No other country can pride itself on as many grape varieties as Italy. The terroir of Italy is varied and ranges from hilly, mountainous, coastal and even volcanic, allowing them to boast a wide range of indigenous grape varieties. There is so much to get excited about when it comes to these Italian wines.
Italian winemakers are returning to their roots and diving into their viticultural history to make wines from local indigenous grape varieties. Having gone through a wine renaissance of sorts, producers are reviving near-extinct grapes and bringing back local varieties that are not found anywhere else in the world. This is exciting for wine lovers who love to explore rare and unique grape varieties.
The rich diversity of Italy’s numerous indigenous grape varieties is fascinating. With so many options to choose from, we will take you on an Italian wine tour with six indigenous red grape varieties. These six exceptionally unique wines are available through the Dalla Terra Winery direct portfolio, all of which are produced from indigenous grapes:
2019 Tascante “Ghiaia Nera” Etna DOC (SRP $21)
The Tasca d’Almerita family, one of Sicily’s oldest and most esteemed wine families, is now led by eighth-generation Alberto Tasca. The family, who has been making wine across Sicily for over 200 years, is a leading producer of Etna wines at its Tenuta Tascante estate (the name is a portmanteau of Tasca and Etna). The estate was founded in 2007 with the purchase of two vineyards in the communes of Castiglione di Sicilia and Randazzo on the north face of the volcano. The vineyards are mostly at elevations of 2,450 to 2,600 feet (750–800 meters) on the 11,000-foot mountain. The northern exposure is a cool-climate area, due to the combination of elevation and less direct sun, which helps to retain acidity in the wines.
Ghiaia Nera translates to “black gravel,” and is made from Nerello Mascalese, an indigenous Sicilian grape that is perfectly suited to the volcanic soils of Mount Etna. Fruit for this wine is grown from terraces surrounded by chestnut and oak woods, an area rich in biodiversity.
2017 La Valentina “Spelt” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva DOC (SRP $23)
La Valentina is a leading example of the modern renaissance of winemaking in Abruzzo. A new generation of winemakers have dedicated themselves to harnessing the excellent terroir to produce high quality rather than high quantity—and La Valentina is at the forefront of this movement.
Rather than turning to international grape varieties, La Valentina remains true to the traditional varieties associated with Abruzzo, including Montepulciano. The “Spelt” bottling is named for a local wheat variety that once grew in the area surrounding the winery and the Spoltore village. The wine is 100% Montepulciano produced from some of the top blocks in the estate vineyards.
2019 Li Veli Askos Susumaniello Salento IGT (SRP $21)
Masseria Li Veli focuses on Puglian wines from mostly native grape varieties. The estate comprises 85 acres of vineyards around the masseria planted with the well-known Puglian grape varieties Negroamaro and Primitivo, as well as with several less familiar local native grape varieties such as Susumaniello, Verdeca, and Minutolo. All the grapes of Li Veli’s estate vineyards are produced according to sustainable methods.
With just 125 acres of Susumaniello in all of Italy, this is a little-known ancient grape that packs a big punch. Its name means “little donkey,” a fitting tribute to a vine which, come harvest time, appears to almost struggle under the weight of abundant clusters of large grapes.
2020 Alois Lageder Schiava Alto Adige DOC (SRP $18)
Alois Lageder is a leading Biodynamic producer in Italy who has for many years experimented with viticulture in juxtaposition to climate change. Beginning with the 2018 vintage the winery engaged in longer skin contact during the vinification of this wine because it had proven to slightly lower the alcohol levels. Because of the longer skin contact, the wine is more complex and has more savory notes than the typical fresh and fruity Schiava from the region.
Schiava is a grape variety native to Alto Adige that, until the 1970s, was central to winemaking in the region. In recent years Lageder has started experimenting with many different varietals, including Schiava, to push the boundaries of the variety’s potential, creating a red wine with just 10.5% alcohol that offers balance, elegance and freshness.
2018 Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Monti Garbi” Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC (SRP $22)
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Valpolicellas are made from 100% estate-grown fruit from the Illasi Valley and Monti Garbi. With their considerable combined wine-growing experience, the Castagnedi brothers devote meticulous attention to their high-density, low-yield vineyards to provide grapes of such exceptional quality that they require minimal intervention during winemaking.
The Corvina grape is the dominant red variety of the Veneto region, as well as the dominant grape in Valpolicella wines. “Ripasso” is a traditional and fairly unique style of wine in which standard Valpolicella wine has undergone a second fermentation in the presence of pressed dried grape skins that were used initially to make Amarone, which adds body and complexity.
2015 Marco Felluga “Ronco dei Moreri” Refosco Dal Peduncolo Rosso Venezia Giulia IGT (SRP $21)
The Felluga family traces its wine industry lineage to the late 1800s, when Michele Felluga started a business buying and selling wines in Istria. Michele’s son Marco added winemaking to the business, growing grapes and making some wine on the family farm. After the war, Istria became part of Soviet-dominated Yugoslavia, the family lost their farm, and Collio became their home. It is there, after years of working for others, Michele’s great-great-great-grandson Marco, founded his eponymous winery in 1956.
In a region that produces nearly 75% white grapes, Marco Felluga’s Refosco dal Penducolo Rosso is a rare bottling that is made from an ancient grape that has been documented as growing in the area since 1467! The grape is grown in the province of Gorizia in the Collio DOC and is characterized by a balance between structure and elegance.