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.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ortrugo - Colli Piacentini, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

"It's hot, drink Ortrugo."  These were the words, tweeted by my friend Matt at the Wine Bottega (way back in the summer, naturally), that introduced me to the Ortrugo grape.  I had never heard of it before, but after some quick Googling, I could tell that this was something I'd be interested in.  I asked Matt whether they had any Ortrugo in stock and he said that they did, but the wine was only about 35% Ortrugo.  I like to try and write about varietal wines whenever possible and if that isn't possible, I try to aim for at least 75% of a blend, but sometimes I have to take what I can get.  I bought the wine and held out hope that I'd be able to find a varietal Ortrugo at some point in the future, but to date my efforts have been in vain.  I decided it's time to go ahead and write the post so today I'd like to tell you a little bit about Ortrugo and the wine that I was able to try.

Like an unbelievable number of grapes (see Abouriou, Malagousia, Timorasso, Pugnitello, Roscetto, Pecorino and Casetta, among many others), Ortrugo was on the brink of extinction until it was rediscovered and rescued in the 1970's.  It was first mentioned in print (under synonyms Artrugo and Altrugo) in 1881 and the first mention of it as Ortrugo appeared in 1927.  It is thought that the name comes from altra uva, which means "the other grape" in the local dialect, though it's not entirely clear what the other grape that it is being contrasted with might be.  It could have been Trebbiano Romagnolo, the Trebbiano variety native to Emilia-Romagna that covers a lot of ground throughout that region, or it could be Malvasia di Candia Aromatica which was the grape that was perhaps most responsible for Ortrugo's decline.  Throughout the early and middle parts of the 20th Century, many growers replaced their Ortrugo vines with Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, though I'm not really sure why since Ortrugo is a high yielding vine that is fairly easy to grow, though it is somewhat susceptible to the European grapevine moth.

The grape had all but disappeared when Luigi Mossi discovered a small patch of Ortrugo growing in a decrepit corner of one of his vineyards near the city of Piacenza in the Val Tidone.  Rather than just pull up the vines, Luigi decided to harvest them and make a small bit of wine from them.  He tasted the resulting wine with some of his friends and decided to plant an entire vineyard over to the grape.  People thought he was crazy to plant so much land to a grape that no one had really heard of, but pretty soon his wines made from Ortrugo were outselling his Malvasia based wines.  Other growers took notice and began to plant Ortrugo vines of their own.  Today there are about 500 hectares (1,300 acres) of Ortrugo planted in Italy and nearly all of them are in and around the Colli Piacentini DOC in the western part of Emilia-Romagna, which used to be a part of Piedmont and is just southeast of Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardy.  Varietal wines from Ortrugo are allowed here and some producers do make them, but it is also frequently blended with Malvasia and Trebbiano Romagnolo.  Ortrugo lends itself well to sparkling wine production and wines made from it can be found in fully sparkling, frizzante and still forms.

The wine that I was able to find was the 2010 La Tosa "Rio del Tordo," which is a still wine made from 35% Ortrugo, 35% Malvasia, 20% Trebbiano & 10% Sauvignon Blanc.  In the glass the wine was a medium lemon gold color.  The nose was moderately intense with aromas of grapefruit, peach and a touch of grassy herbaceousness.  On the palate the wine was light bodied with fairly high acidity.  There were flavors of lemon, grapefruit, green apple, apricot, and citrus peel.  It was tart, bright and refreshing and I was surprised at how much the wine reminded me of varietal Sauvignon Blanc given that that grape only made up 10% of the final blend.  It had a lot of Sauvignon Blanc character with a bit of peachy stone fruit and white flowers thrown in for good measure.  It's a very nice wine that is definitely great on a hot summer day, which is fortunately the situation that I was able to try it it in rather than the blizzard conditions we've been experiencing here in the northeast lately.  I hope to find a varietal Ortrugo some day, but in the meantime, this is the best that I've been able to do.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Sounds as if Ortrugo itself has many similar characteristics to Sauvignon Blanc. Malvasia and Trebbiano are not generally known for these grapefruit citrus or grassy notes, and it's hard to imagine that only 10% Sav Blanc accounts for these notes.