There’s good news for lovers of Apulian wine! In the land of trulli, taralli, the Castel del Monte, and orecchiette con le cime di rapa (orecchiette with broccoli raab), the field of Apulian white wines continues to grow
Don’t get me wrong. Apulia will remain a fundamentally red (and rosé) region, where wines made using Negroamaro, Primitivo, and Uva di Troia will continue to “lead the pack” and by and large represent the “aristocracy” of local production. But even though many wineries continue to work unassumingly with local white grape varieties like Verdeca and Bombino. And others persist in their production of Chardonnay: however noble a grape, Apulia delivers merely an umpteenth version of this ubiquitous grape, lacking any particular appeal, local connection, any unique quality. But are many indicators that new inroad are being made for white grape varieties.
The field of Apulian white wines is experiencing an expanding rediscovery and renewal of an indisputably indigenous variety. But grape growers have also recently introduced a grape variety that is by no means indigenous, even though its name would seem to indicate that is related to the former, even though it is not.
But enough now with this vinous riddle! I’m talking about Fiano Minutolo (also known as Fiano Aromatico) and Fiano (d’Avellino). Plantings of this grape have spread in various wine production zones in Apulia and it is enjoying a growing popularity (that I hope will not become a new trend).
Keep in mind that Fiano Minutolo (or Minutolo as it will be called once it’s been added to the National Catalog of grape varieties) has nothing to do with the Fiano that we are accustomed to, the Fiano that we know and love as one of the greatest white grape varieties of Italy, which finds its greatest expression on the other side of the Italian peninsula, in Irpinia (Campania), where it is considered “an aromatic grape that rightfully belongs with with Gewürztraminer, Malvasia, and Moscato for the similar sensations it delivers.”
The rediscovery and renewal of Fiano Minutolo is owed to its true pioneer, Pasquale (Lino) Carparelli, who, with his Vigna Rampone (now known as Valle d’Itria IGT), was the first to come out on the market with a Fiano Minutolo, and in doing so, opened the road followed by numerous other producers.
During my recent visit to Apulia, which was full of unforgettable moments, like a visit to one of the region’s cone-shaped houses, the so-called trulli, where we tasted a piping-hot focaccia baked in an ancient wood-fired oven in the trullo itself, Lino told us how he and friends who shared his passion for ancient varieties launched their project to revive Minutolo in 2000. They started by combing the Valle d’Itria (the townships of Locorotondo, Alberobello, Martina Franca, and Cisternino) for surviving plantings of the grape variety.
Initially, he planned to use the grapes in a new version of the Locorotondo DOC, with “ancient” style and aromatic character. But when he discovered that there are no fewer than 6 different varieties of Minutolo and that these were not just overlaps with grape varieties with the name “Greco,” he decided it would be better to vinify them as monovarietal wines to see their modes of expressions, their pros and their cons.
After he had identified ancient clones of the variety, he began to graft them on to vines in a 10-hectare vineyard, surrounded by trulli. The growing site lies on his estate called “I Pastini,” a term that is used locally to denote a parcel of land suited for grape-growing. It also denotes the tool used to plant the vines.
The first hectare was planted in 2001 with wild rootstock followed by whip grafting using European varieties. This was the first vineyard in the area where high-trained spur-pruned cordon training was employed. Other plantings of indigenous (but no international) varieties followed, with Verdeca (the classic local variety) planted side-by-side with the Minutolo together with Bianco d’Alessano (one of the grapes used in the DOCs Gravina, Locorotondo, and Martina Franca).
The resulting wine was Vigna Rampone. The 2008 is straw-yellow, bright, and translucent in color, with clean shades and hints of green. It shows classic notes on the nose, with intense aromatic, spicy, musky tones, slightly sweet yet savory, a marked citrus presence, white flowers, dried fruit and nectarine, very elegant and fragrant, with powerful energy.