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, August 29, 2012

Grenache Gris - Cotes Catalanes, France & Mendocino, California, USA

I don't know why, but it turns out that some grapes are more genetically unstable than others.  Pinot is perhaps the most famous example as most wine drinkers have enjoyed Pinots Noir, Blanc and Gris at some point in their wine drinking careers and are aware that each of them is just a berry color mutation from the same plant (interestingly, any one of the berry colors is capable of mutating into any of the others, meaning that the Gris vine can mutate into Noir or Blanc while the Blanc vine can mutate into Gris or Noir, etc.).  Pinot isn't the only grape that can perform this little color-changing trick, but it is probably the only one where all three of its color variations have gone on to become world class grapes in their own right.  Grape "families" like Terret and Traminer (aka Savagnin) are also examples of vines that are prone to mutation, but they certainly are less well known than the Pinot group.

The Grenache vine is also genetically unstable and prone to various mutations, though the members of its mutated family tree aren't quite as well known as Pinot's.  We've taken a look at the white-berried member of the family, Grenache Blanc, here before.  Grenache Blanc is fairly widely planted, but it is generally used as a blending grape and is rarely seen in varietal form.  Grenache Gris is the pink-berried form of Grenache, and it is much more difficult to come by.  Pierre Galet, in his A Practical Ampelography, tells us that in 1968, Grenache Noir was planted on about 130,000 acres in France, Grenache Blanc was planted on about 23,000 acres while Grenache Gris was planted on only about 9,000 acres.  I'm not sure what more recent planting statistics would look like, but I'd be surprised if Grenache Gris had gained any significant ground in the past fifty years.  It is also grown to a limited extent in Spain, where it is known as Garnacha Roja or Garnacha Dorada.

As with the Pinot grapes, whether or not one considers the different colored forms of the grapes as separate varieties is somewhat contentious.  Pretty much all wine drinkers regard them as separate varieties since the wines made from each are so clearly different from one another.  The regulatory bodies of different European countries also regard each differently colored berry form as a distinct variety and limit which of them can be grown in certain areas.  Most botanists and plant geneticists, though, regard them as a single variety since they are virtually genetically identical and cannot be differentiated by most modern DNA techniques.  The scientific term is a "sport," which is used to describe a part of a plant that looks different from the rest of the plant.  When the initial mutation happens on a given vine, the bunch that has pink grapes instead of red or white grapes is a sport, and the growers then make a cutting from that portion of the vine and plant that cutting in the hopes that the new vine will produce all or mostly pink grapes.

The issue is really what kind of standard we want to use to determine what is or is not a grape variety.  From a botanist's or a plant geneticist's point of view, the color of the grapes is pretty much irrelevant.  Think about a flowering plant that may have red and white flowers on it.  The actual color of the flowers doesn't matter and isn't a determining factor in the identity of the plant.  Some plants just produce flowers that are different colors and some plants produce grapes that are different colors.  The difference is that grapes are then used to make wine and the color of the grapes matters for the production of wine in a way that the color of a flower really doesn't.  From a purely biological perspective, then, the color of the grapes is irrelevant to determining the identity of a given vine, but from a utilitarian perspective, it matters a lot.  Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris are the same plant to a scientist, but they're very different to a winemaker and to a consumer and this is definitely sufficient grounds to consider them as different varieties.

The question becomes a bit more difficult when you look at the "hairy" members of each family.  Pinot Meunier is actually a chimeric mutation of Pinot Noir where there is a kind of downy hair on the leaves of the plant.  Grenache has its own hairy mutation known as Garnacha Peluda or Lledoner Pelut, which also has little white hairs on the undersides of its leaves.  For these plants, the mutation that leads to the difference in the way the vines look is located not only the berries but on the leaves.  It is difficult to make a case for considering Garnacha Peluda as a separate grape variety since wines made from it and from Grenache Noir would, presumably, be essentially the same.  Garnacha Peluda is currently listed as a separate variety in the VIVC, but it would probably make more sense to regard it as a clone of Grenache Noir rather than a separate variety.

Like its counterpart Pinot Gris, most of the wine made from Grenache Gris grapes is white.  I was able to find a bottle of the 2009 Domaine des 3 Vallees Grenache Gris, which is made in this style, for about $11.  This wine is from the Cotes Catalanes region, which is a tiny little area in southwestern France with Spain to its west and the Mediterranean to its south (map).  In the glass the wine was a medium golden lemon color.  The nose was moderately aromatic with some white pear fruit and a vegetal herbaceousness that reminded me of braised celery.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly low acidity.  There were broad, creamy pear and ripe apple fruits with some grassy herbaceousness and something like stewed vegetables.  The wine was very pithy and bitter and became more and more difficult to drink.  Even at $11, this is a hard wine to recommend as at its best it tasted of bland, washed out white fruits, but the lingering and persistent bitterness was what ultimately turned me off of this wine.

The second wine that I tried was actually a rosé wine from the Donkey and Goat winery of Mendocino, California, which I picked up from my friends at the Spirited Gourmet for about $20.    This wine is made from vines that are over 95 years old.  The grapes are stomped to crush them and the juice was left in contact with the skins for 33 hours before being pressed off.  For comparison's sake, the Petit Verdot rosé I tried in this post was on the skins for only 8 hours.  In the glass the wine was a pale pink color with orange tints.  The nose was fairly intense with fresh cut strawberry, rainier cherry and crushed raspberry fruits.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity.  There were flavors of creamy strawberry, watermelon, light red cherry and pear fruits.  The style of the wine was somewhere between a white wine and a rosé.  It was light, delicate and very delicious.  The wine is a little expensive for a rosé, but it's definitely worth it.  It would be good with a variety of foods but I actually enjoyed this wine most when I was drinking it on its own.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Susumaniello - Puglia, Italy

Calling something a "blending grape" is usually a nice way to say that it has some good qualities, but just isn't good enough to be made into a wine on its own.  So-called blending grapes are usually prized because they bring one or two nice things, like color or acidity, to the table, but they tend to be seriously lacking in some other oenological aspect.  Because of this, they typically are either used sparingly to add a little something to an otherwise mostly varietal wine, or in combination with other grapes whose collective shortcomings are overcome through the blending process.  These grapes are supporting actors at their very best and mere extras at their worst and are only rarely given the opportunity to shine on their own.

In the past few years, a few blending grapes, like Malbec and Carmenere, have actually achieved relative stardom as they've been planted in new locations that have allowed them to demonstrate qualities that many didn't know they possessed.  A new climate and a new terroir has shown that these are serious grapes that are capable of making serious wines.  It's much rarer, though, for a grape to rise from blending grape to star status in its native land, and while it may be a bit premature to call Susumaniello a star just yet, it certainly wouldn't surprise me if it rose to that level in the very near future.

Susumaniello is currently grown only in Puglia, the spike heel of the Italian boot, in the southeastern part of that country.  Some sources indicate that Susumaniello is an ancient grape, but I'm not sure what the evidence is for that claim.  The name Susumaniello means something like "the load of the donkey," because it is a prolific yielder as a young vine.  The grapes from these prolific harvests tend to make unappetizing, boring wines, but after about 10 years, the yields fall significantly and careful growers can make dense, full-bodied wines from the grapes.  It has historically partnered with Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera in the red and rosato wines of Brindisi, and has been prized for its ability to add color, acidity and alcohol to the final blend.  Jeremy over at Do Bianchi notes that as recently as 2006, the editors of the landmark Vitigni d'Italia (Grape Varieties of Italy) said of Susumaniello that it was never vinified on its own and was used strictly to produce vino da taglio, or a heavy, densely colored wine used to beef up thinner, less colorful bulk wines.  Over the past 10 years or so, though, many producers have been experimenting with varietal Susumaniello wines and the results have been very promising.

Many sources indicate that the grape likely came to Puglia from the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, just across the Adriatic Sea.  I'm not sure what the source of this bit of information is, but I'm not sure that it's right.  In 2008, a team of Italian scientists conducted a study to see whether they could link Sangiovese and Garganega to a host of other grape varieties in Italy.  They found that these two grapes had parent-offspring relationships to several different Italian grapes, but most importantly for our purposes, they found that Sangiovese had a parent-offspring relationship to Susumaniello.  The scientists believed that Susumaniello was likely an offspring of Sangiovese, though they were unable to determine the second parent.  It seems unlikely to me that the grape would be from Croatia with Sangiovese as one of the parents, so it's probably the case that Susumaniello is actually Italian, and given that it really isn't grown outside of a few small areas in Puglia, it's probably a safe bet that it's from somewhere around the Brindisi area.

I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2006 Cantine due Palme "Serra" Susumaniello from my friends at the Wine Bottega for about $23.  In the glass the wine was a deep, inky, purple-black color with a very narrow purple rim.  The nose was fairly intense with smoky blackerry, charred meat, cedar wood and bitter chocolate aromas.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acid and low tannins.  There were flavors of tart red cherry, black cherry, blackberry and plum fruit along with some smoky chocolate.  The wine actually had a kind of tart, berryish quality to it and there was some zippy dried cranberry and cherry pit flavors as well.  The wine really walked a  line between bright berry fruits and dark, smoky earthy notes and did it pretty well.  If this wine is any indication of the quality of Susuamniello in general, I think it would be a shame to relegate this grape to mere blending status, as this wine was rich, balanced and very tasty.  I'm on the Susumaniello bandwagon now and hope to see it take its place among the other star red grapes of southern Italy.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Centesimino/Savignôn Rosso - Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

I know that this probably isn't news to any of you, but there are a lot of different grapes grown in Italy.  It is estimated that there are over 2,000 grape varieties that are indigenous to Italy, though only (only!) about 400 of them are authorized for use by Italy's Ministry of Agriculture.  The top 20 most planted grapes in Italy  represent only about 5% of the total varieties approved for use (and only about 1% of the total varieties estimated to exist within the country), but they account for almost 60% of the total plantings, meaning that the hundreds of other grapes in Italy, which represent about 95% of the approved varieties (or 99% of the total estimated varieties), account for only 40% of the nation's total plantings.  It's not quite as dramatic (or as important) as the inequities that prompted the Occupy movements of 2011, but there's a comparison to be made there, if you so desire.  This is a wine blog, though, and not a political or economic blog, so let's leave that stuff behind and concentrate on the Centesimino grape, which is what we all came here for today.

Centesimino is a relative newcomer to the Italian wine scene, as references to the grape can only be traced back to the mid 20th Century, with some sources indicating that the grape was being cultivated as early as World War II and others saying that it really started around the 1950's.  The story goes that an Italian fellow by the name of Pietro Pianori discovered the vine growing in a garden in the center of the town of Faenza in the Ravenna province in the eastern part of Emilia-Romagna.  This garden had high walls surrounding it that supposedly prevented the phylloxera louse from getting inside, and this vine was able to survive the epidemic.  Pianori took a cutting from the plant and began to cultivate it on his estate.  When the grape grew well, a few other farmers took cuttings from Pianori's vines to plant themselves, and today all of the Cenetesimino vines in existence can be traced back to Pianori's "Terbato" estate.  Pianori was apparently something of a miser and one of his nicknames was Centesimino, which means something like "little cent," but which is idiomatically used to denote one who is excessively careful with their money.

The grape is also sometimes known as Savignôn Rosso or Sauvignon Rosso, though it has no relation whatsoever to either Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc.  The origin of this name is a little unclear.  One story has it that a man named Paolo Visani commissioned a local art publisher to create specialized labels for Centesimino wines that he was trying to sell.  Visani, for whatever reason, put "SAUVIGNON – vino rosso di Faenza" on the label, though whether this was a stroke of his own imagination or merely a reflection of what the locals were calling the grape is difficult to say.  The latter explanation is probably more likely, as there's very little chance that Pianori was calling the vine Centesimino, so he may have called it Sauvignon Rosso because of the wild condition that he discovered the vine in.  Whatever the story was, there was no way that the grape would receive any official recognition with a name so similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, so the official name of the grape became Centesimino in honor of Pietro Pianori, the man who saved it from oblivion.

Centesimino was included in the Italian national catalog of vine varieties in 2004 after a round of testing to determine whether it was actually different from other grapes in cultivation in Italy (source, in Italian, for this entire paragraph is here).  It was said to resemble Alicante Bouschet and Grenache vines and had to be conclusively differentiated from them before being allowed to enter the registry.  The first round of tests (using an older DNA testing method known as isoenzyme analysis) showed that it was definitely distinct from Grenache and Alicante Bouschet, but the tests showed similarities between it and seven other grapes (interestingly, among those seven were Cesanese and Ciliegiolo).  The second round of tests was more conclusive and Centesimino was shown to be distinct from the other grapes in the national catalog.  Centesimino became official on May 7, 2004.  I do not believe that it is allowed in any DOC wines at the moment, but it is permitted in the Ravenna IGT.  There are a total of 8 producers who grow the vine today and all of them are located around the town of Faenza where the grape was discovered.

The wine that I was able to try was the 2009 Poderi Morini "Savignone," which I picked up from my friends at the Wine Bottega for about $20.  Morini's website explains why they elect to call the wine Savignone rather than Centesimino:

Dedicated to the great Gino Veronelli, a well-known Italian wine expert who believed that the name “Centesimino” belittled this great native variety and preferred to call it Savignone, the Italian translation for “Savignôn”, its name in the local dialect.

Poderi makes a few different Cenetesimino based wines.  Their "Traicolli" bottling is aged in wood for a year before being bottled, while this wine is stainless steel tank fermented only prior to bottling.  They also make a sparkling wine from Centesimino grapes that they call "morosé" which comes from some of the younger vines on the property (and which I would love to get my hands on).  Production is fairly small for all of these wines with about 5,000 bottles of the Traicolli and 6,000 bottles of the Savignone and morosé made each year.

In the glass this wine was a fairly deep purple ruby color.  The nose was fairly intense with black cherry, black plum and dusky raspberry fruit with something pleasantly funky about it.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with medium acidity and light tannins.  There were flavors of black cherry and blackberry fruit along with some charcoal, licorice and a lot of black plum.  The stainless steel treatment for this wine really allowed the fruit to shine through, and the fruits in this wine are pure, intense and gorgeous.  I was so taken with this wine that I chose it as one of the two bottles I brought to the BYOB dinner at Taste Camp Virginia this past year.  I don't know if the other attendees were as enamored with it as I was, but I can definitely say that this is one of the better wines that I've tried in the course of doing this blog.  This grape is now on my "buy on sight" list, though I don't have high hopes for finding many more wines made from it.  If you run across it, definitely pick it up and give it a shot.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Romorantin - Cour-Cheverny, Loire Valley, France

One of the landmark papers in the young science of genetic grape analysis was published in the journal Science in 1999 and was titled "Historical genetics: the parentage of Chardonnay, Gamay and other wine grapes of northeastern France."  In that paper, the researchers discovered that two grapes, Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc (also known as Heunisch Weiss), were the parents of 16 other French grapes.  About half of the discovered offspring are of limited importance for wine, but the other half include such well-known grapes as Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Auxerrois, AligotéMelon (sometimes known as Muscadet), Sacy (sometimes known as Tressallier) and Romorantin.

This paper was extraordinary for several reasons.  The most important finding was the discovery of the parentage of Chardonnay and Gamay, which are obviously two of the most important vines in the world.  Another reason was just the sheer number of grapes whose pedigree was confirmed in the study.  Pedigree analysis is a difficult process (see my post on Ciliegiolo for in-depth info on it), and most studies are only able to confirm the pedigree for single grapes.  Finding a pair of grapes with so many offspring was very unusual and to able to link them to so many important grapes that are still in use today was really amazing.  Finally, many were surprised that Gouais Blanc, a grape which was not known for its quality and which had disappeared completely from French vineyards at the time of the study (existing only in the holding collection of a research institute), could be the progenitor of so many fine grapes.  It was widely thought that great grapes couldn't come from common stock, but this study (and later ones which showed that Gouais Blanc is also a parent to Riesling, among many others) showed that this simply wasn't the case.

Romorantin is listed in the body of the study as an offspring of Pinot and Gouais Blanc, but that's not entirely accurate.  In a footnote, the authors indicate that Romorantin actually didn't match Pinot at one particular site, which is usually enough to indicate that there is no parent match.  There's a red-fleshed mutation of Pinot Noir called "Pinot fin teinturier," though, that, interestingly, also doesn't match Pinot Noir at the same site.  For the most part, berry color and flesh color mutations are indistinguishable from one another in microsatellite DNA tests, so Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc would all look genetically identical using this method, but Pinot fin teinturier has this one microsatellite site (VVS2 for those interested) that's different from the other Pinots.  It turns out that if you run the parentage analysis with Pinot fin teinturier and Gouais Blanc, you get a perfect match for the parents of Romorantin.  For all intents and purposes, though, Romorantin's parents are Pinot and Gouais Blanc and it is a full sibling of Chardonnay and all of the other grapes mentioned in the study.

Romorantin is grown exclusively in the eastern part of the Loire Valley.  There is a legend that it was introduced to this area by King Francis I, who was from the nearby Romorantin commune, in the early 16th Century.  It was once widely grown throughout the Loire Valley, but today is limited to the Cheverny AOC. Chevrny consists of about 450 hectares of various vines, but there is a small region in the southeastern corner of the appellation that consists of about 50 hectares of Romorantin.  Wines from this area have their own AOC called Cour-Chevrny, and they must be made from 100% Romorantin grapes.

I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2008 Domaine de Montcy Cour-Chevrny from my friends at the Wine Bottega for about $25.  In the glass the wine was a medium lemon gold color.  The nose was reserved with subtle pear, lemon peel and pineapple aromas.  On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with fairly high acidity.  There were flavors of lemony citrus, tropical pineapple and pear fruits along with something slightly sweaty and funky which was really only present for a few minutes after pulling the cork before it blew off.  The wine finished with a strong, steely minerality.  The wine was crisp, bright and refreshing which is mostly what I look for in a Loire Valley white. It is a bit on the expensive side for what you're getting, but is interesting and unusual enough to justify the expense.  With enough imagination, you can kind of see how this might be related to Muscadet or to Chardonnay (of the unoaked variety) and fans of those kinds of wines will probably find a lot to like here.


Bowers, J., Boursiquot, J.M., This, P., Chu, K., Johansson, H., & Meredith, C.  1999.  Historical genetics: the parentage of chardonnay, gamay, and other wine grapes of northeastern France.  Science: 285. pp 1562 - 1565.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Albillo - Castilla Y León, Spain

Over the weekend I received an email from the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture (which I subscribe to) letting me know that they had just put up a few new ePress articles (which, I think, are in-press articles slated for an upcoming print run of the journal, but which haven't been officially published yet).  As I was scanning through the articles, one entitled "Genetic origin of the grapevine Tempranillo" caught my eye (citation 1 below).  The parentages of a lot of really important wine grape have been discovered in the past 10-15 years, but this was the first paper that I could remember seeing regarding Tempranillo, whose full parentage has remained essentially a mystery until now.  A Spanish research team did discover a parent-offspring relationship between Tempranillo and Albillo Mayor in 2010 (citation 2 below), but this most recent paper confirms that Tempranillo is the offspring of Albillo Mayor and Benedicto.

It just so happened that I had a tasting note that was awaiting the Fringe Wine treatment from a wine featuring the Albillo grape, so I started to do a little bit more research.  Friends, Albillo is a difficult grape to get a handle on.  The name Albillo first pops up in the literature in a 15th Century agricultural work by Alonso de Herrera, and it looks like since then, the name has been given to many different grapes which had some physical characteristics in common (small, white aromatic berries that ripen early), but which weren't necessarily related to one another.  By the 19th Century, some authorities were attempting to reduce the confusion by appending place names to some Albillo cultivars to indicate their geographical origin and to differentiate them from other Albillo varieties.  This didn't really work, and so the confusion persists to some extent today.

There are several grapes that have Albillo as a part of their name or as an accepted synonym, but officially there is no grape known simply as Albillo.  Kind of.  As far as I can tell, the Spanish government actually lumps all the various Albillo grapes together under the single name "Albillo," so planting statistics actually reflect the totals of all Albillo grapes.  All grapes called Albillo are not the same, though, as the VIVC recognizes at least five genetically distinct Albillo grapes (though there are possibly more than that).  Albillo Real seems to be the most common form of Albillo, as most of the VIVC's synonyms refer back to this grape.  Wikipedia insists that only Albillo Real is ever referred to simply as Albillo, though there is no source given for that bit of information.  My guess is that the author of the Wikipedia post is saying this because only Albillo Real has just "Albillo" as an accepted synonym, which may be true, but isn't sufficient to make that particular claim.  Chasselas actually has "Albillo" as a synonym as well, though Chasselas and Albillo Real are not the same grape.

Albillo Mayor seems to be much less common as the paper proclaiming its parental link to Tempranillo indicates that it covers 773 hectares of land in Castilla Y León, which accounts for only .08% of the total vineyard area of Spain.  I'm not sure where that statistic comes from since, as noted above, I'm not aware of any statistics that track the various individual Albillo varieties and this particular bit of information is not given a citation in the article text.  The other Albillos (Albillo Krimskii, Albillo de Albacete and Albillo Real de Granada) appear to be much less important, as there is virtually no information about them online.  Another paper in the email from the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture (citation 3 below) identifies another Albillo cultivar known as Albillo Dorado, about which there is likewise not much information other than that it is definitely genetically distinct from Albillo Real and should be considered as a separate cultivar.

Albillo Real and Albillo Mayor are likewise genetically distinct varieties (citation 2 below), but if your bottle of wine only indicates "Albillo," how are you to know which one you have?  The only real clue that  I can find has to do with geography.  Many sources (the Oxford Companion to Wine, citation 1 and citation 3 below among them) indicate that Albillo Mayor is more widely cultivated in the Castilla Y León region of Spain while Albillo Real is cultivated in the Castilla-La Mancha region just south of Castilla Y León.  The wine that I picked up was labeled as Castilla Y León and the winery is the in the Ribera del Duero, which is given special mention in the OCW for their plantings of Albillo Mayor.  On the other hand, Wikipedia indicates that Albillo Real is planted primarily in the Ribera del Duero as well, though I suspect that the Wikipedia page isn't to be trusted on this matter.  I mentioned above that the official planting statistics lump all of the Albillo's together in a single category called "Albillo," and since the author of the Wikipedia page believes that any reference to just "Albillo" must refer to Albillo Real, you can see how there might be cause for misunderstanding.

All that said, I'm still not 100% sure which Albillo I might have tried.  The odds seem to suggest that Albillo Real is the most likely candidate, but the winery's location might indicate otherwise.  I'd certainly like to believe that this is Albillo Mayor because of the new-found link to Tempranillo, but I just don't feel like the evidence is substantial enough to say with any certainty.  In the meantime I guess all I can do is just claim that this wine is from Albillo and leave it at that.

The wine that I was able to try was the 2008 Valduero "Yunquera" Albillo from the Castilla Y León region of Spain.  I picked this bottle up from my friends at Curtis Liquors for about $18.  In the glass this wine was a fairly light silvery lemon color.  The nose was intense and unusual with pear, banana, asparagus and mint aromas.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity.  There were flavors of tart, fresh lemons and green apples, white pear, cooked asparagus and something slightly leesy on the back end.  This wine was searingly tart with lemon really dominating the flavor profile.  The sour flavor made it difficult to drink on its own, but it would stand up to dishes like chicken piccata fairly well I think.  Overall, I thought it was very interesting, whatever the actual grape variety turns out to be, and it's definitely worth a look for fans of bright, citrusy, high acid white wines.


1) Ibanez, J., Munoz-Organero, G., Zinelabidine, L.H., de Andres, M.T., Cabello, F., & Martinez-Zapater, J.M.  2012 . Genetic origin of the grapevine cultivar tempranillo.  American Journal of Enology and Viticulture.  In Press.

2) Santana, J.C., Heuertz, M., Arranz, C., Rubio, J.A., Martinez-Zapater, J.M., & Hidalgo, E.  2010.  Genetic structure, origins and relationships of grapevine cultivars from the Castilian plateau of Spain.  American Journal of Enology and Viticulture.  61:2 pp 214-224.

3) Gonzalez, M.F., Gascuena, J.M., Morales, A.M. 2012.  Identification and relationships of grapevine cultivars authorized for cultivation in Castilla La Mancha (Spain).  American Journal of Enology and Viticulture.  In Press.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Weird Blend Wednesday - Piquepoul Noir, Riveirenc Noir, Morastel Noir a Jus Blanc& Oeillade Noir - Languedoc, France

Piquepoul Noir Grapes
We've taken some looks at some fairly unusual blends here on Weird Blend Wednesday, but we've never tackled anything quite like today's wine.  All four of the grapes in this particular bottle are not just unusual, but extremely rare to boot.  I've done the best that I can trying to tease out exactly what's in this wine, but given the extraordinary scarcity of these grapes, it's hard to say how successful my effort has been.

Clos Centeilles was founded by husband and wife team Daniel and Patrica Boyer-Domergue in the late 1980's in the Minervois region of southern France.  In the mid 1990's, the duo planted a small vineyard with the aim of preserving some of the ancient native varieties that had been almost completely wiped out by phylloxera about a hundred years before.  They make both a white wine and red wine from these extraordinarily rare grapes and we'll eventually take a look at their white, but today I'd like to take a look at their red wine and the four grapes that are used in its creation.

The overwhelming majority of the blend for this wine (78%) is from a grape called Piquepoul (or Picpoul) Noir.  This is the dark berried form of the Picpoul grape used in the production of Picpoul de Pinet, and it is much more difficult to find than its light skinned twin (which is planted on about 2,500 acres of land throughout France).  Both Picpoul Noir and Picpoul Blanc are permitted varieties in Chateaneuf-du-Pape, but together they account for only about 0.15% of the total plantings there.  Picpoul Noir is also permitted in the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation, but is neither widely grown nor utilized there.   Wines made from the Picpoul Noir grape are richly perfumed but lightly colored so the grape tends to be used as a blending grape when it is used at all.  This particular wine is probably about as close as you can come to a varietal Picpoul Noir.

Riveirenc Noir makes up the second largest part of this wine at 15% of the blend, and I can find absolutely no online information about this grape outside of descriptions of this particular wine.  The VIVC database has no listings for a grape called Riveirenc, though there is a listing for a grape called Riveyrenc, which is either officially known as Aspiran Noir (according to the VIVC) or Rivairenc (according to the OCW, though the entry is given under Aspiran).  Riveirenc is not listed as an accepted synonym for Aspiran Noir in the VIVC, so it is unclear whether it is the same grape or not, but it seems likely given that Aspiran is still an accepted variety in the Minervois, where this particular wine is made.  There were only about 7 hectares of Aspiran Noir in France as of 1988, though at one time it accounted for almost a quarter of the plantings in the Hérault region of the Languedoc.  Phylloxera claimed many of the vines in the late 19th Century, and then a severe frost in 1956 claimed most of the rest.  It's not a particularly productive vine, so most growers elected to plant other varieties when their vines were stricken.

Morastel Noir à Jus Blanc is the third largest component of this particular wine, though it makes up only 5% of the blend.  Morastel is, generally speaking, a synonym for Mourvedre, but given that this estate has other vines that they identify as Mourvedre, it's unclear just what this variety might be.  In France, Morastel (sometimes also spelled Morrastel) refers to the Graciano grape, which was once widely planted in the Languedoc.  The "jus blanc" part of the name hints that it may be related to a teinturier variety (a grape with red flesh and thus red juice), as the "jus blanc," or "white juice" description is often used to differentiate white pulped clones from red pulped ones.  In this report on the Paris Exhibition of 1878, the author notes a few "red juice" varieties of grape, three of which have the word "Morastel" in them.  All three of these Morastel grapes were created by Henri Bouschet by crossing Morastel (presumably Graciano in this context), and Petit-Bouschet.  The OCW informs us that Morrastel-Bouschet (which I'm assuming was one of these crossings) eventually came to completely replace plantings of Morrastel/Graciano in southern France, so it is possible that one of these teinturier Morastel crossings mutated at some point into a non-teinturier vine, and that his mutation is now known as Morastel Noir à Jus Blanc.  It is also possible that  Morastel Noir à Jus Blanc was just the local name given to Graciano to differentiate it from the Morastel-Bouschet teinturier varieties after they came to dominate the landscape.  It's difficult to say for sure either way.

Œillade Noir Grapes     
Œillade makes up only 2% of the blend for this wine, and it has the same kind of naming issue as Morastel Noir à Jus Blanc.  Œillade is typically used as a synonym for Cinsaut, but, again, Clos Centeilles grows a lot of Cinsaut and bottles other wines under that particular name, so it doesn't seem likely that what they're calling Œillade is merely Cinsaut.  The VIVC does have a listing for an Oeillade Noire, which seems to be related to another grape called Araignan, which Clos Centeilles uses for the white version of this particular wine, so it's probably a safe bet that that's what we're dealing with here.  Oeillade Noire can sometimes resemble Cinsaut, which is probably where the confusion about the synonyms comes from, though wines from it are lighter in color and, according to some sources, slightly inferior in quality, which probably goes a long way towards explaining why there isn't that much of it around anymore.

I was able to get my hands on a bottle of the 2006 Clos Centeilles C de Ceinteilles Rouge from my friends at the Spirited Gourmet for about $18 (I believe the wine is also available in both Rouge and Blanc from Curtis Liquors as well).  In the glass this wine was a fairly light purple ruby color.  The nose was moderately intense with black cherry, blackberry, charcoal, smoke and black pepper aromas.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with medium acidity and medium tannins.  There were flavors of red cherry and crushed red berries, smoke, and black pepper with a distinctively savory, meaty kind of character to it.  It wasn't incredibly complex, but it was very nice and represents a good bargain at under $20.  It's probably the only chance that most people will have to taste a wine made from these particular grape varieties and is worth the cost of the bottle for that fact alone.  Those of you who are a few grapes short on your Wine Century Club applications should track a bottle of this down as it's a sure-fire way to add four more grapes to your tasting resume.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Listán Negro - Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Pop quiz time: what Vitis vinifera grape has been grown in California the longest?  Though Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are currently the kings of California viticulture, they are relative newcomers compared to the Mission grape.  It is thought that the Mission grape was first brought to California in the mid 18th Century, and it was pretty much the only grape grown in the entire area until the  late 19th Century, though there are less than 1,000 acres remaining in California today.  At this point, you might notice that the title of today's post says Listán Negro from the Canary Islands and not Mission from California and may be wondering just what is going on.  Hold on to your hats and we'll see how these two grapes and two areas nearly 6,000 miles away from one another are related.

Those of you up on your American history will remember that before California became a part of the United States, it was a part of Mexico, and before that, it was a part of Spain.  Way back in the 15th Century or so, when Spain colonized a new region, one of the first things that they did was set up missionaries there in order to spread Christianity throughout their new colonies.  Wine was an important part of religious life, as it was used in many different ceremonies, but the Spanish had difficulty shipping wine across the Atlantic Ocean to its new colonies in the Americas.  The wine typically spoiled before it arrived at its destination, so rather than ship barrels of wine to the new colonies, the Spanish began to send vines instead.

The vines were first sent to the Spanish colonies of Peru and Mexico in the early 16th Century.  As the missionaries moved north through Mexico and into modern-day Texas, they established missionary outposts and planted grapes so that the missions could produce all of the sacramental wine that they needed. The most popular grape came to be known as Mission, for fairly obvious reasons.  This grape was adaptable to a wide range of climatic conditions and also tended to yield very generously, though the wine made from it wasn't particularly good.  Since this was sacramental wine and not quality wine, this particular flaw was overlooked , and the grape slowly worked its way through the American southwest in the 17th Century before finally making it to California around 1769.  For many years, Mission was the only grape grown in California, and it can be said that the foundation of California wine making was built with the Mission grape.

You might be thinking that Phylloxera was the ultimate undoing of the Mission grape, as it was a Vitis vinifera vine and is susceptible to the louse, but that's not the case.  Phylloxera was mostly an issue in the eastern United States and it didn't make its way into California until the late 19th Century.  Before Phylloxera hit, California became a part of the United States in 1847 and the importance of the Spanish missions began to decline.  There was also the gold rush in the mid 1800's which brought a huge wave of immigrants who were seeking their fortune.  The gold rushers needed something to drink and a number of private wineries were founded to provide for these thirsty prospectors.  Nobody was really crazy about the wines made from the Mission grapes, so other grape varieties were brought in in large numbers.  By the time Phylloxera finally did arrive in California, Mission was already mostly on its way out and Phylloxera was merely the final nail in its coffin.

All of which is very interesting, but we're not here to talk about Mission, we're here to talk about Listán Negro.  Listán Negro is also known as Listan Prieto or Palomino Negro, and it is the red-berried form of the same Palomino vine used in Sherry production on the Spanish mainland.  Listán Negro is hardly grown at all on the European mainland, but it is widely planted on the Canary Islands, where it covers almost 12,000 acres of land.  The Canary Islands are a small archipelago located off the western coast of Africa (map) which belong politically to the nation of Spain and have for many centuries.  The Canary Islands were often the last stop for ships headed to the new world colonies in the Americas, and it is thought that Listán Negro was originally from mainland Spain, but was brought to the Canary Islands by Spanish settlers.  From there, the vine was carried to the new world colonies, particularly those in the Americas, and planted.  Phylloxera wiped out virtually all of the Listán Negro planted in Europe, but the louse never reached the Canary Islands and so the vine has continued to flourish there.

In 2007, a Spanish research team (citation below) discovered that vines growing in California under the name of Mission were identical to many vines growing in South America under the names of País and Criolla.  Furthermore, all of these vines were identical to Listán Negro, which means essentially that the Listán Negro of the Canary Islands is the same as the Mission grape that was grown so widely in the early days of California viticulture!  Though Canary Islands wines aren't exactly widespread, they are much easier to find than California wines made from the Mission grape, so if you've always wondered what wines from the Mission grape might be like, just hunt down a Listán Negro based wine and give it a try.

I was actually able to find two different Listán Negro based wines, both from the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  Tenerife is located right in the middle of the Canary Islands archipelago (map), and it is dominated by the Teide volcano, which is the highest mountain in Spain and the third tallest volcano on earth.  There are a handful of sub-regions on Tenerife, and this 2008 Monje "Tradicional" (which I picked up from my friends at the Spirited Gourmet for about $23) is from the Tacoronte-Acentejo region in the northwestern portion of the island. This wine is mostly Listán Negro with a little bit of Negromoll blended in.  In the glass the wine was a medium purple ruby color.  The nose was moderately intense with bright black cherry and crushed berry fruit along with a touch of smoky charcoal.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity and medium tannins.  There were flavors of black cherry and black plum fruit along with smoky char, baking chocolate, coffee and black pepper.  It was very dark, smoky and spicy with nice black fruits.  I found it pretty enjoyable and think it's probably priced about right at just over $20.

The second wine that I tried was the 2010 Bodegas Tajinaste Tinto Tradicional ($25), which is from the Valle de la Orotava region of Tenerife.  This area is on the western side of the island in the foothills of the Teide volcano.  In the glass the wine was a fairly deep purple ruby color.  The nose was very intense with wild, brambly crushed blackberry, raspberry and red currant fruit.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity and low tannins.  There were flavors of black cherry and wild blackberry fruit, smoke and tar.  Right out of the bottle this was very smoky with lots of dark black fruits, but as it opens up, the smoke blows off a bit and the fruits move more towards the red end of the spectrum.  This wine was  bit more energetic and wild than the other example and its relative youth probably had a lot to do with it.  Both wines were very good, but neither really represents a great value.  If you're a value wine shopper, the Canary Islands really aren't for you, though, as prices for these wines tend to be on the high side.  They're unique and distinctive, though, and offer opportunities to not only taste interesting grapes, but also historical ones as well.


Tapia, A.M., Cabezas, J.A., Cabello, F., Lacombe, T., Martinez-Zapater, J.M., Hinrichsen, P., & Cervera, M.T. 2007.  Determining the Spanish origin of representative ancient American grapevine varieties.  American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, 58(2).  pp. 242-251.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Müller-Thurgau - Alto Adige, Italy

It may be a stretch to consider Müller-Thurgau a fringe grape.  It is planted on about 40,000 acres of land in Germany alone and as recently as the early 1990's, it was the most widely planted grape in that country (Riesling surpassed it in the late 1990's and has been pulling away ever since).  There are also significant plantings of Müller-Thurgau in Austria, Switzerland, northern Italy, Slovenia and much of eastern Europe, and Müller-Thurgau is thought to be the most widely planted deliberate crossing on earth.  I was on the fence about including Müller-Thurgau here, but there were a few things that swayed my decision.  First of all, it was much more difficult than I thought to actually buy a bottle of varietal Müller-Thurgau wine.  Secondly, when I finally did find a bottle, it was from Italy and not Germany, which isn't all that unusual, but it's not all that common either.  The biggest reason I decided to write about Müller-Thurgau, though, was because of the really interesting story of its pedigree, and how that pedigree remained a mystery for more than 100 years.  Much of the information below can be found in this paper, which ultimately solved the mystery of Müller-Thurgau's parentage in 2000, 118 years after its creation, and any papers that are not directly linked below are cited in that piece (most of them are in German and so even if I could access them, I'd have no idea what they said).

The Müller-Thurgau grape was created in 1882 by Dr. Herman Müller, who was born in the Swiss Canton (something akin to a state in the US) of Thurgau, which is located in the northeastern part of Switzerland.  Thurgau is bordered to its northeast by Lake Constance, which separates Switzerland from southwestern Germany.  Dr. Müller created this grape, known as No. 58, while he was working at the Geisenheim institute in Germany, but took it with him (along with the cuttings of about 150 other seedlings he had been working on) when he assumed the role of director at a research institution in Switzerland in 1891.  No. 58 was first propagated in 1897, and in 1913, a Franconian grapevine inspector named August Dern brought cuttings of the vine back into Germany.  Dern gave the grape the name Müller-Thurgau, and by 1930, experimental plots of the vine were being grown in every winegrowing region in Germany.  Müller-Thurgau plantings soared after WWII when Germany was trying to rebuild their wine industry and replant their vineyards quickly, as Müller-Thurgau is a generous yielder that is very easy to work with in the vineyard and the winery.  Plantings have been steadily declining in Germany since the late 1970's, but it is still responsible for about 15% of the total plantings in Germany, and is the 2nd most planted grape in that country.

The parentage for No. 58 was given as Riesling x Silvaner, but doubts about this were raised quickly.  Dr. Müller wrote a letter to Dern at one point informing him that the cuttings that he brought into Germany from his lab were not the offspring of a Riesling x Silvaner cross, but no correct parentage was offered by Dr. Müller either.  Some believed that the vine was a selfling of Riesling, meaning that a Riesling vine pollinated another Riesling vine and the resulting seed was planted.  An ampelographical study done in 1957 by a man named Eichelsbacher attempted to rule out Silvaner as a parent by analyzing the shapes of the leaves and tips of Riesling, Silvaner, Müller-Thurgau, but ampelography has never been an exact science and Eichelsbacher's theory never gained universal acceptance.

In 1994, a German research team performed an RAPD analysis (an early form of genetic testing that has been supplanted by microsatellite testing in more recent years) on Riesling, Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau (source).  Their analysis was able to show that Riesling was one of the parents of Müller-Thurgau, but Silvaner definitely was not the other.  In 1996, another German research team proposed that the other parent could be a member of the Chassleas family and their research seemed to confirm their hunch.  Their analysis only analyzed 8 microsatellite markers, though, and most scientists believe that at least 20 sites should be analyzed for conclusive results.  In 1997, another research group ran a more extensive analysis and were able to rule out Chasselas as a parent of Müller-Thurgau, but they discovered that it was a grandparent.  The other parent of Müller-Thurgau was actually a grape called Admirable de Courtiller, which is a table grape bred by a guy named Courtiller in the 19th Century by crossing Chasselas with Bicane.

The DNA evidence was unequivocal, but many found the results hard to believe.  Müller-Thurgau did not resemble Admirable de Courtiller at all physically and you would expect that some physical characteristics would be passed on from a parent to its offspring.  In 2000, another German research team set out to re-test Riesling, Admirable de Courtiller and Müller-Thurgau.  The team requested leaf samples for each of the vines from two different holding facilities.  The first set of samples came from Kolsterneuburg, Austria, which was where the 1997 research group got their material, while the second set came from Geilweilerhof, Germany.  Once the leaves arrived from each institution, the team noticed that the samples for Admirable de Courtiller from each institution didn't match one another at all.  Their ampelographic analysis led them to believe that the sample from Kolsterneuburg was actually from a grape called Madeleine Royale, which is a fairly common table grape bred in the mid 19th Century.

What had happened was essentially the same thing that happened with Hondarrabi Zuri in Spain.  The accession for Madeleine Royale was mislabeled in Kolsterneuburg as Admirable de Courtiller, and so the team that obtained their samples from that holding facility in 1997 were misled as a result.  When the 2000 research group ran the parentage studies on the correct version of Admirable de Courtiller, they were able to rule it out as a parent.  The group also checked Madeleine Royale as a parent and confirmed that Müller-Thurgau was the result of crossing Riesling and Madeleine Royale.

The story isn't quite over, though.  A guy named Moreau-Robert created Madeleine Royale in 1845, but there was no record of the grape's parentage.  It was long suspected to be an offspring of Chasselas, but its pedigree wasn't scientifically investigated until 2010 when a Swiss duo was able to conclusively show that Chasselas could not be a parent to Madeleine Royale.  What was more surprising, though, is that they were able to show that Pinot and Schiava Grossa were almost certainly the real parents of Madeleine Royale, meaning that Pinot and Schiava are also the grandparents of Müller-Thurgau.

There is still some confusion in many reference materials about Müller-Thurgau's true parentage.  Oz Clarke's Grapes & Wines and Stephen Brook's The Wines of Germany continue to list the parents as Riesling x Admirable de Courtiller, and when I first learned about Müller-Thurgau a few years ago, the material that I was reading (which I can't recollect or seem to find again) listed the parentage as Riesling x Silvaner.  This mistaken parentage is perhaps still perpetrated in part by the fact that one of Müller-Thurgau's most widely accepted synonyms is Rivaner which is clearly just a contraction of Riesling and Silvaner.  There are a lot of German crossings that were the result of a Riesling x Silvaner cross, because many scientists have been trying to combine the quality of Riesling and the hardiness and high yields of Silvaner, but so far none have been particularly successful.

I was able to try a 2008 Andrian0 Müller-Thurgau from the Alto Adige region of Italy.  I picked this bottle up for about $13 locally.  In the glass the wine was a medium lemon gold color with a greenish tint.  The nose was fairly intense with white pear, lemon, white flowers and peach.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity.  There were flavors of tart green apple, lemon, pear and under-ripe pineapple.  It finished with a bitter, pithy kind of flavor that wasn't all that nice.  Overall this wine was fairly non-descript and average, as a lot of wines made from this grape tend to be.  The Oxford Companion to Wine calls it "the bane of German wine production" because of the oceans of bland, sickly sweet wines that were pumped out of Germany from the 1970's up to the modern day.  This is better than most of the junk that comes out of Germany under the Müller-Thurgau or Rivaner name, but it's still nothing all that exciting.  The story of the grape is definitely more fascinating than the wines that are made from it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Weird Blend Wednesday - Tsaoussi, Robola & Sauvignon Blanc - Cephalonia, Greece

Hello friends and neighbors, and welcome to another installment of my erratic Weird Blend Wednesday feature!  Today we're going to take a look at a blended white wine from the Greek island of Cephalonia that is composed of 40% Tsaoussi, 30% Robola and 30% Sauvignon Blanc.  I think.  See, the winery's website says that the wine is made from Tsaoussi and Muscat grapes, but the American importer's fact sheet on the wine gives the breakdown above.  After sampling the wine, I don't see any way that there's any muscat in it at all, so I'm choosing to believe the importer's breakdown.

We've talked a bit about the Robola grape before, but I think it's worth a quick revisit.  I mentioned in my previous post that there seemed to be some evidence that the Robola from Greece was distinct from the Ribolla of Italy.  Konstantinos Lazarakis brought this up in his excellent The Wines of Greece, but when I wrote the original post, I wasn't able to track down the specific studies that he was (loosely) referencing.  I still haven't been able to read the original papers, but it's because the main one is actually the UC Davis Master's Thesis of Mihalis Boutaris, and I'm not entirely sure how one goes about obtaining something like that.  It must be possible, though, because the site greekwinemakers.com have clearly read it, and give a good summary of the relevant content.

In short, what Boutaris found was that when he analyzed two different samples of Robola, one from California and one from Greece, the two samples turned out to be genetically distinct from one another.  Furthermore, it turned out that each Robola sample matched another Greek grape.  The California sample matched a grape called Thiako, while the sample from a collection in Athens matched something called Goustolidi.  This result leads Boutaris to question whether perhaps Robola isn't the name of a grape at all, but rather of a wine made from a variety of different grapes.  Over time, the name of the wine could have become confused with the name of the grapes, and people just started calling the grapes that went into the wine Robola.  That's certainly a possibility, but there needs to be more research done in order to verify it.  The Greek wine makers site also goes on to say that "no Greek Robola sample yet tested has displayed a close genetic relationship to the Italian Ribolla," but I haven't been able to find any studies at all that attempted to compare the DNA of the two grapes.  The VIVC database does list Robola as a separate entry from Ribolla, but neither it nor the Greek Vitis database has any microsatellite data on file for Robola, so it's hard to say what the relationship between the two grapes might be.

Fortunately, Tsaoussi (or Tsaoúsi) is a little bit easier to sort out.  There is some disagreement about its origins, with some sources indicating that it was transplanted from Egypt, others indicating that it arrived from Macedonia and others still claiming that it is indigenous to the island of Cephalonia, but this is really the only point of contention about the grape that I could find.  The vine produces large bunches of large grapes that are often used as table grapes in addition to being used in the winery.  It yields fairly generously, but can suffer from low acidity and is often blended with higher acid grapes in order to cover up this defect.  Tsaoussi is found almost exclusively on the island of Cephalonia off the western coast of Greece, though there is a small amount on the nearby island of Corfu and also some scattered plantings in northern Greece called Tsaousi which may or may not be the same grape.

I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2007 Gentilini Aspro Classic bottling for about $14 from my friends at the Spirited Gourmet.  Aspro means "white" in Greek, but it is also one of the few synonyms listed for the Tsaoussi grape.  In the glass the wine was a fairly deep lemon gold color.  The nose was mild and reserved with pear, baked apple and pastry dough aromas.  In the glass the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity.  There were flavors of baked apple, pie dough, toasted nuts and honey.  This wine needed a bit of time to open up, but when it did the honey notes really started to come on strong even though this is definitely a dry wine.  This was almost certainly past its prime, but it was still holding on and drinking decently.  As mentioned above, this wine is only about 40% Tsaoussi and I'm not aware of any commercially available 100% Tsaoussi wines, but Markus over at Elloinos has a nice video up featuring a special 100% Tsaoussi that the owner of Gentilini sent for him to try.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Maceratino - Colli Maceratesi, Marche, Italy

What the heck is Maceratino?  The more I researched this grape, the more I found myself asking that particular question.  There are a lot of suggestions out there for what Maceratino could be, but very few answers as to what it really is.  I did a little bit of digging and found some interesting stuff in the scientific literature that may help to shed a little light on the situation.

A lot of the confusion with Maceratino has to do with synonyms.  Maceratino has 21 synonyms listed in the VIVC, and, confusingly, eight of those synonyms include the word Greco while four include the word Verdicchio.  Many sources (including the OCW, Wikipedia and this Italian source) indicate that there may be some kind of relationship between Maceratino and Greco and/or Verdicchio, and some of them use the overlapping synonyms as an argument for that.  There are some ampelographic similarities between the vines that has led to the grapes sharing some synonyms, but it hasn't ever really been clear whether there's a serious genetic relationship between Maceratino, Greco and/or Verdicchio.  While I didn't find any studies that answered the question directly, I think I was able to find some answers by linking the findings from a few different studies together.

Before taking a look at Maceratino, I first wanted to take a look at the relationship between Greco and Verdicchio.  The OCW indicates that Maceratino could be related to either Greco or Verdicchio, but Wikipedia indicated that it was related to both, which naturally implies some sort of relationship between Greco and Verdicchio themselves.  The Wikipedia article on Verdicchio makes this a bit more explicit, as they say that with Verdicchio, there "appears to be a genetic relation to Trebbiano and the Grecogrape varieties."  We explored the relationship between Trebbiano and Verdicchio in the post on Turbiana, but this was the first that I had heard about an alleged relationship between Verdicchio and Greco.  The source for this claim is Bastianich and Lynch's Vino Italiano, which refers to Greco as a family of grapes with the Umbrian Grechetto as a subvariety and the Sicilian Grecanico as either a synonym for Greco proper or merely an offshoot of the family.  The authors further maintain that "greco may well have been the progenitor of most of the white varieties in Italy, including trebbiano, verdicchio, and the garganega of Soave in the Veneto," according to "some historians and scientists."

I took a look at a paper that I used for researching my Turbiana post, and pretty much all of the evidence that I needed was right there.  The authors of this paper didn't test Maceratino, but they did test Greco Bianco and Verdicchio and found that there was only 20% similarity between the two cultivars genetically, meaning that if they were related to one another, it would be very distantly.  Furthermore, Grechetto and Grecanico themselves had a similarity rating of 20% between them and both had a similarity rating of about 10% to Greco and Verdicchio, meaning that there isn't any really good reason to believe that these four grapes are closely related to one another at all.

So now that we know that Greco and Verdicchio aren't related to one another, we also know that if Maceratino is related to either of them, it can really only be related to one and not to both.  Maceratino isn't a very common grape and I wasn't sure if I could find a study with any genetic information on it, but, fortunately, I not only found one, but I found one that also tested Verdicchio as well (citation below).  This study was designed to test the discriminatory power of various microsatellite sites, which means basically that they were testing to see which areas of DNA differed the most across various grape varieties, so that those sites could be targeted in future studies.  The results indicated that Verdicchio and Maceratino matched exactly at three sites, matched for one allele at two other sites and didn't match at all on the sixth site.  This means that the two grapes are definitely distinct cultivars and are not a parent-offspring match, but there could be a more distant but still relatively close familial relationship between them.  The similarity of Maceratino to Verdicchio also means that it is very unlikely that Maceratino is related to Greco Bianco.

Geographically, this makes a lot of sense.  Verdicchio is thought to be native to the Marche region of Italy, where Maceratino is also found.  The name Maceratino doesn't have anything to with the word "maceration," but rather with the fact that the grape is thought to be from the town of Macerata in the Marche (though two of its other synonyms, Montecchiesse, meaning from Montecchio, and Matelicano, meaning from Matelica indicate that this bit of information isn't necessarily 100% controversy-free either).  Most Italian sources indicate that it has been grown in the Marche for hundreds of years, but plantings have been falling recently.   The reasons for its decline aren't 100% clear, as the vine yields generously and is relatively hardy in the vineyard while still producing quality wine.  This is usually the recipe for increased plantings, but some believe that Verdicchio's commercial success in international markets has led to many producers tearing up vines in order to plant more Verdicchio to meet consumer demand.  Most of the Maceratino that is still grown is found in the Colli Maceratesi DOC, where the white wines must be at least 85% Maceratino.

I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2009 Andrea Baccius La Murola Q Maceratino from my friends at Curtis Liquors for about $10.  In the glass the wine was a pale silvery lemon color with greenish tints.  The nose was moderately intense with green apple, pear and lime citrus aromas.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity.  Right out of the bottle the wine was bright and zippy with pineapple, lime and green apple fruits.  As it opens up, the flavor palette gets a little broader with some white peach fruits and a bit of chalky minerality.  I much preferred it early in the evening when it was tart and refreshing, but I found that I liked it less and less as the night wore on.  It does represent a very nice value at only $10 and is versatile enough to complement a wide variety of foods.  I would definitely recommend giving it a shot if you run across it, as it seems to be getting harder and harder to find.


Filippetti, I., Silvestroni, O., Thomas, M.R., and Intrieri, C.  2001.  Genetic characterisation of Italian wine grape cultivars by microsatellite analysis.  Acta Horta. 546.  pp. 395-399.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bellone - Lazio, Italy

When I sat down to start researching the Bellone grape, I wasn't really expecting to find very much information.  I've only ever come across one wine made from it and had never heard of it prior to coming across that wine, so I assumed that it was pretty obscure and that there wouldn't be too much to say about it.  I was surprised to find that Bellone apparently isn't all that unusual in its home region of Lazio, where the Oxford Companion to Wine tells us there was about 7500 acres planted in the 1990's.  Once you get past that little factoid, though, the information available about Bellone gets hazy pretty quickly.

Let's start with Wikipedia, which claims that Bellone is primarily a red grape which also happens to have a white-skinned clonal mutation.  The OCW refers to Bellone as a white-skinned grape, as the does the VIVC.    Literally every other source that I checked indicated that Bellone is a white-skinned grape, but the source of the mistake is actually a misprint in the only source that Wikipedia references.  Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes says Bellone is a "very juicy ancient grape grown near Rome," but the icon next to the entry indicates that Bellone is a red grape.  This has been corrected in the current edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine to read "very juicy ancient white grape..."  Wikipedia is occasionally wrong, and I know that people will tell you all the time that it's not a valid resource, but I don't necessarily think that's fair or true.  Most of the information in Wikipedia is correct and trustworthy, but as with any resource that you're using for research, you really need to check the citations and try to find supporting evidence from at least one other, non-affiliated source in order to verify that the information is correct.  In this particular case, the citation was from an outdated source and it just so happened that this particular entry in the original source was incorrect.  Always remember: it's not a fact if only one person says it.  Facts need to be corroborated across sources.

Next, let's consider the claim, presented in this article on the grape, that Bellone can be traced back to Ancient Rome, where it was called "uva fantastica" ("fantastic grape") by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia.  It seems like an interesting little bit of information, and it looks like this site might provide some corroboration, but I've seen this sort of thing before.  Pliny's book is perhaps our best source of knowledge about ancient Roman wines, but it is incredibly difficult to link grapes that he mentioned thousands of years ago to grapes being cultivated today (see also my post on Falanghina).  There are, fortunately enough, online texts of Pliny's Natural History available in both English and in the original Latin.  I decided to have a look to see what the context was for this assertion and to see whether linking Bellone to the "uva fantastico" was really warranted.  I was surprised to discover that the phrase "uva fantastica" doesn't even occur in Pliny's text.  In fact, the word "fantastica" doesn't occur anywhere in the text in any of its forms.  There is simply no evidence that Pliny ever referred to any grape as "uva fantastica," much less Bellone (which doesn't appear in the Natural History either).

I'm not saying that everything that I've published on this blog has been meticulously fact-checked and thoroughly cited.  I've done my best with the time and the materials that I've had, but mistakes get through.  I'm not necessarily taking the writers of the Wikipedia and Alta Cucina articles to task, but am rather calling for readers to be careful about the kinds of information that you're willing to admit into your knowledge bank as facts.  Information is more freely available now than at any other time in history, and the volume of that information increases every day.  I don't know how much of it is true, but I know that at least some of it isn't which is enough to make me feel the need to verify what I read and hear in my own way before believing any of it.  As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said so well, "healthy scepticism is the basis of all accurate observation."

All of which brings us back around to the Bellone grape.  Bellone is grown almost exclusively in the Lazio region of Italy, near the city of Rome.  It is known for being both hardy and prolific, meaning that it is resistant to wide variety of diseases and yields fairly generously.  It is permitted in a handful of DOC areas, but is most often used as a blending grape, rather than as the star of the show, and even the locals refer to its taste as "simple."

The wine that I was able to try was the 2009 Cantina Cincinnato "Castore" bottling, which retails for around $10 (from my friends at Curtis Liquors).  This wine is 100% Bellone.  The name "Castore" comes from Castor and Pollux, the "Gemini" twins born from Leda after she was raped by Zeus in the guise of a swan.  It is the companion bottling to the Nero Buono based "Pollùce" we took a look at a few months back.  In the glass this wine was a fairly light silvery lemon color.  The nose was delicate and mild with pear, ripe apple and just a hint of lemon.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity.  There were flavors of green apple and pear with a very bitter lemon peel kind of flavor.  This does eventually blow off a bit, but there is a bitter undercurrent to the wine that never really goes away.  It's not a particularly complex wine, as the pear aromas and flavors really dominate throughout, but it's still pretty tasty and is a nice bargain at around $10 a bottle.