When we talk about the most famous Italian wine grapes, we tend to focus on those that are native to the country. And by native, we mean grapes that originated in Italy, with no human intervention, that producers have used for centuries to create amazing wines.
It’s these grapes that form the backbone of the Italian wine industry.
However, they are far from the only grapes that Italy’s wine producers have at their disposal. Beyond the 100% native grapes, there are, of course, the many grapes that producers have introduced into the country over time. Many winemakers use grapes that trace their roots back to France, Spain, and so many other countries.
And then there are grapes like Albarossa.
Albarossa is one of the rare Italian wine grapes that are the result of direct human intervention. It’s a grape that has been “made” through a complex process of breeding existing grapes to create a brand-new variety. And in this article, we’re going to explore its origins and talk about some of the wines that it is used to create.
The History of Albarossa
Albarossa is a red wine grape that can trace its roots back to 1938. It was in this year that a grape breeder named Giovanni Dalmasso achieved the culmination of years of work that he’d put in at Conegliano’s Istituto Sperimentale per la Viticoltura.
Interestingly, the grape wasn’t what Giovanni believed it to be.
He thought that he’d created the grape by successfully crossbreeding the famous Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes. For the record, those are amazing choices, as they’re two of the most important grapes in the Italian wine industry.
However, later research shows that Albarossa is not a direct result of these two grapes.
DNA profiling carried out in 2009 confirmed that the “Nebbiolo” grape that Giovanni used was actually an ancient French grape hailing from the Ardèche, Chatus in France.
The confusion arose out of a name.
Nebbiolo di Dronero is used as a synonym for Chatus.
However, it is also the name of a commune in Piedmont where winemakers use the Nebbiolo grape. So, Giovanni thought that he had a grape from Piedmont when he actually had one from an obscure area in France.
It’s fascinating stuff and just goes to show how complicated grape breeding can become.
Regardless, Albarossa was the result and that result was no less than spectacular.
The Journey to Use in Italian Wine
So, Albarossa came into being in the 1930s.
However, it was not immediately used to create Italian wines. As anybody who has read out articles about DOC and DOCG classifications will tell you, the Italian wine industry is very stringent about the grapes that it will allow producers to use in their wines. A brand-new grape that seems to come out of nowhere is very unlikely to receive approval for use.
And that’s exactly what happened with Albarossa.
In fact, the grape had to spend almost 40 years sitting on the sidelines until it was finally approved for use in Italian wine. In 1977, producers were finally given the go-ahead to use it.
But that permission did not equal popularity.
Albarossa did not take off as a commercial grape, meaning that wines made using it are fairly rare in today’s market. In fact, a census carried out in 2000 revealed that there were only 10 hectares of the grape planted throughout all of Italy. And while there have been a couple of hectares added since, the grape hasn’t been fortunate enough to enjoy any sort of explosion in popularity.
So, does this mean that the wine produced using Albarossa isn’t any good?
Far from it!
Though the grape does not contain the DNA of the Nebbiolo grape that Giovanni thought he’d used, it still contains the DNA from Barbera. And that, combined with the DNA from the ancient French grape Giovanni did end up using, creates an amazing Italian wine.
The Albarossa Wine
So, what is Albrossa like?
It’s a gorgeous ruby red wine that has just the merest hints of a purple reflection. A little ageing results in this colouring transforming into an even more attractive garnet red.
Exploring the bouquet will reveal some interesting and fruity notes, with strawberries, plums, and stone fruits being the most noticeable. A little more exploration reveals an almond undertone, which helps to offset the sweeter nature of the main notes.
To the taste, Albarossa wine is full-bodied, smooth, and elegant. It has a balanced and long finish that leaves you wanting more. And as you allow the wine to explore your palate, you will taste the fruity notes that you experienced in the bouquet. These are then tempered a little by floral notes, which aren’t immediately apparent but are certainly there.
In short, the wine has all of the makings of an Italian classic.
Perhaps, in time, we will see Albarossa achieve the popularity it so richly deserves.
The Final Word
The story of Albarossa is a bittersweet one.
On the one hand, it’s the story of how a brilliant Italian scientist bred two grapes to produce something that the Italian wine industry had never seen before. And even though he was mistaken in terms of which grape he ended up using, the fact remains that Albarossa produces delicious wines that are worthy of a place in anybody’s collection.
On the other hand, Albarossa’s story is also one of seeming failure, with the grape having struggled for over 40 years to gain any sort of foothold in the commercial Italian wine industry. The 39-year wait it endured before being approved for use in Italian wine likely didn’t help in this regard. But even with that, it seems that the majority of Italian wine producers have little interest in this remarkable grape.
That is a sad state of affairs.
With a little luck, Albarossa will eventually start to become more popular as time goes on. But for now, you will have to do a little searching to get your hands on the fairly rare wines made using this unique Italian wine grape.
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