Unsung Italian Grape Varieties

By Julia Jenkins, 21st October 2016

Italian wine making has long established history and the really great thing from my point of view is that the best wines are made from native grape varieties such as Sangiovese for Chianti though this isn’t shouted about on the front label.

As a result there are a plethora of grape names that keep appearing with the next new ‘gem’ of a wine from Italy that nobody has heard of and can usually just about pronounce. It’s a great relief as they offer delicious alternatives to Pinot Grigio that sadly pub and supermarket wine buyers have done to death stripping them of character and flavour in an effort to offer the cheapest version.

Wine lists in pubs and restaurants have listed Pinot Grigio and Soave forgetting that many other grape varieties offer fresh light white wines and in wine shops they are outselling these mainstays. Look out for Pecorino from Abruzzo in Central Italy made from a grape of the same name that has a lovely citrus and stone fruit note, likewise  Lugana from Lombardy made from the traditional Verdicchio grape with a broader peachy ripe fruit note that makes it a great wine to pair with pasta and risotto. Gavi is a well known wine name but few drinkers are aware it is made from the Cortese grape.

Many grape types make a range of styles and one that has been hitherto little known though often drunk and used in cooking is the Catarratto grape that is used to produce Marsala from Sicily where it is the most widely planted white grape and also lovely light white wines with a softly honeyed finish.

For red wine drinkers there are also many grape types that are rarely named on the label but whose wines are sought after as they make great partners with Italian meat dishes as they are full of ripe tomato, cherries and berries that in some instances are enhanced by careful aging in oak. Dolcetto is one of these that has a vibrant juicy fruit note with balancing acidity and a hint of creamy vanilla when aged in oak. A great example is that of Renato Ratti in Piemonte. The Barbera based wines also from Piemonte in north west Italy. Wine producers such as Araldica, Marchesi de Gresy and Prunotto use this grape to make a range of value for money styles from the very light unoaked value for money end to the generous spicy deep brooding structured reds such as Rive Barbera and Marchesi di Gresy Monte Colombo wines from the same grape.

Refosco is a name to conjure with making vibrant light reds that have flavours of cherries with balancing acidity that are a joy to drink lightly chilled as an aperitif or with an antipasto platter such as that from Villa Locatelli. Add to this list Nebbiolo, Nero d’Avola and Montepulciano for reds and Fiano, Grechetto and Falanghina for whites and although you will amass a range of lovely distinctive wines of varied styles it is still only the tip of the iceberg of Italian wine making heritage that is well worth digging deeper to unearth other amazing wines.


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