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.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Vespolina - Colline Novaresi, Piemonte, Italy

Though I only wrote two posts last week, the content in those posts was pretty intense.  Each post focused on a different type of berry skin mutation in grapes (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.

I was able to find a bottle of the 2009 Platinetti Guido Vespolina, made in the Colline Novaresi DOC, from my friends at the Wine Bottega.  Retail price on this bottle was $21.  In the glass the wine was a deep, opaque, inky purple-black color with a narrow violet rim.  The nose was moderately intense with black cherry, blackberry, dusty leather, wild blueberry and plum aromas.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity and fairly intense tannins. There were dark, smoky black cherry, wild blueberry and blackberry fruits along with some leather and charcoal as well.  It is very black-fruit heavy right out of the bottle, but the flavors shift over to the red end of the spectrum as it opens up.  It's a very intense, fruity wine, but these flavors are well balanced by a smoky, earthy backbone.  There's something a bit wild and savage about the fruits here as well that makes this wine both delicious and interesting.  I was a big fan of this wine, but given how rare this grape seems to be, I don't anticipate having many opportunities to taste it.  If you run across it, definitely give it a shot as it is undoubtedly one of the better wines that I've tried.


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.

1 comment:

WineKnurd said...

F-Dub: The genetic discussions were intense but very enjoyable and enlightening. Thanks for putting in the work!

The Italian viticultural scene is such a mess, with all the synonyms and different names based off which side of a hill it grows on, and in some cases two distinct grapes have the exact same name! Its no wonder that they cannot determine which is the parent and which is the offspring!

They make some great wine though.

Who else really wants to try that virus affected Nebbiolo Michet? I did a little search on the interwebs and it looks like many of the Langhe Nebbiolo entries I found list a blend of Lampia and Michet.