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, December 5, 2012

Colorino - Tuscany, Italy

Colorino is one of those grapes that the average wine drinker has almost certainly encountered, but is probably not aware of it.  Colorino was historically very important in the production of Chianti, and if you've sampled a few different Chiantis in your lifetime, you've almost certainly had one with a little dollop of Colorino thrown in.  Colorino has been a traditional part of the Chianti blend for many years, though it rarely makes up more than 5-10% of the final product.  As you might expect from its name, the primary thing Colorino brings to the table is deep color, which it is able to impart even at such small concentrations.  Its contribution to the Chianti blend has been compared to that of Petit Verdot in Bordeaux, and, like Petit Verdot, some producers have decided to see whether Colorino is interesting enough to make varietal wines from.  I was able to pick one up recently, but before I get into that, let's take a little closer look at the Colorino grape itself.

As mentioned above, Colorino has long been valued for its contribution to the Chianti blend, especially for those producers who utilized the governo method.  In the governo method, some of the grapes harvested in September and October were set aside and not pressed with the others.  These grapes were allowed to dry out for several months before being pressed in mid to late November.  As you might expect, some grapes are able to withstand this drying process better than others, and Colorino is particularly well suited to it.  This concentrated, sweet juice was then added to the vats of juice that had just finished its primary alcoholic fermentation, which caused the fermentation to start up again.  While this had the immediate effect of increasing the final alcohol content, the main reason for this practice was that this second fermentation often kicked off malolactic fermentation as well, which, in the days before bacterial inoculation, was not always so easy to start in a wine made from a high-acid variety like Sangiovese.  The governo process made the wines drinkable much earlier than they otherwise would be, and was more heavily used when Chianti was seen as an easy-drinking, every day/every meal kind of wine.  With the more recent focus on quality and creating age-worthy red wines, the governo process has fallen out of favor.  Colorino continues to be used in the Chianti blend, though, for its ability to lend color to the final wine, and for a time, its popularity began to rise as many producers fought against the increasing presence of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Tuscan vineyards and wines, though the gradual acceptance of the international varieties in Tuscany has caused its popularity to wane once more.

You may not be surprised to learn that a grape name like Colorino has come to be used for several different grape varieties over the years*.  A study done in 1996 analyzed four different grapes known as Colorino and found that not only were they each different grape varieties, but at least one of them didn't seem to even be related to the other three at all.  The outlier of the group was called Colorino Americano, while the other three were known as Colorino del Valdarno, Colorino di Pisa and Colorino di Lucca.  In 2008, another study (citation 1) analyzed Colorino di Pisa and Colorino di Lucca along with a handful of other Tuscan vines  and showed that the two Colorinos were in fact distinct and possibly have a parent/offspring relationship with one another.  To add to the confusion, the VIVC considers Colorino di Valdarno, Colorino di Lucca and Colorino Pisano to be the same variety and doesn't have an entry for Colorino di Americano at all.  They further list three other Colorinos that are different from the three mentioned above, calling them Colorino Dolce, Forte and Nostrale respectively.  I have not been able to find any other information on these three varieties of Colorino, so I'm not sure how they fit in with the others or even how widely cultivated they may be.  Wine Grapes tells us that the most common variety of Colorino is Colorino del Valdarno, but since it doesn't appear that the Italian authorities differentiate between these vines, any or all of the four (or seven) Colorinos could be present in your bottle.  The latest Italian agricultural census (2000) indicated that there were 436 hectares planted to Colorino, and one assumes that this figure includes the various Colorino varieties altogether.

I was able to find a bottle of the 2005 La Spinetta "Il Colorino" at Panzano in Southborough for around $34.  In the glass the wine was a deep, opaque purple ruby color.  The nose was moderately intense with stewed black cherry, black plum, smoke and charcoal aromas.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity and medium tannins.  There were flavors of black cherry, blackberry, sour cherry and wild blueberry fruits along with some licorice, smoke, char, and earth.  The wine was mostly dark and dense, but it had a nice bit of tart freshness from the sour cherry and blueberry flavors that kept it lively and interesting.  It is often the case that one understands quickly why blending grapes are rarely seen in a starring role when one finds a varietal wine comprised of these grapes, but I had the complete opposite reaction when tasting this wine.  Rather, I found myself wondering why more people wouldn't try to make wines like this, as it was complex, interesting and very tasty to boot.  The price tag looks a little steep at first blush, but I wouldn't have any qualms about paying that amount again for this wine.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely pick it up again if I ever run across it.

*Some sources have indicated that the Ancellotta of Emilia-Romagna and Colorino are the same grape, but it doesn't look like that's so.  While I wasn't able to find any specific studies that compared the two grapes, a recent study conducted by a French team (citation 2) analyzed over 4000 different grape accessions in a particular collection.  Though there is no table with all of the data shown, a later parentage study (citation 3) by many of the same team members gave a list of the 2300+ grapes used, which was culled from the results of the earlier study.  Ancellotta and Colorino are listed separately, which seems to indicate that they are genetically distinct from one another.  Just which Colorino variety was used, though, is unclear.


1) Vignani, R, Masi, E, Scali, M, Milanesi, C, Scalabreli, G, Wang, W, Sensi, E, Paolucci, E, Percoco, G & Cresti, M.  2008.  A critical evaluation of SSRs analysis applied to Tuscan grape (Vitis vinifera L.) germplasm.  Advances in Horticultural Science. 22(1), pp 33-37.

2) Lacau, et al.  2011.  High throughput analysis of grape genetic diversity as a tool for germplasm collection management.  Theoretical and Applied Genetics.  122(6), pp 1233-1245.

3) Lacombe, T., Boursiquot, J.M., Laucou, V., Di Vecchi-Staraz, M., Peros, J.P., & This, P. 2012. Large scale parentage analysis in an extended set of grapevine cultivars (Vitis vinifera L.). Theoretical and Applied Genetics. In press.


christoph said...

a pleasure to read (as always)... especially the concise and revealing chapter on the "governo" method to make traditional Chianti... looking forward to get a bottle of "Colorino" at the Casanova estate hoping it will cost less there...

WineKnurd said...

The Italians have alcohol prerequisites for wines designated as "superiore" in Chianti, and the governo method is probably their way to increase the sugar content / final alcohol in a controlled manner. Maybe not in the exact manner as described (likely added to the must before primary fermentation), but definitely something that is in the realm of possibility.

Chuck Stevens said...

My wife and I are heading to Tuscany in the spring for our anniversary. She is a huge wine lover and definitely one of the best parts about visiting Italy will be all of the vineyards. We will definitely have to look out for the Colorino grapes- the color of them is so deep! I have been looking at a few different villas in Tuscany and it looks like I have the perfect one picked out. Now it's time to plan the trips to the vineyards!