Stefano Novello of Ronco Severo with his son, the next generation of winemakers.

Native Grapes of Italy

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We all love Italian wine. Grapes like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio and Vermentino are very familiar, but many of the lesser-known indigenous grapes of Italy will soon be sharing the spotlight.

According to Ian D’Agata’s comprehensive Native Wine Grapes of Italy, the country cultviates roughly 2,000 native grape varieties. Although just under 400 are used to make wine in commercially significant volume, that number totals more native grape varieties than France, Spain and Greece combined.

After a period of time appealing to the mass market and the critics with Merlot and Chardonnay, many Italian vintners are returning to their roots and focusing on native grapes once again. Because of their long association with a specific area, these varieties are actually better able to cope with local microclimates and express terroir. And in a country that only became a nation in 1861, they are considered part of the regional cultural identity.

Below I have selected some of my favorite wines from native Italian grapes that we carry at Chambers Street. I hope you have fun exploring! Christine Manula

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Bruna 2013 Riviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato Majé

Francesca Bruna and her husband Roberto make this deliciously light Pigato from young vines grown on blue clay soil, 260 meters above sea level in Liguria. “Majé” in the Ligurian dialect actually refers to the traditional stone-walled terraces dotted around these steep slopes. Starting out crisp and clean, it develops in the glass to be savory and aromatic showing stone fruit and herbs. Enjoy with fresh fish and shellfish, roasted vegetables, or anything with pesto. Christine Manula

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $17.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Feudo di Maurizio 2012 Valle d'Aosta Petite Arvine

I've always felt that if Petite Arvine were personified, she'd be a blond, buxom diva or opera singer. From the Italian Alps, this example is no exception. On the nose there's fennel seed, coconut, and other exotic white and yellow fruit aromas as well as telltale powdery, Alpine minerality. In the mouth, the wine is quite full-bodied and creamy but still in balance. There's a sense of sweetness to the wine that makes it easy going while also being extremely complex. Great for Chenin and white Burgundy lovers... -msb

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $33.99

Monte di Grazia 2012 Campania Tramonti Bianco

Nestled in the hills 500 meters above the Amalfi Coast south of Naples, Monte di Grazia is producing delicious, idiosyncratic wines from grape varieties that are all but extinct. Like Campanian mainstays Fiano, Greco di Tufo and Falanghina, this is a bracing white wine which sings of white pepper, chalk and citrus flower with an electric undercurrent of minerality. The grapes used are Pepella, Ginestra and Biancolella—heirloom varieties that are trained in the traditional tendone method where vines are raised in a canopy above the ground, much higher up than modern methods. We highly recommend as a steely alternative to Chablis. John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $29.99

  • Organic

Calabretta, Cataldo 2013 Calabria Bianco Ansonica

From a plot of Ansonica that is just over an acre comes this salty, fresh, white wine in Cirò. Although grown in Italy’s deep south, I found that this wine had plenty of minerality and a touch of citrus oil fruit. Ansonica is thought to be the same variety as Inzolia, a grape that is most often blended into Marsala. Although it is often thought to lack acid, this example is brisk and the perfect companion to shellfish. John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $18.99

  • Organic

COS 2012 Sicilia IGP Rami

Although the competition is getting fierce, COS is still our favorite in Sicily’s Vittoria region. Here, the red wines are king, but Rami – a blend of half Insolia and half Grecanico – shows that the area has plenty to offer in white wine as well.  The 2012 vintage produced a wine with only 11.5% alcohol and no residual sugar giving flavors of dried apricot and a brisk acidity for a wine from so far south. COS has led Sicily’s rise to respect due to their diligent organic viticulture and attention to quality and innovation in their cellar.  Try this with vegetable pasta, grilled seafood, or just about anything with Mediterranean flavor. John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $28.99

De Bartoli 2008 Sicilia Grillo Integer

Long known for his Marsala wines, Marco de Bartoli began experimenting with dry whites when his three children joined the family business in the mid 90’s. Because it has high levels of sugar and oxidizes easily, Grillo was best known for making these fortified wines but by the mid-19th century planting decreased significantly and the high yields of Catarratto took over. However, with improved viticultural and vinicultural techniques Grillo has seen a resurgence in Sicily and is now set to rival Italy’s most popular white wines. Bartoli’s INTEGER cuvée is fermented and aged in old oak with battonage, giving it a deep golden color and oxidative flavor. It’s intensely fruity and floral, round and refreshing with good acidity. Best enjoyed with seafood or light pastas, as well as cheese or fresh fruit. Christine Manula

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $22.99

Burlotto 2013 Langhe Freisa

Grown mainly in Piemonte, “Freisa” comes from a dialect word for "strawberry," closer to the French "fraise" than the standard Italian "fragola." It was extremely popular at the end of the 19th Century because of its resistance to disease and mildew, and recent DNA profiling revealed that Freisa has a parent-offspring relationship with Nebbiolo. Some Freisa is made in an alternative style that's lighter, softly sweet and slightly fizzy, a very refreshing wine for summer drinking. However Burlotto’s Freisa is fairly rich and deep, with sour cherry, a peppery spice, and tannins that make it perfect for pairing with Osso bucco, grilled mushrooms or venison ragu with polenta. Christine Manula

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $21.99

Ronco Severo 2007 Colli Orientali Schiopettino

Perfect for the Loire red geek, Schiopettino incorporates some of the light peppery quality of Pineau d’Aunis with some of the more roasted quality of northern Rhône wines. This particular one smells of jalapeño peppers, fresh flowers, peaches, and raspberries. Rich and complex palate defined by stern tannins and bright fruit. Highly recommended as an example of a traditional Friulian variety (the earliest recording of Schiopettino in the region was in 1282!). –John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $39.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Ronco Severo 2009 Colli Orientali Refosco

This unique variety is marked by bold aromatics of berries and savory herbs. The wine has a very interesting structure that is reminiscent of Cabernet Franc with plenty of bright acid for the warm 2009 vintage. Ronco Severo’s Refosco has great structure with notes of black pepper and earthiness and finishes with a very pleasant Amaro quality. John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $29.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Vio, Aimone Giobatta 2014 Riviere Lingure di Ponente Rossese di Albenga

In the Albenga neighborhood of Liguria Rossese yields a vibrant wine with light, translucent, cherry color, and a palate that is intense with shades of wild berries,soft moss and a clean, sappy finish. Like our favorite Cru Beaujolais, this is a wine to serve slightly cool. The Vio family produces fresh, organic wines to complement their main business: the cultivation of delicious organic herbs and vegetables. They also served us the best focaccia that we’d ever tasted!  John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $23.99

Apicella, Giuseppe 2013 Costa d'Amalfi Piedirosso

The great winemaker in Tramonti is Alfonso Arpino at Monte di Grazia, but we also love the (much less expensive) wines from Apicella, including this Colli Sorentini (the district a bit further up-and-over the crest of the hills descending towards Sorrento). This is made with Piedirosso (the red feet) and Tintore (unique to Amalfi). The result is a savory and lovely medium-bodied red that seems very much of the place: mineral and volcanic, a bit saline, a bit herbal with hints of thyme and rosemary, some nice not-too-sweet cherry fruit, both intense and ethereal, one of the best red-with-fish wines going, a red that sings with tomato, just plain easy to drink and delicious. Jamie Wolff

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $13.99

  • Organic

Calabretta, Cataldo 2012 Cirò Classico Rosso

This is a delicious — and ferocious — wine made the old fashioned way. That is, no sweet oak, no aromatic yeast and no purple color from over-extraction. We are very happy to present Cirò that is enjoyable today, but will mature beautifully in the cellar. This is a savory wine with wild berry tones that will show its best at the table with rustic cuisine such as roasts, spicy sausages and stews. John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $19.99

  • Organic

Defino 2012 IGT Terre Siciliane Frappato

After falling in love with COS Frappato, it was great to add Ariana Occhipinti’s version to our shelves a few years ago — both are serious wines of great depth and are standard-bearers for the remarkable quality that can be achieved in Sicily. But it turns out that an easier, less expensive Frappato is also a very fine thing. Defino comes from organically farmed grapes (a friend who is one of Tuscany’s best winemakers consults on the winemaking), and for $12.99 you get a really lovely fresh red, light and juicy but with plenty of intensity on the palate. This is on the short list for the ultimate pizza wine, but really we mean that in reference to: “it’s Tuesday night, and we want a glass of something delicious that doesn’t break the bank”. Actually Frappato is a terrific food wine — a red-wine-with-fish wine, and very versatile. Try it with a simple grilled fish like sea bass. Jamie Wolff

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $12.99

  • Organic

Vino di Anna 2012 Vino da Tavola Palmento (Etna)

A few years ago Anna Martens joined the ranks of the best winemakers on Etna, making terroir-true wines — pure, unadulterated expressions of Nerello Mascalese and of the land. A palmento is a traditional wine cellar with stone troughs for crushing grapes by foot, and this new bottling was made in the old style. The fruit comes from high elevation, old bush vines; it’s classic Etna but more graceful, lighter, and more energetic than most of the wines from the mountain. With its bright fresh, cranberry-like fruit, it will be great at Thanksgiving. Jamie Wolff

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $26.99