The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Italian White Wine Grapes A-Z: Sauvignon Blanc to Trebbiano Toscana

Posted on | July 6, 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 GrilloInzolia to Nuragus, and Pagadebit to Riesling Romano. Today, is the fourth installment, Pagadebit to Riesling Renano!

Ripening Sauvignon Blanc grapes

Ripening Sauvignon Blanc grapes

Sauvignon Blanc (soh-vee-N’YAHN blahnk)

Sauvignon Blanc may be indigenous to France, and it may be central to many of this country’s finest appellations, but Sauvignon Blanc is also cultivated across the northeast of Italy, especially in Friuli and Trentino-Alto Adige. Winemakers around the globe choose Sauvignon Blanc for its ability to produce fresh, crisp, light, herbaceous wines laced with a pleasant citrus quality. Italian winemakers are no different, and the Italian versions of Sauvignon Blanc tend to enhance the grape’s naturally acidic and grassy bents to make wines that are even cleaner, purer and more aromatic than their French counterparts.

Tocai Friulano (toh-KAH-ee free-oo-LAH-noh)

Tocai Friulano is another example of how complicated the names of wine varietals can be. As its name suggests, Tocai Friulano is cultivated primarily in the Friuli region of Italy, but it also grows in the Veneto and, to a lesser extant, Lombardia. However, Tocai Friulano isn’t at all related to the famous wines of Hungary, the Tocaji, nor is it related to Tokay d’Alsace, which is actually Pinot Grigio and which often is cultivated in the same vineyards as Tocai Friulano. In actuality, Tocai Friulano is Sauvignon Vert, a clone of Sauvignon Blanc. To make matters yet more confusing, in 1995 Hungary launched a formal complaint at the European Union claiming that Tocai Friulano impinged on the status of their Tocaji wines, which the EU settled in favor of Hungary. As of April 2007, Tocai Friulano can no longer be called Tocai Friulano on any labels of bottles to be sold outside of Italy (those bottled before the ruling may still be labeled Tocai Friulano). Although Italian winemakers aren’t happy about it, they will now be labeling their bottles simply “Friulano.”

That said, Friulano, while similar to genetic relative Sauvignon Blanc, has more subtle notes of wildflower, a saline nose and finish and an often creamy texture and flavor. Depending on producer and terroir, Tai’s wines can range from crisp to creamy and from smoky to peppery. Friulano’s pale gold wine is intended to be drunk young.

Torbato (tor-BAH-toh)

Although this grape varietal most likely originated in Spain, in Italy Torbato is grown exclusively in Sardegna, especially around Alghero. Its small, white berries make a dry white wine that can be either still or Spumante. In recent years due to high-quality winemaking, Torbato has been gaining a stellar reputation.

Traminer in a canopy of leaves

Traminer in a canopy of leaves

Traminer (trah-MEEN-nehr)

This varietal, which is parent to the clone Gewurztraminer, Gewürztraminer, originates in Tramin, or Termeno, a town in Trentino-Alto Adige (in this bilingual region, everything is named in both Italian and German; however, Traminer is not genetically identical to the Gewurztraminer grown in Austria and Germany. Italy’s Traminer tends to be more subdued than its northern relative, whispering rather than screaming the grape’s trademark lichee bouquet, offering more subdued spice undertones, and tending toward the golden hued rather than toward the copper.

Trebbiano (trehb-bee-AH-noh, treb-BYAH-noh)

One thing you can say about Trebbiano is that there is a lot of it. Whether that volume is a good thing, however, depends a lot on your point of view. Trebbiano, an Italian indigenous grape, is known as Ugni Blanc in France, and between the two countries’ cultivation, Trebbiano is the world’s most grown grape (in weight–other grapes exceed it in acreage). Trebbiano is a lot like tribbles; it has ridiculously high production. It also has an advantageously high acidity and, when cultivated for quantity, negligible aroma and flavor, and medium alcohol.

All of these qualities make the grape a perfect candidate as a component in a blended wine. Trebbiano is part of about 80 DOC appellations, more than any other grape. Indeed, until recently, Trebbiano was a required component in DOC Chianti, whereby it much lowered the quality of the wine; now it is an optional ingredient. Trebbiano also appears in Orvieto, Frascati, Soave and Verdicchio, as well as Vin Santo, just to give an idea of its omnipresence. Trebbiano grows in just about every wine district but the far north, and because of this ubiquity as well as its indigenousness, there are multiple clones. Two of the more important ones are Trebbiano Toscana and Trebbiano Romano, though other so-called Trebbianos like Trebbiano di Soave, Trebbiano di Lugana and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo aren’t really Trebbianos at all (the two former are Verdicchio and the latter is Bombino Bianca). Like most high-yield grapes, when it’s cultivated by a diligent winemaker who limits production, Trebbiano can make a very nice wine. In general, wines made from Trebbiano are characterized by having a straw color, a scent of wildflowers, and a flavor of peaches and almonds.

Bombino bianco bunch

Bombino bianco bunch

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (trehb-bee-AH-noh dah-BROOTS-soh)

Despite its name, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo probably isn’t a Trebbiano clone at all; it’s likely what Bombino Bianco is called in Abruzzo, but enologists are still nailing the genetic history of the grape.

Trebbiano di Lugana (trehb-bee-AH-noh dee loo-GAH-nah)

This name is a misnomer. Trebbiano di Lugana isn’t a Trebbiano clone; rather, it’s what chio is called in Lombardia.

Trebbiano di Soave (trehb-bee-AH-noh dee soh-AH-veh)

This varietal is not really a Trebbiano. Instead, Trebbiano di Soave is what Verdicchio is called in the Veneto.

Trebbiano growing in Le Marche

Trebbiano (or possibly something called “Trebbiano”) growing in Le Marche

Trebbiano Toscana (trehb-bee-AH-noh tos-KAH-nah)

This grape is one of the many Trebbiano clones. A toponym, this Trebbiano is cultivated in Toscana, where it is often blended with Malvasia to produce Vin Santo. Outside of Toscana, Trebbiano Toscana grows in Umbria to form the basis of many of the region’s white wines, and it also joins with Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (which is not a Trebbiano at all, but really Bombino Bianco) to make the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC. This final appellation might be the best expression of Trebbiano. Vinified with ageability and heft in mind, this wine is often aged in wood to provide an oaky balance.


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