French hybrid grapes were created in an effort to combat the phylloxera louse, while many of the German crossings (such as Sheurebe, Kerner and Dornfelder, among others) were created in an effort to match individual grapes with various aspects of the difficult German climate. In the United States, much of the work done in grape breeding was done by Harold Olmo at UC Davis (who created Symphony, Emerald Riesling and Early Muscat), though the University of Cornell has released a few grapes (like Chardonel) as have some private breeders like Elmer Swenson (who created St. Croix). The one huge wine power who seems to be missing in this story is Italy.
Italy does have research institutions throughout the country devoted to grape research, but grape breeding has never really been their focus. There are specific Italian crosses, but they aren't as well known or as widely spread as those efforts from other countries for a variety of reasons. The primary reason is that Italy is embarrassingly rich in native grape varieties with several hundred approved for use and an estimated several thousand actually spread throughout the country. Another big reason for the lack of Italian crossings/hybrids is that Italy does not have the same challenging climates as countries like Germany or the USA and so there wasn't and isn't any real need to develop new varieties that could survive. Furthermore, even some of the more difficult climates in Italy have been growing grapes for hundreds of years that are native to the area and thus already adapted to the local weather systems. In short, why would you need to create any new grapes when you have so many varieties close at hand and when you have climates that are essentially tailor-made for the growth of vines?
One of things that makes us human, though, is our inability to accept the limitations that nature has laid upon us. Yes, we have many excellent grapes that grow well in our climates, but surely we can do better? It was in that spirit that Professor Luigi Manzoni began his work in grape breeding at the Viticulture and Oenology School of Conegliano in the Veneto region of Italy. Manzoni, who lived from 1888 until 1968, was involved in many different kinds of research on the vine, and one of the areas he was experimenting in was grape breeding. He was not the only grape breeder active in Italy (see also Bruno Bruni, creator of Incrocio Bruni 54), but he was perhaps the most successful. His aim was to try and create new varieties for the Veneto that were of higher quality than those already being cultivated, but which would also yield more prolifically and be more disease resistant. Manzoni was not the only grape breeder active in Italy (see also Bruno Bruni, creator of Incrocio Bruni 54), but he was perhaps the most successful.
Manzoni created many different crossings throughout his career, but as with most grape breeders, only a few have had any lasting importance. He created Manzoni Moscato by crossing Moscato di Amburgo and Raboso, Manzoni Rosa (or Manzoni 1.50) by crossing Trebbiano and Traminer, and Incrocio Terzi N.1 by crossing Barbera with Cabernet Franc. Two of his most famous red grapes are known as Incrocio Manzoni 2-14 and Incrocio Manzoni 2-15, and both are supposedly made by crossing Glera and Cabernet Sauvignon, but a recent study (citation 1) seems to indicate that 2-15 is actually a crossing between Mathiasz Janosne (Mathiasz 210) and Kövidinka. Many of these grapes are grown in commercial quantities in northeastern Italy, but just barely.
The most famous Manzoni creation, though, is almost certainly Manzoni Bianco, or Manzoni 6.0.13. Manzoni created this grape at some point in the early 1930's supposedly by crossing Pinot Bianco and Riesling. Wine Grapes indicates that this parentage was disputed by a few Italian authors who believed that the grape was actually a Chardonnay and Riesling cross, but Vouillamoz assures us that his DNA research shows that the given pedigree is correct (I do not have access either to the original dispute or to Vouillamoz's DNA data, so I suppose I'll take his word for it). You may be surprised to learn that Manzoni Bianco is currently the 13th most widely planted grape in all of Italy with nearly 24,000 acres devoted to it. It is permitted in a few DOCs in the Veneto and in Trentino, but most of the plantings are actually further south in Calabria, Puglia and Molise where it is likely used for bulk wine production.
Spirited Gourmet for around $25. This wine is 100% Manzoni Bianco from the Brescia region of Lombardy. The grapes for this wine are hand harvested and 80% are fermented in stainless steel while 20% are fermented in oak barrels for 3-4 months (it is unclear whether it is new oak or not, but the wine didn't taste oaky to me at all and I would have guessed this saw 100% stainless steel). In the glass the wine was a medium lemon gold color. The nose was moderately intense with aromas of white peach, green apple, pear and grapefruit. On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with fairly high acidity. There were flavors of grapefruit, lime, racy green apple, pear and white peach. It felt like there was still a slight prickle of CO2 to the wine as well, but since it didn't really dissipate, it was probably just an effect of the acidity. It was bright and zippy, despite the fact that it clocked in at a pretty hefty 14% alcohol. I found it lithe, vibrant and very enjoyable overall. Fans of snappy high acid whites will find a lot to like here, but be careful as it wears the 14% alcohol well and it can sneak up on you.
Wine Bottega. This wine is 100% Manzoni Bianco from the hills above Trentino that is left in contact with its skins after crushing for about a week in large, egg shaped cement containers (there's a biodynamic reason for this that I don't really buy, so I'll just leave it at that). The wine is then aged for 12 months in acacia casks prior to bottling. In the glass the wine was a medium bronze gold color. The nose was moderately intense with aromas of pear, toasted almond, honey, red apple and lemon peel. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity. There were flavors of ripe apple, pear, almond, honeysuckle flower, pineapple and a touch of apple cider. It's difficult to imagine two wines more different from one another than the two I tried for this tasting. The Foradori was deep, rich and honeyed with lovely cidery notes and bit of oxidative tang. What it lacked in vibrancy and freshness, it made up for in depth and complexity. It's difficult to say which wine is "better" since both were clearly made to be such different things. In the spring and summer months, I'd probably reach for the Pratello, but in the cooler fall and winter, I'd definitely go for the Foradori. Both are very good, very interesting wines that really show what Incrocio Manzoni is capable of in careful hands.
1) 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.
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.