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When history has the taste of wine: discovering the native Tuscan vines

  • 10/03/2023

​They are the most authentic expression of a territory and translate a thousand-year history made of branches and grapes into aroma and flavor: we are talking about the native Tuscan vines. Living raw material, cultural and productive heritage of the region, for centuries they have participated in the story of a land that has made its stylistic hallmark of wines. We cannot speak of Vino Nobile or Brunello without mentioning Prugnolo Gentile or Sangiovese, but alongside these varieties there is a group of minor vines with ancient origins that Tenute del Cerro cultivates and preserves to perpetuate the historical memory of the territory. We discover them together in an ideal walk through the vineyards: the agronomic manager of Tenute del Cerro, Franco Fierli, accompanies us.


Native Tuscan vines: not only Prugnolo and Sangiovese 

Tenute del Cerro's history is inextricably intertwined with the territory and touches one of its oldest points at Fattoria del Cerro: "The company - explains Franco Fierli - extends over an area of 6​0​0 hectares, of which 200 are cultivated to vineyard. And precisely the viticultural dimension represents one of the most exciting aspects of the company's history, a story that speaks not only of famous vines, such as San​giovese and Prugnolo Gentile, key elements of the Nobile di Montepulciano, but also of minor native varieties, all black berried, which represent the historical imprint of the vinification of the territory".

It is no coincidence that the property has chosen to become the beating heart of a real varietal reserve that aims to protect and enhance ancient vines of over three centuries. “Originally, the composition of the vineyards surrounding Fattoria del Cerro - says Fierli - alternated Prugnolo and Sangiovese, with minor specialties such as Colorino, Mammolo, Ciliegiolo, Pugnitello, Foglia tonda, Abrusco and Abrostine. 

Some varieties have been lost over time because, less productive than others, they have been sacrificed to enhance vines that guaranteed more abundant productions. Between the 1960s and 1970s, this approach accompanied the transition from sharecropping to direct-management viticulture: the latter led to a greater appreciation of the more abundant vines since they were able to guarantee a more profitable vinification.

The 80s marked a renewed attention to quality viticulture and the selection of vines based on their different specificities". 

So we arrive at the 90s when Fattoria del Cerro, before proceeding with the renovation and rationalization of the vineyards, decided to create a clonal field in which to insert all the minor vines that grew alongside the Sangiovese and Prugnolo Gentile plants. Although less abundant in terms of productivity, these vines today make up a small percentage of the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano blend, as required by the specification.

“The importance of these varieties - underlines Fieri - is twofold: they not only contribute to creating the structure of the most famous wines such as Nobile or Brunello, but they represent what we could define as a time capsule capable of conserving the biodiversity of the territory, a historical genetic heritage which, otherwise, would risk being lost".

But there is more. Those that in the present are considered minor vines, also by virtue of their not particularly abundant production yield, in tomorrow's winemaking could have a more important participation, as the agronomist points out, in fact: "In the future these varieties could prove to be precious. We could discover, for example, that they possess particular characteristics of resistance to possible plant diseases". 

So what are the native vines of the area? Let's look at them in detail.

 

Colorino

Our journey to discover the Tuscan vines begins with Colorino. This variety, which has small bunches and berries, is considered a not very juicy vine and therefore not very productive, but its most important peculiarity is linked to the chromatic aspect. Indeed, as the name indicates, Colorino del Valdarno, selected between the provinces of Siena and the provinces of Arezzo, is characterized by a white pulp and a densely pigmented skin: "That's why - explains the agronomic manager of Tenute del Cerro - it is used in small percentages to give greater structure, body and consistency to Sangiovese or Prugnolo Gentile. 

The way in which the Colorino grapes were processed between the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s is interesting: the berries were harvested and left to dry, then after two fermentation steps, the dried fruits were pressed and combined with Vino Nobile: in this way refermented, they released polyphenols and anthocyanins which gave the Sangiovese a more decisive chromatic structure.

“Although this technique is no longer practiced today - explains Fierli - the underlying principle remains unchanged: the vinification of Colorino takes place separately from that of Sangiovese, then the winemaker, after aging, decides the percentage (usually around 5%) to be added to Vino Nobile, Cru Antica ​Chiusina or our Selezione Delle Pievi".

 

Foglia tonda

Aesthetically it is very similar to Sangiovese, but the ampelographic analysis, i.e. the one that describes the vine starting from the morphology of the bunch, the shape of the leaf and its interveins, unequivocally reveals the differences. As Franco Fierli illustrates: “It is called Foglia tonda not by chance: the apexes of the leaves are much less pronounced than those that characterize Sangiovese and this gives the foliage a more rounded shape. Furthermore, compared to the Colorino, the Foglia Tonda has a slightly larger berry and is juicier and more productive".

Also in this case the high concentration of polyphenols makes it an excellent element of completion for Sangiovese.

 

Mammolo

The name of this grape recalls the aroma of violet typical of the wines that contain it and which are characterized by soft and elegant notes. Overall, the final product that is obtained from Mammolo grapes has a sober and balanced taste. Indeed, as Fierli explains to us: "It is never too concentrated, never too structured and can be recognized by the unmistakable refinement of taste and aroma". Mammolo is a grape normally used in lower percentages than Colorino.

 

Sangiovese

Last, but not least, the real "star" of Vino Nobile: Sangiovese, a variety with a double soul. “This precious vine - underlines the agronomic manager - takes on different denominations based on the area in which it is grown and the morphology it assumes. The typical variety of the Montepulciano area is known as Prugnolo Gentile due to the particular shape of the berry which, when fully ripe, tends to stretch slightly until it almost takes on the shape of a small plum. The Sangiovese grapes grown in Chianti or in Montalcino, on the other hand, are distinguished by the rounded shape of the berries".

The strong sapidity of this vine derives from soils in which clay mixes with tuff, sand and limestone. The result is an extremely fine and long-lasting final product, which expresses hints of plum, cherry and blackberry to which is added the aromatic imprint of vanilla, wood and cocoa left by the aging wood.

 

The challenge for the future: to enhance the minor native vines in purity 

In some cases the minor autochthonous varieties, such as Colorino, can best express their characteristics in purity, which is why Tenute del Cerro is evaluating the possibility of enhancing these precious minor varieties in a different way. “The challenge of the future - concludes Franco Fierli - is linked to the development of new productions, perhaps of the IGT Crus, obtained from the vinification of grapes coming exclusively from a single native vine. In fact, the company is monitoring with interest some varieties that could soon be the basis of new pure Supertuscans".

 

In Tuscany, the bridge between the past and the future is an intertwining of vineyards and cellars that translate the peculiarities of the territory into a unique product with a strong identity. The journey to get to know this fascinating land must be done among the rows: are you ready to leave?​​​​​​

 

 

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