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Blog: Autochthonous grape varieties of Italy 2/4 | Expertise



Why are there comparatively few great wines made from autochthonous grape varieties? Overall, the share of international varieties in the Italian wine assortment has never exceeded 15 percent. This means that 85 percent of the vineyards are planted with autochthonous varieties, which have been native to Italy for centuries and have adapted perfectly to specific environments. Besides those already mentioned, one could mention - just to mention the most important ones - varieties such as Arneis (Piedmont), Prosecco (Treviso), Verdicchio (Ancona province), Montepulciano (Umbria, Marche, Abruzzo), Piedirosso (Campania, Basilicata, Puglia), Cannonau (Sardinia), Gaglioppo (Calabria), Nerello Mascalese, Frappato, Inzolia, Cataratto (Sicily). They have prevailed over other varieties in their growing areas in long selection processes, proving to be superior in quality. The same can be said of dozens of other autochthonous varieties. The well-known Italian vineyard specialist Stefano Chioccioli confesses: 'I am firmly convinced that great wines can be produced from many still unknown Italian varieties. If such wines do not yet exist, it is only because the vines have been grown in the wrong places and treated wrongly. Nobody believed in them until now.'

"We are not at zero in the research of our grape varieties, but still pretty much at the beginning." - Carlo Ferrino, Tuscan oenologist

How many autochthonous vines are there in Italy? Of the 350 varieties grown between the Valle d'Aosta and Sicily, about 330 are native, or autochthonous, grape varieties. Few of these varieties are as widespread and as world-famous as Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, which produce wines such as Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino, and Barolo and Barbaresco, respectively. The importance of most autochthones is in a narrowly defined local area: the Corvina (wine: Amarone from Verona), the Sagrantino (wine: Montefalco Sagrantino from Umbria) or the red Aglianico (wine: Taurasi from Campania and Aglianico del Vulture from Basilicata). Still others are known only to locals or professionals, because from them are obtained simple wines that have no supranational importance. These include the light red Groppello from Lake Garda, the white Timorasso from Tortona in Piedmont, and the black-red, tannin-rich Tintilia, whose grape variety of the same name originated in Spain but has long since found a new home in the small central Italian region of Molise. These wines are not high growths on a world scale, but they taste very delicate and are as distinctive as they are unique in character. What does autochthonous mean? The term autochthonous comes from the Greek and contains the word 'chton' = earth. Autochthonous therefore means 'native to the soil', 'originated on the spot'. Autochthonous vines are therefore native varieties that have been cultivated for a long time in a particular growing area of a particular region. They have adapted to the soil and climatic conditions. They have proven to give particularly good wine qualities in that particular area. Even more, the wine obtained from them has often given a face to the area. It has shaped its landscape (Valtellina, Alto Adige, Tuscany), has marked its culture (craftsmanship, knowledge of nature, customs), has influenced art (as shown, for example, by the bacchanalian element in numerous Renaissance frescoes and paintings).

The links between local wine and local cuisine (Barolo/Truffle; Lambrusco/Mortadella; Vin Santo/Cantuccini; Lacryma Christi/Pizza) are particularly striking. Without wine and its rootedness in a particular place, many local dishes and specialties would probably have remained undiscovered until today. In other words, it is only when a territory is identi- fied with a grape variety or a wine that one can speak of territorial identity. 'Whoever opens a bottle of Chianti thinks of Tuscany', for example, says the booklet 'Vini Buoni d'Italia', according to its subtitle 'the first guide to autochthonous Italian grape varieties'. Similarly, one could say: Whoever has a Barolo in front of him feels transported to Piedmont or the Langhe. If you say Verdicchio, you mean the Marche. Who drinks Nero d'Avola, knows himself in Sicily. Who thinks of Primitivo, thinks of Puglia. - Gerardo


Autochthone Rebsorten Italiens 2/4

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NameAutochthonous grape varieties of Italy 2/4
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