white and pink) and went into probably more detail than many readers were really interested in (or comfortable with). I try not to make posts like those the general rule not only for readers' sakes, but also my own. I put in dozens of hours of research for those posts and went to some expense to track down some of the papers I referenced and while I had fun (kind of) doing the research, it's not something I think I can do regularly and keep up a decent posting pace (or modicum of sanity). So today I'd like to take it a little bit easier and talk about the Vespolina grape from Piemonte.
Just because we're taking it easier doesn't mean that we're not doing thorough research, though. Enter Vespolina in your search engine of choice and visit the first few results. The phrase (or some variation of it) "DNA profiling has shown a parent-offspring relationship with Nebbiolo" should feature fairly prominently on pretty much every result that you click on. Regular readers of this blog will know that few phrases set my teeth on edge more than the vague "DNA profiling/results/research has shown," and as I dug a bit deeper into the relationship between Vespolina and Nebbiolo, I found that the real story was a bit more complicated than this phrase would lead you to believe. I've covered some of this ground in my post on Sparkling Nebbiolo/Nebbiolo Bianco, so readers wanting more in depth information on Nebbiolo are advised to check that post out.
It turns out that there are at least two genetically distinct vines that are masquerading under the name Nebbiolo: Nebbiolo Rosé and Nebbiolo Lampia (citation 1...there's also a Nebbiolo Michet, but it turns out that this is a virus-infected clone of Lampia and the virus has caused morphological and genetic changes to the vines). Nebbiolo Rosé was considered a sub-variety or clonal variant of Nebbiolo until the early 2000's, when it was shown to be genetically distinct (also citation 1). It was also shown that Nebbiolo Rosé has a parent/offspring relationship with Nebbiolo Lampia, though which direction the parentage goes is unknown (see my post on Ciliegiolo for details on why this might be the case). The two grapes are planted together in various parts of Piemonte, though Nebbiolo Rosé is usually a minority planting wherever it is found. It seems to be more important around the area of Sondrio where it is known as Chiavennaschino to differentiate it from Nebbiolo Lampia, which is known as Chiavennasca here.
For the most part, whenever someone is talking about Nebbiolo, they mean Nebbiolo Lampia, and most of the clonal variants that have been discovered are variants of Lampia. In 2003, a team in Italy set out to try to discover the parents of Nebbiolo Lampia (citation 2) by examining about 90 different varieties found mostly in and around northwestern Italy. It really looked like they may have had the parentage narrowed down to Freisa x Vespolina, as the microsatellite data was good at 22 loci, but then they came across a few sites where the data did not match up. In 2005, the team expanded their search (paper is in Italian) in an attempt to see if perhaps grapes grown in nearby regions may provide the missing link for Nebbiolo's other parent, but their search was mostly fruitless (they identified Nebbiolo and Bianchetta as the parents for a grape called Bubbierasco, which I'm completely unfamiliar with). As the research currently stands, it seems likely like Vespolina and Freisa have a parent/offspring relationship with Nebbiolo, but we can't be certain of the exact relationship without the presence of both parents, and for each of these grapes, no second parent has been found that would solve the mystery.
Now that we have a good idea of what we don't know and what we might know about Vespolina, let's take a moment to look at what we do know. Vespolina is a low-yielding vine that can be found in Piemonte and in the Oltrepò Pavese region of Lombardia, where it is known as Ughetta. It is thought to be native to the Gattinara region of Piemonte, though this supposition is based solely on the fact that the grape is found in only limited quantities outside of this region. Nobody seems to really know where the grape's name came from, though a few sources are bold enough to proclaim that it is not linked to the Italian word for wasp, vespa, unlike our old friend Vespaiola. Wherever it is grown, it is typically used as a blending grape to soften the sometimes rough edges of Nebbiolo. It is rarely made into a varietal wine, but the DOC regulations of the Colline Novaresi DOC do allow for a varietally labeled Vespolina, so long as it makes up at least 85% of the blend.
1) Botta, R, Schneider, A, Akkak, A, Scott, NS, & Thomas, MR. 2000. Within cultivar grapevine variability studied by morphometrical and molecular marker based techniques. Acta Horticulturae, 528, pp 91-96.
2) Schneider, A, Boccacci, P, & Botta, R. 2003. Genetic relationships among grape cultivars from north-western Italy. Acta Horticulturae, 603, pp 229-235.