Nebbiolo, one of Italy’s most famous black grape varieties, is related to the aromatic viognier, DNA boffins have found.

The noble Piedmontese grape, which gives Barolo and Barbaresco their power and longevity, has been found to relate directly to another indigenous grape from Piedmont called freisa, which in turn is a cousin of viognier.

Genetic researchers Dr Anna Schneider from CNR of Turin and Dr José Vouillamoz of UC Davis and Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige, released surprising preliminary findings from their research into nebbiolo’s DNA composition, at a conference in northern Italy at the weekend.

‘We have proven that nebbiolo is directly related to another indigenous red grape from Piedmont called freisa,’ Dr Schneider said, speaking at the first International Convention on Nebbiolo in the Lombard valley of Valtellina, north of Milan.

She added, ‘One thousand five hundred different grapes from around the world were tested for genetic relationships, and 30 of 32 indicators tested positive between freisa and viognier. While this demonstrates a high possibility of a genetic relationship, further tests are needed in order to confirm that there is a relationship and to what degree.’

Over 2,500 researchers, oenologists, producers and journalists gathered in Valtellina, an Alpine valley near the Swiss border which produces wines with names such as Inferno (hell) and Sforzato (forced), illustrating the extremely difficult growing conditions in its terraced mountain vineyards.

While many were surprised that a convention on nebbiolo was not hosted in Piedmont, the director of Piedmont producer Marchesi di Barolo, Ernesto Abbona, threw his weight behind the conference.

‘It’s a great idea. The Valtellina producers and Consorzio deserve a lot of credit for organising it, and for thinking of it before we did’, he told decanter.com.

Delegates tasted 250 nebbiolo-based wines from 77 producers around the world. Besides top names from Piedmont including Ceretto, Marchesi di Barolo and Fontanafredda, participants were able to try nebbiolo from Valtellina and Val d’Aosta, California, Washington, Australia, South America and even Mexico.

Written by Kerin O’Keefe