The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Italian White Wine Grapes A-Z: Inzolia to Nuragus

Posted on | June 22, 2015 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

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. First, we looked at grapes beginning with A, B and C, orAlbana to Cortese, and then we continued with Drupeggio to Grillo. Today, is the third installment, Inzolia to Nuragus!

grappolo1Inzolia (in-DZOH-lee-ah)

Also called Ansonica) this aromatic grape is indigenous to Sicilia and, along with Grillo and Catarratto, originally found its claim to fame in the island’s production of both dry and sweet Marsala. Like many Italian varietals, Inzolia has second identity–it’s also known as Ansonica, its name when grown in Toscana where the elevation elicits the grape’s notes of herbs and hay. Although Inzolia (also spelled Insora, Inzolla, Insolla and other variations) also grows in Calabria and Sardegna, it is cultivated primarily in western Sicilia. With careful vinification this highly perfumed grape can make a nicely structured golden wine with green highlights that has a bouquet of wildflowers, a viscous palate of floral herbs and citrus, and a refreshing saline finish.

Malvasia Bianca (mahl-VAH-zyah bee-AHN-kah)

This varietal flourishes throughout Italy and, indeed, throughout the entire Mediterranean. More than a single varietal, Malvasia is a family of grapes that includes Malvasia Bianca, Malvasia Nero, Malvasia del Chianti, two clones of Malvasia Dianco di Candia B., and four other clones localized to specific regions (Malvasia del Lazio, Malvasia Istriana, Malvasia de Sardegna, and Malvasia di Lipari).

A grape with this many identities is open to multiple interpretations. The winemakers of the north and west of Italy predominantly uses the Malvasia Nero clones, while those of south of Italy employ the various Malvasia Bianca version. Malvasia is instrumental in making Chianti in Toscana, Frascati in Emilia-Romagna, and many wines in other regions that range from red to white, dry to sweet, and flat to sparkling. Most oenologists agree that the grape entered Italy from Byzantium, but where it entered is up to dispute; some argue the Veneto, while others make a case for Sardegna. In any case, the grape, red or white, is known for making a deeply aromatic, often highly alcoholic and intensely colored wine.

Malvoisie de Nus (MAHL-vwah-zee day newh)

Malvoisie de Nus is the name given to Pinot Grigio in Valle d’Aosta. It is not to be confused with Malvasia.

Mantonico Bianco (mahn-TOH-nee-koh BYAHN-koh)

Imported in antiquity and cultivated in Calabria, this ancient grape came from Greece. Mantonico’s firm white fruit makes a medium-bodied, citrusy wine with a palate of figs and pears underlain by notes of almonds. It is also vinified into a desert wine via the passito method. There is also a Mantonico Nero.

The many shades of Moscato

The many shades of Moscato

Moscato Bianco (mos-KAH-toh BYAHN-koh)

Just about every winemaking region in Italy cultivates a version of Moscato Bianco, and this ubiquity leads to both uniformity and confusion. Moscato Bianco, the Italian umbrella term for the varietal called Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains in France, is a widely diverse varietal with many clones, but pretty much only one purpose: to make wines that range between semi-sweet and sweet and between frizzante (fizzy) and spumante (sparkling). These characteristics define the uniformity of Moscato Bianco; no matter where on the boot these wines originate, they will be light, fruity, tasty, frothy concoctions meant to accompany fruit, fruit-based deserts and some cheeses. Of course, having said that, there are exceptions and they are those wines made in the passito method that are unabashedly sweet and generally still dessert wines.

If the basic structure of these Moscato Bianco wines remains relatively static, their names do not. In Piemonte, where perhaps the best-known fizzy expressions of Moscato Bianco are crafted, the wines are known as Asti Spumante or Moscato d’Asti. But fizzy expressions of Moscato Bianco in other regions can also go by the names Moscadello, Moscato di Trani, and more. In Sicilia, where the best-known still desert-style expressions of Moscato Bianco are made, the wines are known as Zibibbo. The Tri-Veneto area produces another version of the desert wine called Moscato Giallo from yet another sub-variety of the grape also called Moscato Giallo, but in Trentino Alto-Adige, where these desert wines are made from sub-varietals Moscato Giallo or Moscato Rosa Trentini, they’re known as Moscato di Chambave. Regardless of the name, the sub-varietal, or even the method, Moscato Bianco is characterized by a strong fragrance of lichees or stone fruits, a pleasing sweetness tempered by a saucy acidity, and a finish of orange blossoms or honeysuckle.

Moscato Giallo (mos-KAH-toh gee-YAWL-loh)

A sub-varietal of Moscato Bianco, this gold-berried clone is cultivated in Trentino-Alto Adige, where it is also called Goldmuskateller. Like its parent varietal, Moscato Giallo is vinified to make sweet or semi-sweet wines that may be frizzante (fizzy) or spumante (sparkling).

Nuragus (noo-RAH-goos)

This varietal may be indigenous to Sardegna, or it may have been brought by the Phoenicians around twelfth century BC. Whatever its origins, Nuragus is a sturdy and intrepid grape that is able to withstand disease, to adapt to any terrain and to produce fruit like rabbits breeding. For these reasons, Nuragus has become the most widely cultivated grape and the basis for some of the most drunk wines on the island, a combination that has regrettably led to the creation of a lot of bland, banal wines. When, however, winemakers take care with the grape and severely limit its fecundity, they can make a refreshing, tart wine with jaunty acidity and laden with lichee, pear, and orange blossom.



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