One of the excitements of being a fan of Italian viticulture is exploring its seemingly endless array of native grapes. Italy is said have close to 2,000, of which about 400 are currently being used for winemaking. Some, like Grillo, Nerello Mascalese and Ribolla, were little known outside their specific cultivation areas until quite recently, yet have become favourites of wine lovers internationally. Others are still emerging from obscurity.
Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement, sees in the rediscovery and expansion of these grapes and their terroirs a cause for optimism for the country’s future. ‘Thanks to this patrimony of biodiversity, these lesser-known varieties can offer us exciting new tastes and enable us to move beyond the classic areas for great wines, such as Chianti and the Langhe, to other parts of our landscape.’
About 10 years ago, as I was researching an article on Emilia Romagna’s food for Decanter, I tasted a white wine made from an Emilian grape variety known locally as Pignoletto – its official name is Grechetto Gentile. I hadn’t heard of it before. Made by Maurizio Vallona, a producer on the slopes not far from Bologna, Ammestesso was a deliciously flavoursome, balanced still white wine with distinctive notes of wild mountain herbs and a citrussy register. It had been successfully aged for several years, and that too surprised me, as it showed the grape’s potential for making complex, aged wines with personality.
Pick of the Pignolettos
Wines tasted by Carla Capalbo and Sally Easton MW