There are winemakers who grow and vinify only a single grape variety because that’s more or less what they were handed when they started — perhaps on the family estate they grew up on and inherited, or just because that’s what everyone around them was doing at the time. If you make red wine in Burgundy, there’s a very good chance that the only grape you will ever have to deal with is pinot noir, since that is the sole varietal authorized in several hundred of its appellations.
But there is a different breed of varietal monogamy in the wine world, undertaken by a relative few who at some point in their careers fell passionately in love with a single, often obscure and frequently eccentric vine, one they had to seek out, pursue, tame, and in some cases retrieve from the brink of extinction without anyone to show the way. These special relationships don’t come along often, but when they do the story is worth telling — and the wines that result worth seeking out, although chances are the quantities produced will be small by commercial standards.
To familiarize Chris with wines of this interesting sub-culture of the wine world, I brought three wines into the tasting room at Formaggio KItchen where we record our radio segments. The first from Sergio Mottura in Italy’s Lazio region who has been making wine at his family’s very considerable estate since the 1960’s. Mottura became interested in the thick-skinned but easy to press and early-ripening Grechetto varietal, which had been relegated to a supporting (blending) role in a number of central Italian regions. Experiments aimed at judging its suitability as a stand-alone grape were only the beginning then; there wasn’t very much of it to work with. It took years of patient in-vineyard propagation to generate enough capacity to make the wine on a scale that could be commercially successful.
Mottura makes three wines on his Civitella d’Agliano estate solely from Grechetto, all with the property’s signature porcupine on the label. We tasted the top offering, known as Latour a Civitella, a Grechetto selection that spends time in oak barrels, some new, that add a luxe note to the grape’s usual crisp white fruit, citrus and almond notes. It has a creamy feel and a hazelnutty twist, is mouth-filling and complex. At around $30 it’s outstanding value.
The next took us to Italy’s alpine regions where Elisabetta Foradori, a leader in the natural wine movement for two decade, has worked a kind of magic with Teroldego, an indigenous red varietal cultivated for centuries on the Rotaliano Plain north of Trentino. Foradora is another case of a young person with other plans for her life recalled by circumstance to the management of the family farm. Her discovery there of an old plot of Teroldego piqued her interest in the varietal, plantings of which had been declining in the region for decades. Years of diligent selection and propagation were required to raise the quality of the vinestock. Today, 75% of the estates acreage is devoted to Teroldego and among the wineratti the Foradori name and Teroldego are nearly synonymous. When ripe, Teroldego makes wine with saturated color and a curious but appealing interplay of savory and fruity elements with signature tarry finish. Priced in the mid-twenties, Foradori’s basic blend shouldn’t be missed, Chris loved it.
Perhaps the least likely duo of the group is Walter Massa, winemaker in the Tortona Hills in the southern reaches of Italy’s Piedmont region, and the exotic, strangely delicious Timorasso grape. In a fashion consonant with many back-from-the-brink-of-
There are more examples we could cite, but now that you know a few of these vineyard love stories you’ll be motivated to seek them out. As always, a chat with the passionate and knowledgeable staff at a good local wine shop is your ticket to ride.