The rare grape varieties of Italy: a Texsom seminar

A Texsom seminar led by Marquita Levy-Pennington and Shelley Lindgren.

‘We could have this seminar last for two weeks,’ says Shelley, who has just released a book on Italian wine.

‘There are just so many Italian grape varieties that aren’t well known.’

She adds that Italy is the most biodiverse country in the world when it comes to grape varieties. ‘The land and grapes tell stories of history.’

‘My first restaurant was an Italian restaurant,’ says Marquita. She fell in love with Italian wine, and it’s her passion.

The first wine: a Catalanesca. It’s a reference, they say, to when the people from Aragon (next door to Catalonia in Spain) area occupied Naples. This wine is made by a family that has lived here on Vesuvius for a long time. It’s from a vineyard at 1800 feet in the Vesuvius national park. A thick skinned, large berried white grape fermented in stainless steel. It’s mainly used as a table grape and there isn’t much of it.

Cantine Olivella Katà Catalanesca del Monte Somma 2021 Campania, Italy
Volcanic sand soils. Bright, pure, lively and even a bit saline with some dried herbs and some mint, with a lovely texture and some saltiness and minerality on the finish. A really lovely unoaked white wine. Has a real sense of texture and finesse. 94/100

Next we go to the Alto Adige, which only became part of united Italy after WWI. This Sylvaner comes from Garlider, and the vineyards are steep, and it also gets quite warm here in the summer. Altitude of 1800-2400 feet.

Garlider Weinberg Dolomiten Sylvaner 2020 Alto Adige, Italy
50% aged in Acacia foudres, with some in oak foudre and some in stainless steel. This is supple and fresh but quite rounded with some pear and white peach, as well as grapey overtones. Lovely melony richness, and a touch of cabbage in the background. Lovely weight and has a nice spicy finish. 92/100

Next we head to Piemonte, and the grape is Nascetta, also known as Anas-Cetta. It is a one-town grape, found just in Novello in Piemonte. It had almost died out, but was rescued by Elvio Cogno and Valter Fissore who began planting it in the mid-1990s. At this stage, no single vineyard of the variety remained, so they had to go in search of the grape from a range of different plots.

Cogno Anas-Cëtta Langhe Nascetta 2020 Piemonte, Italy
70% juice stabulated in stainless steel, 30% in large format oak. Full yellow colour. Bold and intense with a core of bright citrus fruit, with some fine spicy notes framing the lively fruit. Hints of pear, apricot, a touch of petrol and keen acidity. Complex and linear with a pithiness and some fine spicy detail on the finish. 92/100

The next variety is Rossese, a Ligurian variety that’s also found elsewhere, and is grown in Provence under the name Tibouren. Its origins are thought to be in Greece, and it’s a red grape probably best known for making rosé.

Punta Crena Vigneto Isasco Rossese 2020 Riviera Ligure di Ponente, Italy
Planted in 1984 and 1999 on red clay soils. Distinctive stuff with a savoury, earthy, clay-like character as well as light red cherry fruit with a touch of cranberry and some exotic herbs. A lighter-style red wine with spicy, herby, savoury notes in the mix. 91/100

The next wine is actually a blend, with 10% Nocera, from the Aeolian islands off Sicily.

Carlo Hauner Hierà Vulcano 2016 Terre Siciliane, Sicily
60% Nero d’Avola, 30% Alicante and 10% Nocera. This winery is on the island of Salina but the grapes are from Vulcano, another Aeolian island. Nicely savoury and a bit earthy with some development showing a touch of pepper and some minerals. Has wild herbs and tar, with a touch of negroni and fernet. Interesting stuff: drink now. 92/100

This variety is Susumaniello (which means load the donkey), a high-yielding variety from Salento. It’s a cross between Garganega (a white grape) and a Puglian table grape.

Li Veli Susumaniello 2021 Salento, Puglia, Italy
This is dark, vivid, tannic and energetic with a stern savoury spicy edge to the sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit with some tarry notes. Peppery, tart and slightly balsamic with a wide dynamic range, and some sweetness on the finish. 90/100

The final wine is Carricante from Etna. Not so rare, but a nice wine to finish with.

Pietradolce Archineri 2021 Etna, Italy
Single vineyard Carricante from the eastern slopes of Mount Etna. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. This is bright and focused with a stony edge to the lively lemony fruit. Zippy and precise with purity and vitality. A crisp expression of Carricante. 91/100

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