Italian Wine Course Part 6: Native Grapes

Wine Types
Welcome to the Italian Wine Course Part 6! In today’s lesson we’re going to cover the essential topic of Native wine grapes of Italy. We’ll cover what native wine grapes are and why they’re important because they will affect not only the way you think about italian wine and wine in general, but it will probably change the way you taste wine for the rest of your life. Which is really exciting…

Native grapes get their own corner on the pentagon because apart from the location of the vineyard, the grape varietal has the biggest impact on the taste of the wine in your glass.

So I like to begin this lesson with a Trick question: Is Cabernet Sauvignon a grape or a wine?

The answer is both.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the name of the red grape varietal that turns into Cabernet Sauvignon wine.

Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Chardonnay are also French grape varietals.

Today they are called international varietals because countries throughout the world cultivate these grapes and make wine with them. But just know they originate from France and are technically native grapes from France.

Depending on who you talk to, you get a different estimate as to how many native grapes exist in Italy….I’ve numbers from 500 to more than 2,000 and the fact is that no one really knows the exact number and probably no one will ever know. But even if it turned to be just 500 varietals, you still can’t learn them, I can’t learn them all, but it will be fun trying.

Because it’s not that important for you to memorize 500 different native grape names…it’s more important that you taste as many of them as you can…when it comes to wine…tasting is just as important if not more so than reading about wine.

Think of it this way:

One sip of good wine contains all the words in a chapter. One good bottle contains all the ideas of a book.

So what exactly is a native grape?

A grape used for winemkaing that has been growing in the same place for at least a thousand years…many native Italian grapes have been growing in italy for 3,000 years.

Over that time, the grape has developed a relationshionship between the soil, the climate, and the terrain that produces a unique wine with distinct flavors, textures,and aromas.

Native grape varietals could also be thought as local wines because they’re directly attached to the people that inhabit the same place as that grape varietal. Grape varietals can become extinct and so its the local winemakers that value the traditions of their culture and value what was left to them by their ancestors to pick up the torch and make wine with these grapes.

Pliny the Elder, a roman author and naturalist wrote about the abundance of wine grapes all over the peninsula in a book called Historia Naturalis or Natural Histiory…and that was written 2,000 years ago… And documented many native italian grape varietals in his book. So native wines have been a part of the peninsula for thousands of years: that’s why the greeks called Italy-enotria-the land of wine.

You’ve seen this regional map of italy before in a previous video. Inside every region you’ll find its own native grapes.

Some varietals like Sangiovese and Montepulciano, you’ll find all over Italy, while some varietals are found in many southern regions like Aglianico.

But then there are varietals like Perricone which can only be found in Sicily.

Then you’ve got varietals like Cannonau from Sardinia which was once thought to be Grenache from France or Garnacha in Spain, but recently discovered that Cannonau is its own distinct grape, native to Sardegna.

Out of all the lessons of this Italian wine course, this could be the most important one.

Go watch the Italian Wine Regions Crash Course!

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