Italian Wine Grape Varietals

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Italian wine grape varietals

Red grape varieties indigenous to Italy

Here we present a selection of the principal autochthonous Italian red grape varietals. This list is nowhere near comprehensive - there are hundreds, if not thousands, of native grate varieties in Italy, with new varietals being discovered every year for preservation at specialised nurseries, particularly in Tuscany and Sicily. (Click the link for greater detail on indigenous wine grape varieties of Chianti and Tuscany.)

• Aglianico

Grown mainly in the Campania and Basilicata. The name is derived from "ellenico" meaning hellenic, suggesting that the vine was introduced when this part of Italy was Magna Graecia. The grape is thick skinned and spicy and the wines are both rustic and powerful.

• Barbera

The most widely grown red wine grape of Piedmont, most famously around the towns of Asti and Alba. The wines made from barbera grapes were once markedly inferior to Barolo but this is no longer the case. The wines are now meticulously vinified. Aged Barbera is denominated "Barbera Superiore" and is sometimes aged in French barriques to become "Barbera Barricato". The wine exhibits bright cherry fruit, a very dark colour and a food-friendly acidity.

• Corvina

Along with the varietals rondinella and molinara, corvina is the principal grape used to make the famous wines of the Veneto: Valpolicella and Amarone. Valpolicella exhibits dark cherry fruit and is spicy. After the grapes undergo passito (a drying process), the wine they yield is elegant, dark and full of raisinated fruits. Some Amarones can age for 40 or more years.

• Dolcetto

A grape that grows alongside barbera and nebbiolo in Piedmont. Its name means "little sweet one", referring not to the taste of the wine, but the ease with which it grows and makes wines suitable for everyday drinking. Flavours of blackberries and herbs permeate the wine.

• Frappato di Vittoria

This varietal most likely has its origins in the Ragusa province of Sicily,  where it is believed to have been cultivated up to three hundred years  ago. Frappato is usually vinified in its pure form to produce a  light, refreshing wine, with a full bouquet, low tannin content and notable acidity. It is also often a component of the popular Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC blends of the same region.

• Lacrima

Lacrima is a dark-skinned grape varietal native to the Marche. Once much more widespread, it is now used almost exclusively in the Lacrima di Morro d'Alba DOC wines. Lacrima wines are aromatic and richly flavored, showing intense floral and spiced characters on the nose with a fresh, berry-dominated palate. Marotti Campi 'Orgiolo' Lacrima di Morro d'Alba Superiore rates highly.

The word lacrima means teardrop and probably refers to the tendency of these grapes to split, dripping juice down the outside of the bunch, one of the reasons that the lacrima grape had such a decline in the early 20 C – the split grapes attract pests and diseases. Lacrima vines also take poorly when grafted to phylloxera-resistant American root stock. This also contributed to their decline in popularity among growers.

• Malvasia Nera

This is a red malvasia varietal that grows in Piedmont. It produces a sweet, perfumy wine, sometimes made as a passito.

• Montepulciano

This grape varietal should not be confused with the Tuscan town of Montepulciano. It is most commonly planted on the opposite coast in Abruzzo. Its wines can run the gamut of easy quaffers to world class, with silky plum-like fruit, friendly acidity and light tannin.

• Nebbiolo

This is the most noble of Italy's varietals. The name (meaning "little fog") refers to the autumn fog that blankets most of Piedmont where it is grown, a condition the grape seems to enjoy. It is a somewhat difficult varietal to master, but produces the world renowned Barolo and Barbaresco wines, along with the lesser-known Sfortzato, Ghemme and Gattinara. The wines are known for their elegance and bouquet of wild mushrooms, truffles, roses and tar.

• Negroamaro

The name literally means "black and bitter", is a widely planted grape concentrated in the region of Apulia, and is the backbone of the acclaimed Salice Salentino: spicy, toasty and full of dark red fruit flavours.

• Nero d'Avola

This grape was nearly unheard of in the international market until recent years. It is a native varietal of Sicily that is gaining attention for its robust, inky wines. This grape is used to make Pithos wine, among many others. Pithos is a combination with Frappato di Vittoria that is fermented in huge terracotta containers known as giare. The results of this modern version of an ancient fermentation technology have been amazingly good.

• Sagrantino

This grape is a native to Umbria. It is planted on only 250 hectares, but the wines are world-renowned. Inky purple, with rustic brooding fruit and heavily tannic, these wines can age for many years.

• Sangiovese

Sangiovese is Italy's claim to fame, the pride of Tuscany. Its wines are full of cherry fruit, earth and cedar. It produces Chianti Classico, Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montepulciano, Montefalco Rosso, and many, many others.

Other major red varieties are Ciliegolo, Gaplioppo, Lagrein, Lambrusco, Monica, Nerello Mascalese, Pignolo, Primitivo, Refosco, Schiava, Schiopettino, Teroldego and Uva di Troia.

Imported varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc are also widely grown.

White grape varieties indigenous to Italy

• Arneis

A crisp and floral varietal from Piedmont, which has been grown there since the 15 C.

• Fiano

Grown on the southwest coast of Italy, the wines from this grape can be described as dewy and herbal, often with notes of pine nut and pesto.

• Garganega

The main grape varietal for wines labeled Soave, this is a crisp, dry white wine from the Veneto wine region of Italy. It's a very popular wine that hails from northeast Italy around the city of Verona.

• Grechetto

A wine grape of Greek origin now indigenous to Italy. The grape is planted throughout central Italy, particularly in the Umbria region where it is used to make Orvieto (DOC). It is primarily a blending grape, though some varietal wine is also produced. Grechetto is commonly blended with Chardonnay, Malvasia, Trebbiano and Verdello. The grape's thick skin provides good resistance to downy mildew which can attack the grape late in the harvest season. This makes Grechetto a suitable blending grape in the production of vin santo. Grechetto is also known as Greghetto, Grechetto di Todi, Greco Spoletino, Stroppa Volpe and Greco Bianco di Perugia. This varietal is unrelated to the Greco Bianco grape of the Calabria region.

• Malvasia Bianca

A white varietal found all over Italy with a wide variety of clones and mutations. Wines produced from malvasia can range from undistinguished plonk to interesting, musty whites.

• Moscato

Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in the slightly-sparkling (frizzante), semi-sweet Moscato d'Asti. Not to be confused with moscato giallo and moscato rosa, two Germanic varietals that are grown in Trentino Alto-Adige.

• Nuragus

An ancient Phoenician varietal found in southern Sardinia. Light and tart wines that are drunk as an apertif in their homeland.

• Pigato

A heavily acidic varietal from Liguria, the wines are vinified to pair with a cuisine rich in sea-food

• Pinot Grigio

This grape is a hugely successful commercial grape (known as Pinot Gris in France), its wines are characterized by crispness and cleanness. As a hugely mass-produced wine, it is usually delicate and mild, but in a good producers' hands, the wine can grown more full-bodied and complex. The main problem with the grape is that to satisfy the commercial demand, the grapes are harvested too early every year, leading to wines without character.

• Ribolla Gialla

A Slovenian grape that now makes its home in Friuli, these wines are decidedly old-world, with aromas of pineapple and mustiness.

• Tocai Friuliano

A varietal distantly related to Sauvignon Blanc, Tocai Friuliano yields the top wine of Friuli, full of peachiness and minerality. Currently, there is a bit of controversy regarding the name, as the EC has demanded it changed to avoid confusion with the Tokay dessert wine from Hungary.

• Trebbiano

Behind cataratto (which is made for industrial jug wine), Trebbiano is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo. Mostly, they are pale, easy drinking wines, but trebbiano from producers such as Valentini have been known to age for 15+ years. It is known as Ugni Blanc in France.

Other important whites include Carricante, Catarratto, Coda de Volpe, Cortese, Falaghina, Grillo, Inzolia, Picolit, Tocai Friulano, Traminer, Verdicchio, Verduzzo, Vermentino and Vernaccia.

Non-indigenous grape varietals

The following vines are among those imports commonly planted in Italy for wine production: chardonnay, gewόrztraminer (sometimes called traminer aromatico), riesling, petit arvine.

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