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, January 7, 2013

Verdeca - Valle d'Itria, Puglia, Italy

One of the things I really enjoy about writing this blog is that I learn so many things that I probably wouldn't ever have known if I didn't take a few minutes to research these grapes before writing about them.  When I started doing this, I figured most grapes would have similar back stories and the interesting ones would be few and far between, but it has turned out that the grapes with the boring histories are in the minority and there is usually at least one or two interesting little bits of information that I never knew about for most of the grapes that I come across.  I've written about more than 200 different grape varieties at this point, and I'm surprised at how often I'm still surprised at what I learn when I start to do a little digging into whatever particular grape I've decided to write about on a given day.

For example, today I decided to write about the Verdeca grape from Puglia and I wasn't expecting anything too exciting.  The first sentence in the Oxford Companion to Wine's entry on the grape made it seem like this was probably the correct attitude, as it describes Verdeca as "Puglia's most popular light-berried vine producing neutral wine suitable for the vermouth industry and declining in popularity."  The next sentence, though, hints at a possible relationship with a Croatian grape called Plavina Crna, and the entry in Wine Grapes expands this to say that Verdeca and Zinfandel together are the parents for Plavina Crna.  Despite the fact that Zinfandel is grown around Puglia as Primitivo, a connection between the two grapes never would have occurred to me, and, furthermore, I never would have suspected a Croatian link for Verdeca at all!  I followed the citation in Wine Grapes to read the paper cited (citation 1 below), and it does indeed appear that Verdeca is one of the parents of Plavina.

Plavina is a red grape found almost exclusively in northern Croatia and, as we probably all know already, Zinfandel/Primitivo is thought to ultimately be from Croatia as well (where it is known as Tribidrag).  This seems to point to a possible Croatian origin for Verdeca, though it doesn't appear that there is any grape grown there today that corresponds to Verdeca.  To muddy the waters a bit, though, Vouillamoz reports in Wine Grapes that his personal research has shown that Verdeca is identical to a Greek grape known as Lagorthi, which is grown to a limited extent in the Peloponnese and in the Ionian islands.  I've mentioned before my frustration with this particular tactic of Vouillamoz's so I'll spare readers another rant on the subject, but if true, Vouillamoz's finding raises many more questions about Verdeca than it answers.

It could be the case that Verdeca arrived in Puglia from Greece and then somehow ended up in Croatia just long enough to cross with Zinfandel to create Plavina, but it seems odd that Verdeca is not found anywhere in Croatia today or in any of the regions between Puglia and Croatia.  It is also possible that Verdeca arrived from Greece into Puglia and was crossed with the local Primitivo/Zinfandel to create Plavina, and then Plavina was transported into Croatia, but this explanation is no less problematic than the first in that Plavina is not currently found anywhere in Italy.  Of course, it is also possible that Verdeca originated in Croatia or Puglia and moved to these various places from there, but each possible explanation seems to have some unsatisfactory element to it and it doesn't seem possible to draw any firm conclusions from the data at hand.

What we do know is that in Italy, Verdeca is definitely in decline.  It was planted on nearly 20,000 acres of land in 1970, but this total has fallen to around 5,600 acres as of the year 2000.  Most of this decline is due to the fact that many people don't think that Verdeca is all that interesting of a grape and, furthermore, that the wines made from it are mostly neutral and forgettable.  It is typically used as a blending grape not because it contributes anything particularly memorable to the blend, but rather because it can be used as filler to stretch the quantity of the blended wine.  There are a handful of modern producers who are experimenting with varietal Verdeca wines, though it remains to be seen whether the grape can or will reward their attention.

I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2010 Masseria Li Veli Verdeca from my friends at the Wine Bottega for around $18 (though I've definitely seen this wine at several other Boston area stores like Curtis Liquors whose wine guy, Joe, points out below that this wine is actually 90% Verdeca and 10% Fiano Minutolo, which is not the same as Fiano di Avellino.  Fiano Minutolo, also known as Minutolo, Fiano Aromatico or Fiano di Puglia, is known for its grapey, Muscat like aroma and flavor, though it isn't related to any of the Muscat grapes or to Fiano di Avellino.  There are varietal wines made from it, but I haven't run across any yet). In the glass this wine was a fairly deep lemon gold color.  The nose was somewhat reserved with aromas of pear, lime peel, honeysuckle and apricot that were a little difficult to tease out.  On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with fairly high acidity.  There were flavors of pear, honeysuckle flower, lime peel and ripe apple with a touch of salinity and a strong, stony mineral finish.  Verdeca is noted for its strong mineral notes, and I wonder if many tasters confuse that for neutrality, as I found this wine anything but neutral, but I can understand how minerality can be a neutral kind of taste for many.  I found this wine very interesting and characterful with a distinctive saline tang that was different and refreshing.  It's a decent value at around $20 as well.  I thought it would be an interesting match with raw shellfish or light seafood dishes, but I would be wary about paring it with very assertively flavored foods, as the wine's flavors may be overmatched.


1)  Lacombe, T, Boursiquot, JM, Laucou, V, Dechesne, F, Vares, D & This, P.  2007.   Relationships and Genetic Diversity within the Accessions Related to Malvasia Held in the Domaine de Vassal Grape Germplasm Repository.  American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, 58 (1), pp 124-131.


Joe G said...

Perhaps some of the stoniness you're getting is from the small percentage (I believe about 10%) of Fiano Minutolo-different from that of Avellino-that's blended with the Verdeca. A variety for another post, perhaps?

Rob Tebeau said...

Hi Joe:

I wasn't even aware that there was 10% Fiano Minutolo in this wine, but you are of course correct (I thought this was 100% Verdeca, but it looks like it is only 90%: http://www.liveli.it/pdf/en/liveli_hd_askos_en.pdf )

Thanks for the extra info!

Joe G said...

You're welcome. BTW, the Domina has arrived!!