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 it’s a family estate, or perhaps everyone around them was—and is—doing the same thing. 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 them the way. These special relationships don’t come along often, but when they do, the story is worth telling. Likewise, the resulting wines are worth seeking out, though most are produced in small quantities by commercial standards.
To familiarize Chris with this interesting subculture of the wine world, I presented him with three wines. The first, from Sergio Mottura in Italy’s Lazio region, has been made by Mottura at his family’s very considerable estate since the 1960s. He became interested in the thick-skinned but easy-to-press and early-ripening Grechetto varietal, which had been relegated to a supporting role in a number of blends from central Italian regions. Experiments aimed at judging its suitability as a standalone grape were only 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 commercial scale.
Mottura makes three wines solely from Grechetto, all with the Civitella d'Agliano estate’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. The oak adds a luxe note to the grape’s usual crisp white fruit, citrus and almond notes. The wine has a creamy feel and a hazelnut twist. It is mouth-filling and complex. At around $30, it’s an outstanding value.
The next took us to Italy’s Alpine regions. There, Elisabetta Foradori, a leader in the natural wine movement for two decades, has worked a kind of magic with Teroldego, an indigenous red varietal cultivated for centuries on the Rotaliano Plain north of Trentino. Foradori is another young person whose plans for life shifted when she discovered an old plot of Teroldego on the family farm. The varietal had been in decline in the region for decades. Foradori raise the quality of the vinestock through years of diligent selection and propagation. Today, 75 percent of her family estate's acreage is devoted to Teroldego; 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 a signature tarry finish. Priced in the mid-20s, Foradori’s basic blend shouldn’t be missed. Chris loved it.
Finally, we tasted a wine from Walter Massa, a winemaker in the Tortona Hills, in the southern reaches of Italy’s Piedmont region. Massa specializes in the exotic, strangely delicious Timorasso grape. Like many back-from-the-brink-of-extinction stories, the the varietal’s slide to oblivion began with the phylloxera blight that forced the replanting of most of Europe’s vineyards. With a chance for a do-over, market-oriented producers often chose more prolific, easier-to-grow varieties over traditional ones. Thus began the decline of the white grape, once widely cultivated. Massa, a craggy-faced contadino, is a hero for having reclaimed it. One taste of his all-Timorasso Derthona will make you tremble at the thought that a wine of so complex, shifting and surprising a character might have been forever lost. Creamy, spicy and rich but with mouthwatering acidity, Derthona is a wine that’s challenging to describe but an absolute joy to drink—and, at under $30, a heap of wine for the money.
There are more examples we could cite, but hopefully this handful of vineyard love stories will motivate you to seek out these wines. As always, a chat with the passionate and knowledgeable staff at a good local wine shop is your ticket to ride.