The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Italian White Wine Grapes A-Z: Pagadebit to Riesling Renano!

Posted on | June 29, 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, or Albana to Cortese, and then we continued with Drupeggio to Grillo, and Inzolia to Nuragus. Today, is the fourth installment, Pagadebit to Riesling Renano!

Pagadebit (pah-gah-DEH-bit)

Pagadebit, or “debt-payer,” is the name that Bombino Bianco goes by in Emilia-Romagna; Pagadebit di Romagna is a DOC appellation. Also known as Debit, Pagadebit’s name comes from the easy fecundity of this varietal–if you planted it, it would grow. Unfortunately, this easy quantity often led to poor quality, and winemakers who favor the latter over the former must engage in judicious, if ruthless, pruning. Confusingly, other varietals share both the Pagadebit’s easy-growing nature and its name; Sardegna’s Nuragus is also known as Pagadebit.

Petite Arvine (PEHT-eet TAHR-veen)

This obscure varietal is indigenous to the Valais region of Switzerland, but it is also cultivated in Trentino-Alto Adige in the uppermost northwest corner of Italy. Wines vinified from Petite Arvine can be light to medium-bodied, and while the Swiss versions range from dry to sweet, those from Trentino-Alto Adige tend towards dryness. Petite Arvine is an interesting grape characterized by a nose of grapefruit that’s echoed on the palate and a piquant saline finish.

Picolit, the panda of the grape world

Picolit, the panda of the grape world

Picolit (PEEK-oh-lee)

Friuli’s Picolit may very well be the panda of the wine grape world. Poorly pollinating, prone to flower abortion, something of a cult object, and awfully cute, Picolit has simultaneously been poised on the brink of extinction and been the unwitting recipient of extreme popularity for a number of decades. Picolit gets its name from its severely low crop yields, as well from its tiny berries, and these two factors have presented problems when Picolit gets swept up in a fad, as it was in the mid-eighteenth century and again in the 1970’s. Grown only in two regions of Friuli, Gorizio and Udine–Picolit’s main DOC is in the Colli Orientali–Picolit’s primary method of vinification requires the grape is partially, or fully, dried on mats. Rather than a desert wine, Picolit is a vino da meditazione, a wine to savor as you contemplate its golden color, lichee and stone fruit palate, and notes of green tea. Recently, some modern vintners have added Picolit to blended, dry table wines to some success.

Pigato (pee-GAH-toh)

This Ligurian grape varietal is related both to Vermentino, which is also cultivated in Liguria, and Favorita, which is grown in Piemonte–some ampelographers claim all three are actually identical. Like Vermentino, Pigato makes a unique, refreshing, medium to full-bodied, dry white wine that is characterized by citrus and a deep herbal quality that’s redolent of mint and fennel, and a saline finish. It goes quite nicely with pesto.

Pinot Bianco (pee-noh bee-AHN-koh)

Pinot Bianco is the Italian name for the French varietal Pinot Blanc, which is itself a derivation of the Pinot family of grapes (the parent grape is Pinot Nero and another mutation is Pinot Grigio). In Italy, Pinot Bianco is grown in Trentino-Alto Adige, the Veneto, Friuli and Lombardia, and while the grape used to be cultivated widely, it has been greatly supplanted by Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. In contrast to France’s preferred method of vinification, Italy likes to make a high-acid version of Pinot Grigio that is accented by slight carbonation, or spritz; this varietal is also a common choice for Spumante. Arguably, the grape is taken most seriously in Trentino-Alto Adige, where winemakers endeavor to keep the yields low and to use oak in vinification to make a Chardonnay-style dry wine.

Pinot Grigio grapes

Pinot Grigio grapes

Pinot Grigio (pee-noh GREE-joe)

Possibly the most famous genetic mutation of Pinot Nero (known in France as Pinot Noir), sales of Pinot Grigio have recently started to surpass those of Chardonnay at restaurants. Pinot Grigio, or Pinot Gris in French, got its name either for the grey cast of its ripening grapes or for the fog that engulfs the hills where it grows. Grown throughout all of Italy except Calabria, Pinot Grigio’s main cultivation areas are in the northeast of Italy. Because of Pinot Grigio’s current market cachet, many producers crank out oceans of banal, indistinguishable wine; many of these producers are in Lombardia. Higher-quality expressions of Pinot Grigio that make full use of the grape’s abilities come out of the very north of Italy, mainly Trentino-Alto Adige. There, Pinot Grigio wines can range in hue from straw to gold to copper, depending on how long the producers leave on the skins in maceration, and the wines will have a fresh acidity complemented by a nose and palate of green apples, peaches, herbs and cream.

Procanico (pro-KAH-nee-koh)

One of the very many Trebbiano clones, Procanico is cultivated in Umbria. There are some who believe that this clone is superior to the high-acid, low-flavor Trebbiano.

Prosecco (praw-ZEHK-koh, pro-ZEHK-koh)

This grape varietal, formerly known also as Glera and Seprina, is indigenous to Friuli, but it’s best known in the Veneto, where Prosecco is responsible for the wine that bears its name. Though Prosecco is sometimes vinified in a still version, it most often appears in Frizzante (fizzy) or Spumante (sparkling) versions that can range from dry to sweet. Unlike champagne, which is vinified secondarily in the bottle, Prosecco is made by the Charmat method that holds its second vinification in vats. Prosecco is no different from other white wines in that when wine producers unrestrainedly grow the grape they end up with a very neutrally flavored wine. When, however, producers opt to cultivate Prosecco judiciously, the resulting wine is more complex, in Prosecco’s case crisp with light floral perfumes, and an appley palate.

Josko Gravner's Ribolla Gialla, image from Vinous Media

Josko Gravner’s Ribolla Gialla, image from Vinous Media

Ribolla Gialla (ree-BOH-lah JAHL-lah)

Descended from the Greek varietal Rebula, Ribolla Gialla dates back to 1289 in Friuli, and although its popularity has diminished in recent years, this grape varietal was popular enough to inspire Giovanni Boccaccio to include it in a diatribe against gluttony in the fourteenth century. There are two main types of Ribolla, and they are not created equal. Ribolla Gialla, or yellow Ribolla, is different from the Ribolla Verde, or green Ribolla, which is a less interesting and less cultivated clone. The primarily grown, Ribolla Gialla is probably also related to the Schioppettino, which is sometimes called Ribolla Nero. Ribolla Gialla makes quite full-bodied wines with great structure, qualities that seem at odds with its often neutral palate. When it veers away from its trademark neutrality, Ribolla Gialla can make wines with a sassy acidity that complicates its full texture in compelling ways; it holds delicate flavors of Golden Delicious apples, cantaloupe, and butterscotch. Josko Gravner is its most famous maker.

Riesling Italico (REES-ling ee-TAH-lee-koh)

Riesling Italico is unrelated to German Riesling, or Riesling Renano as it is called in Italy. Known elsewhere as Welschriesling, Riesling Italico is cultivated in Friuli near Serbia, as well as Trentino-Alto Adige and Lombardia although to a lesser extent. This varietal produces a floral wine with a jaunty acidity and a delicate, crisp, floral palate.

Riesling Renano (REES-ling reh-NAH-noh)

German Riesling is known as Riesling Renano in Friuli, Trentino-Alto Adige and Lombardia. Riesling is perhaps the world’s most flexible white wine grape. Readily reflecting the terroir in which it is cultivated, Riesling can make wines that range between honeyed and flinty, between bone dry and syrupy sweet. Riesling distinguishes itself by having an insouciant acidity, a high extract (the concentration of non-volatile substances in a wine, or the solid matter that gives wine its flavor), a full and compelling aroma, and the propensity toward ageing. Italian interpretations of Riesling, or Riesling Renano, tend to be delicately aromatic, floral, and nuanced expressions laden with a palate of stone fruits.

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