Native Grape Varietals in Tuscany

Recovery of indigenous (autochthonous) Tuscan grape varieties

For wine lovers, a new and interesting development in the field of wine production is underway in Italy where significant effort is going into rescuing native grape varieties that are in danger of extinction. Some of them seem distinctive enough to cultivate on a large scale. The movement started some years ago in the south with grapes such as nero d'Avola from Sicily, primitivo from Puglia and canonau from Sardinia. These varietals are now readily available and much appreciated. (DNA sequencing suggests that the zinfandel grape of north America is directly related to the Primitivo grape and that the origins of both may in fact be traced back to the crljenak grape which is indigenous to Croatia.) There are 2,000 to 3,000 indigenous grape varieties in Italy and around 360 of these are used to make commercial wines.

pugnitello grapes Pugnitello grapes

In Tuscany, 130 varieties are registered with the regional gene bank, and the University of Florence has been able to trace, in part by interviewing farmers now in their eighties, some 278 varieties in various parts of Tuscany, of which 161 yield red grapes. Among the best known native and foreign grape varieties grown in Tuscany are mammolo, malvasia, colorino, sangiovese, barbera, moscadella, aleatico and vernaccia. To these a new and potentially extremely interesting range are being added. Some, such as abrusco are relatively well-known, while others such as oliva, santo stefano, uva vecchia and giacomino were until recently bordering on extinction.

A recent success story is the recovery of the pugnitello grape variety, so-called because the grape cluster resembles a fist (pugno). The last surviving vine was found near Grosseto and the recovered seeds were planted in the experimental San Felice vineyard near Castelnuovo Berardenga. Eighteen vines were selected and propagated to yield 9,800 bottles of a vigorous and dry red wine. This is an example of a recovered variety that is suitable not just for blending but which produces an excellent wine as the principal constituent.

More about wine grape varieties of Tuscany.

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