for this particular paper, the abstract was not only very comprehensive, but it was also written in English.  Those interested can read the full abstract here, but in brief, the researchers decided to test whether Spergola and Sauvignon Blanc were the same grape.  Spergola is also known as Spergolina Verde in some places, and some believed that it could be the same as Sémillon, so the scientists tested that as well.  Their ampelographical and their genetic tests were all unequivocal and demonstrated conclusively that Spergola, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon were all separate, genetically distinct grape varieties.  They advise that "the name Spergola should be stricken from the list of the Sauvignon synonyms recognised in the National Catalogue of Grape Varieties and registered therein as a variety in its own right. It should, at the same time, be listed among the recommended varieties in the Reggio Emilia province areas, with the consequent changes in the CDO labelling for Colli di Scandiano e di Canossa white wine, in which at present it is indicated as a synonym for Sauvignon and Spergola."

This paper was published in 2001, and as far as I can tell, there hasn't been any further work to disprove the findings, so it seems like it's pretty safe to say that Spergola is definitely different from Sauvignon Blanc.  It seems to be grown almost exclusively in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, where its naturally high acidity means that it is usually made into a sparkling wine of some sort.  Some sources also indicate that Spergola is sometimes used in the production of Balsamic Vinegar, but the Consorzio Produttori Antiche Acetaie says that for traditional Balsamic Vinegar, "the grapes harvested must be those 'used for the wine traditionally cultivated in the province of Modena,' and in particular from Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes." It's not inconceivable that some Spergola may find its way into some form of Balsamic Vinegar somewhere, but if you're interested in tasting what the Spergola grape is all about, Balsamic Vinegar is probably not your best bet (delicious as it may be).

I was able to try a bottle of the 2007 Ca de Noci "Querciole," which I picked up from my friends at the Wine Bottega for around $35.  This wine is 100% Spergola that undergoes a natural re-fermentation in the bottle to give it a little bit of fizz (the same winery also makes a traditional method sparkler from Spergola that I have not had the chance to try).  It's also unfiltered, so there are almost certainly going to be some little floaty things in your bottle and possibly your glass if you don't pour carefully.  In the glass this wine was a medium bronze color with steady bubbles.  The nose was fairly intense with yeasty bread dough, ripe apple and toasted nut aromas.  On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with fairly high acidity. It was lightly fizzy and really heavy on secondary fermentation and oxidative characteristics.  There was some ripe apple and apple skin fruits along with a bit of apple cider, but it was mostly nutty, dusty and yeasty.  It looked and drank more like beer than wine, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your preferences, I suppose.  Button-down Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio lovers will probably want to give this wine a wide berth, but adventurous wine drinkers will certainly find a lot to intrigue and provoke here.

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