Garganega is one of the oldest grapes known in Italy. Its first appearance in the literature dates to a 13th century work by Pietro de Crescenzi which says that it was cultivated around Bologna (in Emilia-Romagna) and Padova (in the Veneto) at that time. It seemingly hasn't moved very much from this general area in the 800 or so years since de Crescenzi wrote his book since nearly all of the plantings of Garganega and nearly all of the DOC regions where it is approved for use are clustered in the Veneto with just a few in Lombardy, Trentino-Alto Adige and Umbria as well. There's a little bit of twist to that story, though. Some ampelographers noticed that Garganega looked an awful lot like a grape called Grecanico Dorato grown in Sicily, but nobody could quite figure out how or why the same grape would show up in such geographically disparate regions and nowhere in between. Grecanico had been known and grown in Sicily for hundreds of years while Garganega had been known in northeastern Italy for longer than that so while the hypothesis of the two grapes' synonymy was intriguing, it remained just a theory for many years.
In 2003, an Italian research team conducted a study on vines from the Veneto to see if and how any of them were related to one another. They tested three clones of each of fourteen different Veronese grapes, one of which was Garganega. The team then took the DNA data they obtained from their Garganega samples and compared them to an exiting profile for Grecanico Dorato from another team's experiments and found that "these cultivars are highly related and most likely represent the same grapevine." In 2008, another Italian team decided to look at the DNA from Garganega and Sangiovese and compare it to a wide range of grapes from all over Italy in order to see if they could find any interesting relationships. They tested samples of both Garganega and Grecanico Dorato and found that the two vines were definitely identical. This result confirmed a study done a year earlier (citation 1) that showed that not only was Garganega the same as Grecanico Dorato, but it was also the same as a grape called Malvasia de Manresa from Spain (which raises a whole bunch of interesting questions that I'm afraid I can't answer). The vine is no longer cultivated in Spain, but there are still some vines in holding collections in Europe.
The most interesting findings in these last two papers had to do with the other grape varieties that had a close relationship with Garganega. The team from citation 1 found that Garganega and another grape called Uva Sogra were the parents of Susumaniello, a red grape grown primarily in Puglia today. They also found that Garganega has a likely parent-offspring relationship with Malvasia di Candia, Trebbiano Toscana and a few other grapes that I've never heard of before. These results were confirmed in the 2008 study mentioned above and augmented by the discovery that Garganega also appears to have a parent-offspring relationship with Marzemina Bianca, Catarratto, Albana, Greco del Pollino and Empibotte. The connection with so many different grapes throughout Italy makes Garganega one of the most important cultivars in the history of Italian wine grape evolution. Though it is a very interesting question, I don't believe than anyone has given a satisfactory answer as to how the grape moved throughout the country of Italy to end up in two places so far apart, leaving only relatives in its wake. It is thought that since Garganega is more closely related to the vines of the Veneto, it likely came from there originally before making its way south to Sicily, and that's as good an explanation as any, I suppose.
Wine Bottega for around $30. This wine is 100% Garganega from Maule's vines in the Veneto. The grapes are crushed and left to ferment in open vats without any temperature control for 2-4 days. The wine is then moved to old (neutral) 1500 liter barrels for a year prior to bottling without any fining or filtration. In the glass the wine was a hazy medium gold color. The nose was fairly intense with aromas of ripe apple, white flowers, pineapple, honeysuckle, pear and grapefruit. It was deep and wonderful, revealing something new with every sniff. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity and just a touch of tannic grip. There were flavors of ripe apple, honey, pineapple, apple cider, Meyer lemon, almonds and grapefruit. This blows every Soave I've ever had completely out of the water. It is a complex, fascinating wine that was an absolute delight to drink. If you've given up on the Garganega grape because you've only had a few bland examples from Soave, let this bottle change your mind.
Fiano. In the glass the wine was a medium lemon gold color. The nose was moderately intense with aromas of pear, white peach, lemon peel, chalk and something faintly tropical. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity. There were flavors of white grapefruit, cut grass, citrus peel, pear and ripe apple with a subtle stony minerality to the finish. Overall, I found the wine sharp and snappy with a bit of fleshiness to it that helped to balance it out. It was really citrusy and grassy and reminded me a lot of Sauvignon Blanc, which is one of the few grapes not in the blend at all. It almost tasted a little under-ripe, which is surprising when you consider how much warmer Sicily is than the Veneto. I thought it was a decent enough wine, but there wasn't too much in it to get me excited and it really just seemed flat and uninteresting after drinking the Pico.