Tag Archives: variety

An Overview of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation and Its Wines

As a prelude to our next post in which we will temporarily leave Italy and review a French Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, in this post we will provide a brief overview of the southern French wine region that goes by the same name, including its history, terroir, permitted grape varieties and winemaking practices.

In General

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an area encompassing 3,200 HA of vineyards that is located in the southern part of the Rhône Valley, in France, between the towns of Orange (to the north) and Avignon (to the south).

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation Map

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation Map – Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Thirteen different grape varieties were originally authorized in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards (now they have been increased to 18), with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (the so-called “GSM“) being the dominating varieties, as well as the traditional core grapes in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend (see below for more information about these grape varieties). Other permitted varieties include Cinsaut, Clairette, Roussanne, Muscardin and Picpoul.

Total production in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation is approximately 14 million bottles per year. Although the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC regulations permit the production of both red and white wines, reds largely dominate (on average, 94% red versus 6% white). About 60% of all Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine is exported, with Switzerland, Belgium and Germany being the main importing countries.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape History

In 1309, distressed by factionalism in Rome, pope Clement V decided to move the papal capital from Rome to southern France and, as a result, the popes took temporary residence in Avignon, France. The so-called “Avignon papacy” period ended in 1377, when pope Gregory XI moved the papal capital back to Rome.

During the Avignon papacy, under pope John XXII, the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape became the summer residence of the popes. Pope John XXII granted the local wine the rank of “Vin du Pape” (meaning, “pope’s wine”), thus opening Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines the doors to the European nobility’s courts.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape: The Village and the Vineyards - Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Chateauneuf-du-Pape: The Village and the Vineyards – Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape later became one of the first French AOC wines, in 1936.

In 1937, the estate owners in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation territory created the famous bottle that is still used nowadays for their wines, with the embossed logo symbolizing a papal tiara placed above the keys of St. Peter with the inscription: “Châteauneuf-du-Pape contrôlé” written in Gothic letters around this emblem.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Terroir

Soil in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape area can be very diverse: generally speaking, the western part is mostly limestone, while sand and clay soil with large stones occur on the plateaus; mixed sand, limestone and red and grey clay dominate in the northern part, while shallow sand and clay soil on a well-drained layer of gravel is typical of the south. The large pebbles that are typical of the area contribute to the quality of the vines and grapes by storing heat during the day and holding water.

The Harvest at Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The Harvest at Chateauneuf-du-Pape – Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The Main Châteauneuf-du-Pape Permitted Varieties – The “GSM”

1. Grenache (or “Garnacha” or “Cannonau“)

Garnacha is an old variety that has undergone several color mutations (there are a black-berried variety, a grey-berried one and a white-berried one) and whose origins are uncertain: it may be Spanish (most probably from the Aragón region) or it may be Italian (from the island of Sardinia, where it is locally known as “Cannonau“).

The earliest documented mention of Garnacha in Spain dates back to 1513, when it was referred to as “Aragones“, while its first mention under the name “Garnacha” occurred in 1678.

On the other hand, in Italy’s Sardinia island, the earliest mention of Garnacha, under the old local name “Canonat“, was in 1549.

If historical data make both hypotheses plausible in terms of where the variety originated, DNA data seem to indicate a Spanish origin.

Garnacha is also known in France under the local name “Grenache“.

Garnacha Tinta (Garnacha’s black-berried color mutation) is one of the world’s most planted varieties. It is prevalently used in the context of blends, notably in the one typical of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, which is generally referred to as “GSM“, standing for Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.

In France, where it is known under the name “Grenache Noir“, it is the second most planted variety after Merlot, with a total of 94,240 HA of vineyards in 2009, almost exclusively in southern France and particularly in the southern Rhône district, where it is the prevailing blending partner in Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. These tend to be deep-colored, high in ABV and often tannic, with herby and spicy notes.

2. Syrah (or “Shiraz“)

Syrah is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to the northern Rhône region of France, where it was first mentioned in a document dating back to 1781 under the name “Sira de l’Hermitage“.

DNA analysis proved that Syrah is a natural cross between Mondeuse Blanche (a Savoie variety) and Dureza (an Ardeche variety) that probably took place in the Rhône-Alps region.

Syrah has historically been mostly grown in the Rhône Valley in France and in Australia under the name Shiraz, although recently its planting has become more widespread as a result of an increasing popularity of its wines.

3. Mourvèdre (or “Monastrell“)

Monastrell is a black-berried grape variety that originates from the Valencia region, in eastern Spain. The name derives from Latin and is a diminutive of the word “monastery”, suggesting that the variety was first cultivated by monks. The earliest documented use of the name Monastrell dates back to 1381 in the Catalunya region of Spain.

Monastrell later made it into France (probably in the XVI century) from the Spanish port-town of Sagunto near Valencia, which in Catalan was known as Morvedre, so in France the grape took the name of Mourvèdre.

Monastrell wines are typically high in alcohol and tannins and may have intense aromas of blackberry. Monastrell/Mourvèdre is widely grown in Spain and in France, and it is also cultivated in the USA (especially in California), Australia and South Africa, where it is sometimes known under the name of “Mataro“, which was the name of a Spanish town on the Mediterranean.

(Information on the grape varieties taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about these and more grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Aging Cellar - Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Aging Cellar – Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Winemaking

Traditionally, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine has been fermented in concrete tanks. Since the 1980’s, however, many winemakers have switched to stainless steel vats, as they are more hygienic, are easier to clean and allow a more precise temperature control. Recently there has been a trend to go back to fermenting the grapes in newer, coated versions of the traditional concrete tanks, which have made them more efficient and acceptable by today’s winemaking quality standards.

Since Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are blends, winemakers can choose between two different fermentation techniques. One is known as co-fermentation and calls for mixing all the varieties in the blend within the same tank and fermenting them all together. The other technique instead calls for separate fermentation of the different grape varieties (so as to keep their main characteristics intact) with the resulting wines being later assembled in the final blend.

Alcoholic fermentation of red Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines usually lasts between one and four weeks and is generally followed by malolactic fermentation. The wines are then aged in stainless steel, epoxy or concrete vats and/or in oak barrels for 10 to 18 months. During this period, racking may take place one or more times.

(Main sources: Châteauneuf-du-Pape; Rhône Wines. For more in-depth information about Châteauneuf-du-Pape, refer to this excellent article on the Wine Cellar Insider)

Variety Show: Spotlight on Primitivo… Or Zinfandel?… Or Tribidrag?

StefanoToday’s grape in the limelight of our Variety Show is Primitivo, a black-berried grape variety that has sparked a long-lasting controversy as to whether it is the same variety as Zinfandel or a different one.

With the help of the precious and up-to-date scientific data from the brilliant tome Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012, this post intends to shed some light on this debate and provide an overview of the scientific evidence that settled it.

1. A Brief History of Primitivo

The earliest documented mention of Primitivo in Italy dates back to 1799 and can be found in a note of an amateur botanist from Puglia who called “Primativo” (from the Latin “primativus“, meaning “first to ripen”) a particularly early ripening grapevine that he found in his own vineyard.

2. How Zinfandel Made It To The USA

The introduction of Zinfandel to the United States has recently been proven to take place in the 1820’s when Long Island grape grower George Gibbs brought this variety to his nursery from the Schönbrunn imperial collection in Vienna, Austria. At the time of its introduction to the United States, it was an unnamed grape variety, but by 1829 it appeared in the catalog of another Long Island nursery under the name “Zinfardel” and was later referred to under several variations of that original name until 1860, when it was agreed that the variety should be officially called “Zinfandel”.

3. In Search of Truth: Are Primitivo and Zinfandel One and The Same?

In 1967 a plant pathologist from the US Department of Agriculture visited Bari, in Italy’s Puglia region, and he was struck by the similarities between Zinfandel and Italy’s Primitivo wines and grapevines, so much so that he brought Primitivo cuttings to the University of California at Davis for them to be analyzed and compared to Zinfandel. In 1975 Wade Wolfe, a PhD candidate at Davis, established that Primitivo and Zinfandel were one and the same variety.

This immediately prompted the “battle over Zinfandel“, with several Primitivo producers from Puglia who started selling their wines in the United States labeling them “Zinfandel”. This practice triggered a reaction by most Californian Zinfandel producers to defend their investment in the variety and resulted in a 1985 ruling by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“BATF”) that Zinfandel could not be used as a synonym of Primitivo.

Nonetheless, the identity between Zinfandel and Primitivo was later confirmed, in 1994, by DNA profiling conducted by Carole Meredith at UC Davis. As a result, in 1999 the European Union granted Italian Primitivo producers the right to use the name Zinfandel. BATF filed a complaint with the European Union against such ruling, but it proved unsuccessful. To date, no agreement between the US and the EU on this matter has been reached despite the scientific evidence.

4. The “Zinquest”: Where Did The Primitivo/Zinfandel Originate From?

Soon after proving the identity between Primitivo and Zinfandel, Carole Meredith at UC Davis connected in 1998 with Croatian scholars at the University of Zagreb (Croatia) to start what was referred to as the “Zinquest“, that is the quest to determine the origins of Primitivo/Zinfandel. After much research, the quest finally came to a successful end in 2001 when DNA profiling established that Zinfandel was identical to a Dalmatian grape variety locally known as Crljenak Kaštelanski (meaning “the red from Kaštela”).

Later on (in 2011), DNA analysis proved that Crljenak Kaštelanski was the same variety as a very old Croatian variety indigenous to the Dalmatia region and known as Tribidrag, whose first documented mentions date back to the XV century. As an interesting side note, the Croatian word Tribidrag has Greek origins and means “early ripening”, which perfectly matches the etymology of the word “Primitivo” in Puglia.

According to the rule of anteriority (whereby the oldest name used for a same grape variety takes precedence), Tribidrag should be considered as the prime name for the Crljenak Kaštelanski/Primitivo/Zinfandel variety.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

5. Geographical Distribution of the Tribidrag/Crljenak Kaštelanski/Primitivo/Zinfandel Grape Variety

In terms of geographical distribution, Primitivo plantings in Italy in 2000 amounted to 7,951 HA, mostly in the Puglia region and particularly in its Salento district. Wines are generally fruity, structured and high in ABV. Notable appellations for Primitivo wines in the Puglia region include:

  • Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG (an appellation reserved to sweet, raisin wines made from 100% Primitivo grapes grown in a territory adjacent to the towns of Taranto and Brindisi)
  • Gioia del Colle Primitivo DOC (an appellation reserved to wines made from 100% Primitivo grapes grown in a territory adjacent to the town of Bari)
  • Primitivo di Manduria DOC (an appellation reserved to wines made from 85% or more Primitivo grapes grown in a territory adjacent to the towns of Taranto and Brindisi)

Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag are fairly popular, respectively, in Croatia and Montenegro.

California is by far the place with the most Tribidrag/Zinfandel plantings, with 20,377 HA in 2008 (making it the second most planted red variety in California, after Cabernet Sauvignon). Zinfandel quality in California is uneven, although recently there has been an effort on the part of several producers to make quality wines, which tend to be big, bold and fruity.

Tribidrag/Zinfandel has also gained some popularity in Australia.

6. Recommended Primitivo/Zinfandel Producers

(1) Recommended producers of outstanding Italian Primitivo wines include, among others of course:

Feudi di San Marzano, Primitivo di Manduria “Sessantanni” DOC ($50)

Feudi di San Marzano, Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale “11 Filari” DOCG (€15 for a 500 ml bottle – not yet available in the US)

Gianfranco Fino, Primitivo di Manduria “Es” DOC ($90)

Masseria Li Veli, “Montecoco” Puglia IGT ($21)

Pietraventosa, Gioia del Colle Primitivo Riserva DOC (€25 – not yet available in the US)

(2) Recommended producers of outstanding US Zinfandel wines include, among others of course:

Carlisle, Zinfandel Russian River Valley “Papera Ranch” ($46)

Ravenswood, Zinfandel Napa Valley “Dickerson” Single Vineyard ($37)

Robert Biale, Zinfandel Napa Valley “Stagecoach Vineyards – Biale Block” ($50)

Seghesio, Zinfandel Alexander Valley “Home Ranch” ($58)

Turley, Zinfandel Paso Robles “Dusi Vineyard” ($42)

Variety Show: Spotlight on Aglianico

StefanoToday’s grape variety in the spotlight is… Aglianico, together with its clone Aglianico del Vulture.

1. Aglianico’s Origins And History

Aglianico is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to Southern Italy. The earliest written evidence of this variety dates back to 1520 referring to the grapes as “Aglianiche”.

Although it is widely believed that the name “Aglianico” comes from a variant of the word “hellenic”, hinting at a Greek origin of the variety, this theory is confuted by others (including the authors of Wine Grapes) who contend that the word actually comes from the Spanish word “llano” (meaning “plain”), thus referring to Aglianico as the “grapes of the plain”.

2. Aglianico’s DNA Profiling

DNA analysis supports the authors’ theory as Aglianico’s DNA profile does not resemble that of any of the modern Greek grape varieties, while it is similar to Aglianicone’s, a Campanian variety which could be an offspring of Aglianico.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

3. Aglianico’s Geographical Distribution

Aglianico wines tend to be structured and tannic, with good acidity which gives them great aging potential. Aglianico is almost exclusively grown in Southern Italy, where it achieves its best results in the regions of Campania and Basilicata (where it is present with its separate clone Aglianico del Vulture), particularly in the following appellations:

  • Taurasi DOCG (in the Campania region, encompassing a territory near the town of Avellino and requiring the use of a minimum of 85% Aglianico grapes as well as 36 months of aging for base Taurasi wines and 48 months for Taurasi Riserva wines)
  • Aglianico del Taburno DOCG (in the Campania region, encompassing a territory near the town of Benevento and requiring the use of a minimum of 85% Aglianico grapes as well as 24 months of aging for the base wine and 36 months for the Riserva)
  • Aglianico del Vulture Superiore DOCG (in the Basilicata region, encompassing the volcanic territory near the town of Atella and requiring the use of 100% Aglianico del Vulture grapes as well as 24 months of aging for the base wine and 36 months for the Riserva)
  • Aglianico del Vulture DOC (in the Basilicata region, encompassing a slightly larger territory than the “Superiore” appellation and requiring the use of 100% Aglianico del Vulture grapes)

Outside Italy, limited plantings of Aglianico may be found in Australia and in California.

4. Recommended Aglianico Producers

Recommended producers of outstanding Aglianico wines include:

(1) Campania

Cantine Antonio Caggiano, Taurasi “Vigna Macchia dei Goti” DOCG ($30)

Feudi di San Gregorio, Taurasi “Piano di Montevergine” Riserva DOCG ($55)

Galardi, Terra di Lavoro Roccamonfina IGT (80% Aglianico, 20% Piedirosso) ($60)

Mastroberardino, Taurasi “Radici” Riserva DOCG ($65)

(2) Basilicata

Basilisco, Aglianico del Vulture “Basilisco” DOC ($40)

Cantine del Notaio, Aglianico del Vulture “Il Sigillo” DOC ($38)

Elena Fucci, Aglianico del Vulture “Titolo” DOC ($40)

Paternoster, Aglianico del Vulture “Don Anselmo” DOC ($60)

Variety Show: Spotlight on Glera (AKA Prosecco)

StefanoToday’s grape in the limelight of our Variety Show is Glera, formerly known as Prosecco.

1. From Prosecco To Glera: What’s In a Name?

Up until recently, Prosecco was the name for three things: the wine, its main grape variety and the homonymous village near the town of Trieste (in the Italian region of Friuli) that probably gave the wine and the grape their name. Relatively easy so far.

Then in 2009, with Prosecco’s popularity and sales soaring (in 2011 the overall production of Prosecco was about 265 million bottles, 55% of which were exported), the consortium of Prosecco producers obtained an official change in the name of the grape variety, from Prosecco to Glera, so that Prosecco would only be the name of the wine (and not of the grape variety too) and could therefore be reserved for its designation of origin, thus preventing other producers from other Italian regions or other countries from calling their sparkling wines Prosecco.

2. Glera’s DNA Profiling

The main grape variety that is used in the production of the wine Prosecco was called Prosecco Tondo (now Glera) which DNA profiling has shown to be identical to a rare variety that is indigenous to the Istria region of Croatia named Teran Bijeli. This evidence supports the theory of an Istrian origin for the Prosecco/Glera grape variety. Glera is a partly-aromatic white-berried grape variety.

Other grapes that may be used in the production of the wine Prosecco and that used to be considered clonal variations of Prosecco Tondo, but DNA analysis has proved to be distinct varieties, are Prosecco Lungo and Prosecco Nostrano (the latter, by the way, has been proven to be identical to Malvasia Bianca Lunga).

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

3. The Three Prosecco Appellations

Prosecco wine is made in two Italian DOCG appellations and in one more loosely regulated inter-regional DOC appellation, as follows:

  • Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene (or simply Prosecco di Valdobbiadene) DOCG in the Veneto region, near the town of Treviso;
  • Prosecco dei Colli Asolani DOCG in the Veneto region, near and including the town of Asolo;
  • Prosecco Spumante DOC, an appellation which covers a vast territory stretching between the regions of Veneto and Friuli.

The regulations of the two DOCG appellations require that their Prosecco wines be made for 85% or more from Glera grapes, to which up to 15% of Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera or Glera Lunga white-berried grapes may be blended. The regulations of the DOC appellation are similar but permit that a few additional grape varieties be blended to the Glera base grapes, as follows: Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Noir.

4. Prosecco As a (Generally) Charmat-Martinotti Method Sparkler

Prosecco is one of the main examples of a sparkling wine made according to the so-called Charmat-Martinotti Method production process, although there are a few producers who also make some very good Classic Method Prosecco’s (including Valdo‘s excellent Numero 10 – check out our post with a full review). Compared to the Classic Method, the Charmat-Martinotti Method is a quicker and cheaper production process for sparkling wine, which is known to maximize primary (or varietal) aromas although it generally sacrifices the wine structure and the finest perlage. For more detailed information, please refer to our post on the Charmat-Martinotti Method.

5. Recommended Prosecco Producers

Recommended producers of outstanding Prosecco wines include, among others of course:

Adami, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut “Rive di Farra di Soligo Col Credas” DOCG ($21)

Le Colture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG ($30) – Click for a full review

Montelvini, Prosecco di Asolo Superiore Millesimato Extra Dry “Venegazzù” DOCG NV ($15) – Click for a full review

Nino Franco, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut “Vigneto della Riva di San Floriano” DOCG ($28)

Valdo, Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico “Numero 10” DOC (€18) – Click for a full review

 

A New Column: Variety Show

StefanoToday we are going to launch a new column called Variety Show. Each post in this series will feature a different grape variety from around the world.

Each post will contain cool facts, cutting-edge DNA profiling data and ampelographic notions about a specific variety, mainly taken (of course, with the authors’ kind permission) from the wonderfully informative and scientifically researched volume “Wine Grapesauthored by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012. Wine Grapes is an impressive 1,242 page long collection of detailed and up to date information about 1,368 vine varieties from all over the world. Please consider purchasing your own copy of Wine Grapes: it will provide a ton of invaluable information about everything that you may want to know about grape varieties.

Each post in this series will also include a few recommended producers and wines made from each of the featured grape varieties.

The first featured variety on our next post will be… Glera, the grape used for making Prosecco sparkling wines: enjoy! 🙂

New Resource: The Grape Variety Archive

Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012

I would like to share with you all a pretty cool new wine-related resource that just recently went live on this blog and on Clicks & Corks: I am talking about a new page called Grape Variety Archive that combines alphabetically, in one centralized spot, all the information about the grape varieties of the wines that I have reviewed, so that such information may be easily referred to by readers.

What’s even better is that all of the grape variety information on the Grape Variety Archive has been taken from the wonderfully educational, gorgeously illustrated and scientifically researched volume “Wine Grapesauthored by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012. Wine Grapes is an impressive 1,242 page long collection of detailed and up to date information about 1,368 vine varieties from all over the world. Quoting directly from the Web site dedicated to the book:

Where do wine grapes come from and how are vine varieties related to each other? What is the historical background of each grape variety? Where are they grown? What sort of wines do they make? Using the most cutting-edge DNA analysis and detailing almost 1,400 distinct grape varieties, as well as myriad correct (and incorrect) synonyms, this particularly beautiful book examines viticulture, grapes and wine as never before. Here is a complete, alphabetically presented profile of all grape varieties relevant to today’s wine lover.

I don’t think I need to say much about the authors, as if you are into wine they are all very well known, but just in case: Jancis Robinson has been a wine writer since 1975 and the Financial Times’s wine correspondent since 1989. Her principal occupation now is taking care of her own Web site, JancisRobinson.com, which gets updated daily. Julia Harding is a linguist, an editor and a qualified Master of Wine. She is Jancis Robinson’s full-time assistant and “associate palate”. Dr José Vouillamoz is a Swiss botanist and grape geneticist of international repute. He was trained in grape DNA profiling and parentage analyses in the world-famous laboratory of Professor Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis.

And speaking of the authors, I wish to take the opportunity to sincerely thank them for being so kind and generous as to grant me permission to pull together and publish the Grape Variety Archive page, which I think can become over time a great resource for gaining a quick snapshot of the various varieties that make up the wines that I review on this blog, beside giving readers an idea of the amazing wealth of information that can be found in Wine Grapes.

Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012

If you read this and are seriously into wine, I think you should definitely consider acquiring Wine Grapes as it will provide a ton of invaluable information about everything that you may want to know about grape varieties. Besides, let me tell you: Dr Vouillamoz’s DNA profiling work about all the grape varieties in the book is nothing short of unbelievable and well worth the price of the book in and of itself!

Please check our new page out and let me know what you think!

Vertical Tasting of Marisa Cuomo's Fiorduva

Marisa Cuomo, Costa d'Amalfi Furore Bianco "Fiorduva" DOCDuring a recent trip to Milan, I participated in a pretty exciting (well, at least if you are into Italian wine!) event organized by the Milan chapter of the Italian Sommelier Association: a vertical tasting of six vintages of Fiorduva, the most awarded and acclaimed wine in the portfolio of coveted niche producer Marisa Cuomo.

About the Estate

Marisa Cuomo is a small winery controlling just 18 HA and producing about 109,000 bottles a year in an extreme and fascinating stretch of the Amalfi Coast in the Campania region in Southern Italy, near the towns of Furore and Ravello. Here the vines grow in narrow strips of land on the steep cliffs overlooking the Tirreno Sea, which make any kind of mechanical harvesting all but impossible. Commercially growing and harvesting vines here is an heroic challenge, with everything to be done exclusively by hand. Some of the older vines still grow horizontally instead of vertically, coming out of the stone walls that separate a strip from the one above it: this was an ancient local tradition that allowed land owners to have a vineyard and at the same time to grow vegetables in the narrow strips of land, shaded by the overhead vines. In those extreme conditions, every inch of land counts!

Marisa Cuomo, Vineyards in WinterThe team behind the winery is made up of Marisa, a strong woman who is in charge of the winemaking and bottling processes of their wines, Andrea, Marisa’s husband, who is the PR man of the winery and “Zio Luigi”, one of Marisa’s uncles who is in charge of maintaing the vineyards and harvesting the grapes.

About the Grapes

Fiorduva is Marisa Cuomo’s flagship white wine, a blend of roughly equal proportions of three almost extinct grape varieties indigenous to the Campania region called Fenile, Ginestra and Ripoli.

Marisa and Andrea in their wine cellar

All three are white-berried grape varieties that are indigenous to and highly localized in the Amalfi Coast area in Campania. Fenile is said to derive its name from the Italian word “fieno” (hay) due to its straw yellow color. Fenile’s DNA profile is unique. It is an early ripening variety with high sugar levels. Ginestra draws its name from the homonymous Italian word which means broom, because of its dominant aroma. It is a late ripening variety with high acidity levels and with aging the wines made from these grapes may develop kerosene-like aromas similar to those that may be found in certain Riesling. Ripoli is a mid-ripening variety which is genetically close to Falanghina Flegrea and presents high sugar levels and moderate acidity (information on the grape varieties taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012).

It is noteworthy to mention that the average age of the vines devoted to the Fiorduva production is 80 years: you could certainly call them “old vines”! The appellation of Fiorduva is Costa di Amalfi DOC, subzone Furore. Among its many awards, Fiorduva has won the 5 clusters top rating in the ISA wine guide and the 3 glasses top rating in the Gambero Rosso wine guide.

Zio Luigi working in the vineyard

Our Detailed Review and Vertical Tasting

Now, let’s get down to the vertical tasting of Fiorduva: as I said, we have been offered the opportunity to taste six vintages, starting from the latest (2011) all the way back to 2006. I found Fiorduva (which I had never had before, despite being aware of all the praise it received) a very special and “seducing” wine, definitely worth investing in a bottle if you come across one. Incidentally, Fiorduva is available in the U.S. where it retails for about $50, certainly not an inexpensive buy.

Among the six vintages that I tasted, in my view by far the best, most intriguing one was 2006, the oldest in the range, which vouches for the good aging potential of Fiorduva for a white wine. The vintages 2007 to 2009 were also extremely good, with 2008 perhaps having a slight edge over the other two. Finally, 2010 was good, but would certainly benefit from at least one more year in the bottle, and 2011 was pleasant, but not entirely balanced yet, with acidity and minerality tending to overwhelm the smoothness of the wine: definitely too young to be enjoyed at its fullest.

Now, to make you understand a bit more what kind of wine to expect should you lay your hands on a bottle, below is my review of my personal favorite: Marisa Cuomo, Costa d’Amalfi Furore “Fiorduva” DOC 2006 ($50).

My review is based on a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting sheet (for more information, see my previous post that provides a detailed overview of it).

In the glass, the wine poured a luscious golden yellow in color, and it was thick when swirled, indicating a good structure.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, fine and complex, with aromas of apricot, peach and banana coupled with minerals and hints of petroleum and nail polish (by the way, these last two descriptors are not to be intended as negative and do not signify any flaws in the wine, they just indicate certain peculiar aromas that can be found in the Fiorduva – hints of petroleum, for instance, can often be found in certain Rieslings).

In the mouth it was dry, with high ABV and smooth; acidic and tasty: definitely a balanced wine with a full body. There was also a good correspondence between the mouth flavors and the bouquet. It had a long finish, with the wine’s intriguing flavors lingering in your mouth for a long time. In terms of its life cycle, I would call 2006 mature, meaning that I think the wine is at its apex and would not benefit from any additional aging.

The Bottom Line

Overall, Fiorduva is an outstanding, intriguing wine which is the heroic expression of a harsh land, human tenacity and a sample of Italy’s treasure chest of indigenous grape varieties. Certainly worth a try if you come across a bottle.

Rating: Outstanding and definitely Recommended Outstanding – $$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)