Autochtona 2018 wine competition, Bolzano
Autochtona is an annual wine competition held in Bolzano, in the far north of Italy. What makes it unique is that entries can be from wines made only with Italy’s Authoctonous grape varieties. Autochtonous means only those varieties that originate, as far as is known, within Italy itself. You won’t find the international varieties or any other grape varieties with foreign origins.
Instead, Autochtona is a showcase for the wealth of purely Italian grapes that still survive and sometimes thrive. Such diversity is an Italian treasure house, of genetics but also of flavours, places and history. Many are unfamiliar rare-breeds, still at risk of extinction. Others got lost in blends. Some, due to the dedication of winegrowers, now have small, dedicated DOC’s. A few, like Sangiovese, Barbera or Nebbiolo, became world famous.
All of them form part of our defence against homogeneity and the risk of everything tasting the same. And, in these days of climate change, some will yet have an important part to play.
A journey of discovery
Consequently, there is a journey of discovery. 377 make the official catalogue, but there may yet be many more still languishing in obscurity. I love Italy’s wealth of Autochtonous grapes; their individuality, their stories, and above all, what they can bring to the table. Autochtonous means difference. It’s not about novelty value or simply conservation. Instead, in the right hands, autochtonous wines can be brilliant in their own right.
What better way to find out than in competition? Hence Autochtona brings together for two days over 100 winegrowers from all over Italy. There were over 300 wines to try.
This year I was delighted to join the competition judging panel of nine. The group was headed up by Pierluigi Gorgoni, the curator of the event. The standards were gratifyingly high. Here, in short, are this year’s winners, in six categories:
Best Red Wine:
Valletta, Barbera d’Alba DOC, 2016. Claudio Alario, Piemonte
Barbera is Italy’s third most planted red grape. This delicious example from 60-year-old vines is given 20 months in French barriques. Big, brooding, velvety. Violet-scented, blackberry and plum fruit. Refined, elegant and sophisticated wine.
Best White Wine:
Poggio dello Scagno, Timorasso IGT, 2016. La Vecchia Posta, Colli Tortonesi, Piemonte
Timorasso (Derthona). Timorasso is a white grape rescued from the brink of extinction. It was difficult to cultivate in previous times and hence rarely replanted after the phylloxera devastation. Thankfully it’s enjoying a deserved renaissance, primarily in the Colli Tortonesi. A little like Riesling in character. It’s intense, highly aromatic, with mineral, citrus fruit with herbal notes. Apricot, nuts and a little ginger on the finish. Will age for years.
Best Sparkling Wine:
Lambrusco di Sorbara, CDV Brutrosso Spumante Brut Método Classico DOC, 2016. Cantina Della Volta, Emilia-Romagna
Lambrusco Sorbara, given nine months on the lees. Brilliant ruby red, good mousse and small bubbles. Brick red and thoroughly dry. Raspberry and strawberry on nose and palate. Finishes cleanly, a classic Lambrusco that helps restore Lambrusco’s reputation as a great wine.
Best Rosato Wine:
Rosarò Rosato, Negro Amaro Salento IGT, 2017. Feudi di Guagnano, Puglia
Negro Amaro makes excellent Rosé wine and here’s the proof. Clean and fresh, no residual sugar. Cherry-red colour, citrus and strawberries. Light and elegant, not a blockbuster, finesse and a silky mouthfeel.
Best Sweet Wine:
Martingana, Passito di Pantelleria DOC, 2008. Salvatore Murana, Pantelleria, Sicilia
Zibbibo (Moscato di Alessandria). This dried-grape wine ages for 24 months in barrel. All about Seville oranges laced with honey. Figs and a hint of nutmeg too. Good acidity with the mouth-coating sweetness means this finishes cleanly.
Award for Special Terroir:
Aleatico Passito Elba DOCG, 2017. Montefabbrello, Isola Elba, Toscana
Aleatico from arguably its location, on the Tuscan island of Elba. This one is in the sweet passito style. Intensely aromatic; think violets and roses. Velvet texture and not too sweet, racy freshness retained. A Mouthful of Black cherry with a cinnamon touch.
A special mention for all the entrants. There could only be six winners, but there were many other exceptional wines full of delight.
Fiera Bolzano (Messe Bozen)
Piazza Fiera, 1,
Alto Adige (Südtirol)