The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Italian White Wine Grapes A-Z: Drupeggio to Grillo!

Posted on | June 15, 2015 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

Erbaluce ripening in the sun

Erbaluce ripening in the sun

Each Monday for the next few weeks, we’ll be detailing the white wine grapes of Italy. From the well-known to the obscure, this alphabetical list offers insight into the grapes that make your favorite Italian white wines. Last week, we looked at grapes beginning with A, B and C, or Albana to Cortese, and today we continue with Drupeggio to Grillo!

Drupeggio (droo-PEHJ-joh)

Cultivated in the Orvieto region of Umbria, Drupeggio is the name for the white Canaiolo, which is often added to Grechetto, Malvasia and Verdello. Drupeggio also goes by the names Drupeccio and Lupeccio.

Erbaluce (ehr-bah-LOO-cheh)

The romantically named Erbaluce, called Alba Lux in Roman times, got its name from the copper glow around its berries at dawn. Indigenous to Piemonte, Erbaluce is characterized by a very high acidity and profound aromatics, two qualities that make the grape amenable to being made into dry, sparkling and desert wines. Erbaluce’s DOC appellations are limited to the commune of Caluso near Turin. Erbaluce’s dry expression, Erbaluce di Caluso, is characterized by fresh acidity, a wildflower bouquet and a palate of crisp fruit. The Erbaluce DOC desert wine, Caluso Passito, which as the name suggests is made in the passito method, is a deeper gold that hedges on amber, quite full-bodied, velvety, redolent of honey without being overly sweet and still imbued with the bouquet of wildflowers.

Falanghina (fah-lahn-GEE-nah)

This ancient grape is undoubtedly indigenous to Campania and quite possibly is the formative grape in the great wine of Roman antiquity, Falernium. Falanghina was poised on the brink of extinction by the mid-twentieth century because of the one-two punch of the phylloxera epidemic of the early twentieth century followed by the decimation of vineyards during W.W. II. Falanghina has, however, been nursed back to health and is now experiencing a renaissance of sorts. While producers had long considered this varietal as just a component grape in a faceless corps of grapes to concoct yet another anonymous white, today’s winemakers are vinifying Falanghina on its own to produce a straw-colored wine with bouncy acidity, a palate of citrus fruits underlain by a vanilla note, all complemented by a clean finish. Ten DOC(G) appellations require Falanghina, all are in Campania, and a couple also appear in passito versions.

Fiano before ripening

Fiano before ripening

Fiano (fee-AH-noh)

The piquantly flavored Fiano has been cultivated in Campania for over two thousand years. There are two clones of Fiano in Campania; the more famous clone is called Fiano di Avellino, or “Fiano of the bees,” due to the way that ripening grapes draw clusters of the insects; Fiano di Avellino is the main component in its eponymous DOCG appellation. Fiano is an unusually sapid varietal that makes a wine with an interesting waxy quality, a nuanced aroma, and a palate often full unto bursting with wildflowers, honey and smoky hazelnuts. As happened to other indigenous grapes, Fiano was nearly extinct in the early twentieth century, but it has recovered due to the diligence of famed winemaker Dr. Antonio Mastroberadino.

Garganega (gar-gah-NAE-ga)

Wine experts agree on two points about Garganega: one is that this varietal grows easily–possibly too easily; and the other is that when winemakers take care to prune the vines and keep grape yields low, Garganega can make splendid wines, but when they don’t, it doesn’t. Garganega is cultivated in pockets throughout Italy, but it grows most expressively in the Veneto, where it is the basis for the oft-maligned Soave, a DOC appellation, as well as the oft-vaunted Recioto di Soave, a DOCG. Unrestrained crops of Garganega make bland, insipid, uninspired wine. Carefully cultivated Garganega, however, can make a lovely hay-colored wine redolent of elderflowers, tasting of almonds and lemons, and finished with a creamy undertone. The Recioto version, wherein the grapes are dried on mats or in boxes until winter, is an elegant balance between sassy acidity, sweet yellow fruit and almonds or tea.

Gewurztraminer or Gewürztraminer [guh-VURTS-trah-mee-ner, geh-VEHRTZ-trah-mee-ner)

While most famous for its cultivation in the Alsace region of France and in Austria, this varietal actually originates in Tramin, or Termeno, a town in Trentino-Alto Adige (in this bilingual region, everything is named in both Italian and German). Indeed, Gewurztraminer, or Gewürztraminer, is known as Traminer in Italy. Gewurztraminer is a varietal with especially tangled familial roots, and as much as ampelographers disagree over the varietal’s multiple clones, most agree that today’s Gewurztraminer versions did at least in part descend from a varietal called the Traminer indigenous to Trentino-Alto Adige.

Traminer differs from the Gewurztraminer grown in France and Austria. With a whisper of lichee and a palate of wildflowers, yellow fruit and a slight mineral undertone, Italian Traminer makes a more subdued, softer and more gently aromatic wine than its northern cousin, which is known for its powerful bouquet that fairly screams of lichees and for its deep gold color tinged with pink or copper. However, because all the varietals in the Traminer family mutate quickly, it’s hard to know whether these differences derive from changes in terroir or in genetics. Although cultivation of Traminer in Trentino-Alto Adige has largely diminished, there are still some producers who are committed to the grape.

A bunch of Grecchetto

A bunch of Grecchetto

Grechetto (greh-KEHT-toh)

Grown throughout central Italy, Grechetto is cultivated most assiduously in Umbria, where it forms the basis of two of the region’s better known DOC wines, Orvieto and Torgiano. Historically treated as a grape for a blended wine, Grechetto has recently become the object of vintners’ exploration into single-varietal wines. When vinified as a single-varietal, Grechetto’s wines are characterized by a nose of wildflowers and pear and a palate of lime and nuts. Though Grechetto is sometimes called Greco Spolentino or Greco Bianco di Peruglia, and though most likely descended from the same genetic pool as Greco Bianco, Grechetto is not the same varietal as Greco. A very sturdy grape with a thick skin, Grechetto is often also used to make Vin Santo.

Greco (GRAE-co)

To make a long story short, ampelographers agree the name “Greco” essentially designates two clones: Greco Bianco cultivated in Calabria and Greco B or Greco di Tufo cultivated in Campania. To explain at length, Greco is another one of those deeply problematic names. In 8th century B.C. Greeks sailed across the Ionic and the Adriatic Seas to find new and potentially more fruitful homes along the east coast of Italy, and when they emigrated, they took grape vine clippings and seeds to plant. Over time, these disparate Greek grapes became known under the umbrella sobriquet “Greco,” a term that was also applied in antiquity to any great wine, much to the great disgruntlement of current-day ampelographers. To further complicate the Greco issue, as these vines mutated and adapted to their new climates, the name Greco became yet muddier. For example, while Umbria’s Grechetto and the Veneto’s Garganega appear to be descended from the Greco, they are not synonymous with Greco, and while the varietal Albana has been called Greco, it shows no relationship at all to Greco. The only two varietals that can rightly be called Greco are the Greco Bianco and the Greco B.

Greco Bianco (GRAE-co BYAHN-koh)

One of the two main Greco clones, Greco Bianco is cultivated almost exclusively in Calabria, where it is a component of all of the region’s dry white wines, notably Cirò Bianco and Lamezi Greco. Greco Bianco is the basis for the confusingly, nearly identically named Greco di Bianco, a sweet wine made by drying the grapes before pressing. The varietal Greco Bianco when vinified into a dry wine is pale gold and carries note of figs and roasted almonds. As a sweet wine, it’s an unabashed golden color with a bouquet of oranges, figs and honeysuckle.

Greco di Tufo (GRAE-co dee TOO-foh) or Greco B (GRAE-co bee)

Greco di Tufo, which also goes by the prosaic name Greco B, is one of two main Greco clones; it is cultivated in Campania. Having taken root in the volcanic slopes of Mt. Vesuvius, Greco di Tufo has shown its affinity for higher altitudes, preferring sites around 400-700 meters above sea level. Unlike most other whites from the region, Greco di Tufo has a decidedly fruity profile, which it shows to advantage in its confusingly and eponomously named DOC wine, Greco di Tufo.

Rows of Grillo

Rows of Grillo

Grillo (GREEL-loh)

Grillo, which means “cricket” in Italian, is most likely indigenous to Puglia, but it found a home in Sicilia when it replaced Sicilian vines killed in the nineteenth-century phylloxera epidemic. The fortune of Grillo has followed the popularity of Marsala, Sicilia’s most famous fortified wine. When Marsala was in vogue in the 1930’s, Grillo comprised a majority of Sicilia’s vines, but now due to Marsala’s drop in popularity, the increased use of the aromatic Inzolia in Marsala, and the enthusiastic growth of Catarratto, Grillo accounts for under 5,000 hectares of cultivation. Grillo has a high sugar content and makes full-bodied whites; these points have spurred Sicilian winemakers into experimenting with single-varietal dry Grillo whites. When vinified into a dry wine, Grillo forms a pale gold wine with evident notes of nuts and honeyed fruit.

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