More Italian DOCs

I took a sip of this, knowing nothing about — except it’s Italian — and I immediately thought it was from the northeast and had refosco in it. Wrong.

The Val di Cornia DOC is in Tuscany and this wine is 80 percent sangiovese and 20 percent canaiolo nero.

I’ve opened the 2007 Gualdo del Re Eliseo Val di Cornia. It’s young, and the fruitiness is what reminded me of refosco:

a group of distinct red varieties cultivated in north east Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, most of them being related to the Slovenian Refošk (also called teran in Croatia) and producing very similar wines. The finest variety is known in Friuli as refosco dal pedunculo rosso.

Thank you Jancis.

So this is what really young sangiovese tastes like, but what about the canaiolo nero?

red grape variety grown all over central Italy and, perhaps most famously, a permitted ingredient in the controversial recipe for chianti, in which it played a more important part than sangiovese in the 18th century. It has declined considerably in popularity since it was relatively difficult to graft in the wake of phylloxera, and suffered from poor clonal selection. The decline in popularity of the governo wine-making trick has also hastened its decline since Canaiolo, without either the structure of Sangiovese or the scent of mammolo, was most prized for its resistance to rot while being dried for governo use. Canaiolo of good quality does still exist in scattered spots in Chianti Classico, notably—and unsurprisingly—at the two ricasoli properties of Castello di Brolio and Castello di Cacchiano in Gaiole in Chianti, in Barbarino Val d’Elsa (where the Castello della Paneretta and neighbour Isole e Olena both use Canaiolo in their Chianti Classico), and in the vino nobile di montepulciano production zone. Efforts to salvage the variety by better clonal and mass selections are under way in Toscana, but there are few illusions that this will be accomplished either easily or quickly. Canaiolo is also grown, to an even more limited extent, in Lazio, Sardegna, and the Marche. Italy’s total plantings of Canaiolo Nero have declined rapidly in recent years to well under 3,000 ha/7,410 acres.

This leads to an explanation of governo:

also known as governo alla toscana, since it is most closely associated with Toscana, is a wine-making technique once widely used in the various chianti production zones, and occasionally in umbria and the Marche. The technique consisted of setting aside and drying grapes from the September and October harvest, pressing them in mid to late November, and introducing the resulting unfermented grape juice into young wines which had just completed their alcoholic fermentation, thereby restarting the fermentation. This practice led to a slight increase in the alcoholic strength of the wines, but its principal and most desirable effect was to encourage the malolactic fermentation, which was not always easy in the cold cellars of the past, with wines made from a grape as high in acidity as sangiovese. A side-effect was to increase the level of carbon dioxide in the wine, some of which inevitably remained in young Chianti, bottled and marketed in the spring after the harvest. One of the precise purposes of the governo was to make the wines marketable at an earlier date by accelerating the malolactic fermentation.

Today governo is much less widely used as producers have striven to transform Chianti’s image from quaffing wine to a serious candidate for bottle ageing. The technique was also used in the verdicchio production zone in the Marche, to add fizz and a slight sweetness—from the high sugar content of the dried grapes—to counteract Verdicchio’s occasionally bitter finish. It has virtually disappeared here now.

So canaiolo nero worked well as a booster, but according to Jancis’s Vines, Grapes & Wines, it’s not worth much else: “Much less characterful than Mamolo [another permitted variety in Chianti] and much less tannic and acid than Sangiovese, Canaiolo is most treasured for its colour, and governo-bility.”

She rates it “Moderate Quality.”



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2 responses to “More Italian DOCs

  1. susannah16

    Did you like the Eliseo? Gualdo del Re is located four miles from the sea. You can actually see the island of Elba from their property. I wrote a long post about the winery in September. I know Nico and Teresa relatively well. Barbara Tamburini is their wine maker. She’s doing some really interesting things. The winery also uses many organic farming techniques. Definitely try some of their other wines..Val di Cornia Sangiovese di Suvereto, Federico Primo and L’Rennero are delicious in my opinion.

  2. cellarette

    I liked the Eliseo, and have yet to try their other wines, but we always like women winemakers. The coast of Italy sounds really good right now.

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