Italy's Franciacorta producers are hoping that an indigenous grape variety rejected as inferior several hundred years ago can be used in their sparkling wines as a new 'ally' against climate change. Aldo Fiordelli introduces Erbamat below.

Franciacorta, the sparkling wine DOCG from Lombardy, has made move to allow its own indigenous variety to be used in blends alongside Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco.

Silvano Brescianini, vice president of Franciacorta and director of Barone Pizzini winery, told Decanter.com that he expects Erbamat to be an ‘ally’ against climate change, partly because of its later ripening profile.

The full story: Introducing Erbamat

Erbamat, it is a late ripening white grape that makes quite neutral, high-acid wines. Although Erbamat is not officially allowed yet, the Italian ministry of Agriculture and the consortium of Franciacorta approved the new varietal for inclusion on 4 January.

Beginning with the 2017 harvest, up to 10% Erbamat will be permitted in blend with the varieties allowed in production of Franciacorta: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and up to 50% Pinot Blanc. Erbamat’s deep-seeded history in Brescia dates to 1500, when it was documentated by Agostino Gallo. In 1997, following a 1982 study, Attilio Scienza described the grape variety with ‘acidity and finesse’.

Erbamat is best suited to hillsides due to its thin skin, compact bunches and its tendency towards late ripening – albeit this make it seriously prone to botrytis.

Though neglected in the XIX century, its disadvantageous past is becoming an advantage today.

‘Erbamat ripens from 20 days to a month after other varieties,’ said Leonardo Valenti, professor of viticulture at the University of Milan. ‘Preserving higher levels of malic acid with less sugars. In the ‘80’s we harvested Chardonnay at the beginning of September, but now in Montorfano, the warmest part of Franciacorta, we start to harvest at the end of July.’

‘We expect Erbamat to be an ally, considering the climate change, and [to help] an improvement of the character of Franciacorta,’ said Silvano Brescianini, vice president of Franciacorta and director of Barone Pizzini winery.

Pale straw in color with a greenish tinge, Erbamat shows white florals and chalky minerality on the nose, sometimes reminiscent of a Cava-like earthiness; evident, chewy, high-malic acidity, a lean body and notably low alcohol due to its tendency to struggle in producing sugars. The leading grower is Barone Pizzini with 4,000 vines, however other producers including Guido Berlucchi, Ca’ del Bosco, Ferghettina, Giuseppe Vezzoli, Castello Bonomi, Ronco Calino have also planted the variety.

‘The only unknown that we have is in its longevity,’ Brescianini. ‘The permission to include Erbamat in the Franciacorta blend ensures a convivial experimentation in every sense, but we trust that the high malic acid levels will retain ageing potential’.

Editing by Chris Mercer and Harry Fawkes.