Monday, September 18, 2023

Iran: A vitis vinifera conquest on its journey to the Far East

Dong, et al., reports on a dispersal of the vitis vinifera CG1 cultivar in four directions from its domestication point in western Asia, as illustrated in the map below.

High-Level view of the early stages of vitis vinifera
distribution from the Western Asia Domestication
Center (after Dong, et al.)

I have previously detailed hypotheses as to how the cultivar spread into Anatolia and across Europe and North Africa, with reports on the Caucasus and the Far East in the offing. Before addressing the latter endpoints, however, I will cover the evidence of transit through Iran, the point of divergence for the cultivar's onward journeys.

According to the authors, the dual domestications occurred 11,000 years ago. The Little Ice Age had ended by this time and the world was transitioning from the Pleistocene to the Holocene Epoch. 

The cold, dry climate associated with the Younger Dryas (12,800 BP - 11,600 BP) led to a rapid reduction in the size of the lushest vegetation belts and reduction in yields of natural stands of C3 plants such as cereals. 

There was  rapid return of wetter weather post the Younger Dryas and this led to the expansion of numerous lakes and ponds and cultivation of annual crops along the shorelines. The first large villages began to appear (up to 2.5 ha) and they relied on cultivated barley and wheat or "their wild progenitors." 

Neolithic farming communities thrived under the favorable climate conditions of the Early Holocene and expanded "along the Levantine Corridor into Anatolia and neighboring regions." This, then, was the first movement of the cultivated grapevine outside of its birthplace. 

Post-Younger-Dryas warming took 1000 years to reach Iran and another 1000 years to reach the heart of Central Asia. Cereal grasses and trees followed the path of this warming; as did agriculture. The Neolithic -- the period of the origins and early development of agricultural economies -- launched in the Levant around 11,000 years ago and was evident in Iran during the period 10,000 BP - 7500 BP.

Within Iran, Neolithisation did not occur in one fell swoop. Rather, it was evidenced as "a gradual unfolding of multiple episodes of Neolithisation producing patterns of change, continuity and adaptation over several millenia." The chart below illustrates the unfolding of Neolithisation in Iran.

Human groups in Iran's Zagros Mountains developed autonomously -- in relation to the Levant -- during the beginning of the Holocene, with local domestication of goats and early stage agriculture based on barley. The material culture has been confirmed by DNA studies which show that humans from the Zagros and Levant were "strongly differentiated genetically and were each descended from local hunter-gatherers." 

There were a number of core areas that were "large enough to have fostered distinct and thriving societies throughout the Neolithic and beyond":
  • Northern, central, and southern Zagros
  • Khuzistan lowland
  • Southern Iran
  • Northeastern Kopet Dag
Of the above, the Khuzistan lowland has "the longest continuous sequence of Neolithic occupation" and the "oldest substantial evidence for agriculture and animal husbandry in Iran." Given our assertion of a nexus between the adoption of agriculture and the adoption of grape cultivation, and the proximity of Khuzistan to the Fertile Crescent, it is quite likely that grape vines were cultivated in Khuzistan at some time in the Neolithic. And that assertion is bolstered by archaeological findings at Hajji Firuj, a Northern Zagros archaeological site which was occupied between 7900 and 7500 BP.

Hajji Firuz was a small village of single-family dwellings with an economy based on a mix of farming and herding, with the latter potentially requiring seasonal migration. The dates of occupation suggest that agriculture and herding at this location was relatively late when compared to Central Zagros and the Khuzistan lowlands. The location of the site is illustrated on the map below.

Red oval highlights archaeological sites where proof
 of winemaking in ancient Iran (Persia) was unearthed. 

Hajji Firuz Tepe was the subject of an archaeological excavation in 1968 at which five 2.5 gallon (9 liter) jars were found embedded in an earthen floor along a wall of a Neolithic mud brick building.  Two of these jars had a yellowish residue on the bottom which, after being subjected to infrared liquid chromatography and wet chemical analysis, proved to be a combination of calcium tartrate and terebinth tree resin.  Tartaric acid in the amounts found can only be associated with grapes and the amount of wine that would be housed in the five containers would be much more than required for a single family's use.  Clay stoppers that perfectly fit the openings at the top of the clay jars were found in close proximity to the jars and was assumed to have been used to prevent the contents from turning to vinegar.  These factors led the archaeologists to tag this site as a wine-production facility -- playfully called "Chateau" Hajji Firuz by Dr. McGovern. As wines in Greece even today are resinated, the assumption is that resin was added to Neolithic wines either as a preservative or for medicinal purposes.

Jar from Hajji Firuz Tepe

The work done by the McGovern team clearly shows the use/consumption of wine within Neolithic Iran. Given that the domestication of vitis vinifera fell within the bounds of the Fertile Crescent, and that the southwestern part of Iran also fell within the bounds of that construct, its transit route into Iran becomes clearer.

Pottery-making in Iran has a history dating back to the early 7th millennium with the advent of agriculture giving rise to the baking of clay and the making of utensils. The use of clay jars for the storage of wine at Hajji Firuz Tepe is, therefore, a temporal fit.

From Iran, vitis vinifera CG1 made its way to the Caucasus and Central Asia. I will cover the former in my next post on the topic.

Saffaid Alibaigi and A. Salomiyan, The Archaeological landscape of the Neolithic period in the western foothills of the Zagros Mountains: New evidence for the Sar Pol-Ezahāb region, Iraq - Iran Borderland, Iraq, Vol 82, Cambridge University Press, December 2020.
Oliver Barge, et al., Diffusion of Anatolian and Caucasian Obsidian in the Zagros Mountains and the highlands of Iran: Elements of Explanation in 'leastcost path' models, Quaternary International 467 (Part B), February 2018.
Dong, et al., Dual domestications and origin of traits in grapevine evolution, Science, 3/3/23
Encyclopedia Iranica, Neolithic age in Iran.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, September 8, 2023

Pomino DOC: The gem within the ambit of Chianti Rufina DOCG

Pomino DOC is a vanishingly small (64 ha) appellation resident within the bounds of the Chianti Rufina DOCG. Having extensively treated the latter, I would be remiss if I moved on without alerting readers as to its presence and character.

The story of Pomino DOC is the story of the vision and dedication of one man: Vittorio degli Albizzi.

 Vittorio degli Albizzi

The Albizzi family has Germanic roots dating back to the time of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III. In Italy, the family initially settled in Arezzo but transferred to Florence in the 12th century, and "by the beginning of the Trecento had established themselves as one of the most prominent popolano families." As a result, their political influence swelled in the second half of the Trecento.  

In the 1360s, the Albizzi family fought bitterly with a faction headed up by the Ricci family, a "battle" culminating in the Florentine Signoria banning the Albizzis frrom holding public office for 5 years. The family was not down and out for long, however. At the conclusion of the Ciompi Revolt (1378 - 1382), Florence was governed by an oligarchic regime headed by Maso degli Albizzi. "Maso and his fellow patricians negated the egalitarian reforms created during the Ciompi period and reinstituted a structure that gave a greater voice (and a substantial majority in committees) to greater guildsmen." Masi controlled the government until his death in 1417.

Upon Masi's death, his son Rinaldo took control and managed affairs until his demise at the hands of Cosimo di' Medici in 1434. Rinaldo was exiled, with the family moving to Provence, France.

Amerigo degli Abizzi, the last member of the Italian branch of the Abizzi family, having no heirs, summoned Alessandro -- of the branch of the family that had been exiled to France by the Medici's -- in 1838 to return to Florence along with his wife, Vittoria Le Caruye, and their children Vittorio and Leonia. When Amerigo died four years later, his considerable fortune, including Nipozzana and its castle, Pomino, Poggio a Remole, and Montefalcone in the diocese of Lucca, all passed to Alessandro.

Vittorio, in turn, inherited the family title and fortune upon his father's death. Over the years he became a respected member of the Accademia dei Georgofili, an institution best known for "promoting, amongst scholars and landowners, the studying of agronomy, forestry, economy, geography and agriculture." he also became a friend of Baron Bettino Ricasoli, the "illustrious politician and visionary wine entrepreuner" who "originated the formula for Chianti wine."

The wine environment in Tuscany at this time was characterized  by:
  • Poor wines
  • Producers and peasant farmers emphasizing quantity over quality
  • A preference for growing vines a testuccio or in mixed-growth environments
Vittorio applied the experience he had gained in France to the production of fine wines in Tuscany. For example, he preferred the cultivation of specialized, low-growing vines to the widely deployed a testuccio method. Betweeen 1860 and 1877 he planted an exclusive vineyard at Pomino wherein he introduced the French varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Semillon, and Roussanne (Chardonnay had already been introduced in 1855.). He also experimented at the glassworks in Pontassieve, inventing a stronger glass neck for the traditional straw-covered wine flask.

Vittorio died in 1877 at the age of 39 years. He had no heirs so his estate passed on to his sister Leonia who had been married to Angelo Frescobaldi since 1863.

Pomino -- little apple -- is a DOC (1983) extending over 64 ha, partially overlapping the commune of the same name. The zone has vineyards that reach as high as 767 m, the highest in all of Tuscany.

The area had been identified in 1718 by Cosimo III Duke of Tuscany as one of the four areas in Tuscany with the potential for producing quality wines. In that period the area grew typical Chianti grapes. Pomino DOC is colder than surrounding areas and, as such, is extremely well-suited to the growth of white varieties. 

The soils at Castello Pomino -- the almost-monopole of the DOC -- are sand- and mineral-rich, rocky, and well-drained and range from acidic to slightly acidic.

The varieties grown today include Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Trebbiano for whites; and Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Sangiovese for reds.

The wines allowed in the region are illustrated in the chart below.

Given the dominace of the Frescobaldi position, I will use their wines as being representative of wine production in the region. Castello Pomino produces a Riserva, a Bianco, a Vin Santo, and a sparkling wine:
  • Benefizio Riserva -- 100% Chardonnay that is barrel-fermented and -aged
  • Pomino -- Primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio blend that is fermented in SS tanks (mostly) and barrique
  • Pomino Pinot Nero -- 100% Pinot Noir fermented in oak conical vats with MLF and aging in barriques
  • Vin Santo -- Blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia Bianco Toscana, and San Colombano that is aged in small wooden barrels for 7 years
  • Leonia Pomino Brut -- Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend that is fermented in tank and wood and aged on lees in bottle for 36 months.
Today Pomino DOC wines continue to honor the legacy of Vittorio, as shown by the offerings of Castello Pomino.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, August 31, 2023

The wines of Chianti Rufina DOCG and its Terraelectae schema

Chianti Rufina DOCG, as a subzone of Chianti DOCG, is qualified to produce any of the wines allowed in the appelation.
Screenshot from

The purpose herein is not to explore those broader wines. Rather, it is to explore the wines that are unique to Chianti Rufina.  A wine is a Chianti Rufina DOCG on the basis of the physical environment and its adherence to/attainment of the specified production disciplines. I have reported on the physical environment in a previous post and will cover the built environment, the production requirements, and the wines herein.

Chianti DOCG is an appellation built on a Sangiovese foundation; and the same holds true for Chianti Rufina DOCG. The fundamental wine of the region is some mix of Sangiovese (> 70%), approved varieties (< 30%), white grapes (< 10%), and Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (< 15%). A listing of the varieties grown in the appellation is shown below.

There are a total of 22 producers of Chianti Rufino DOCG wines and, according to the Consorzio, 20 of those are members of the association. The map below shows the producers and their distribution across the region.

Chianti Rufino map with producers

While ownerships have changed over time (for the most part), a fair number of these locations have been in the grape-growing business for a minute. For example, grapes have been grown at the Selvapiano location since 1826, at Colognole since 1892, at I Veroni since 1585, etc. Notwithstanding the traditional ages of these estates, they are not hidebound, as almost 50% of the producers are either certified organic or are farming according to organic principles. It should be noted that many of these estates are large, with vineyard space accounting for relatively small shares of the surface area.

The table below illustrates the scope of Chianti Rufina DOCG wines.

Beginning with the 2018 vintage, the Chianti Rufino producers introduced a new tier of wine with the nomenclature Terraelectae, a collective mark of the Consorzia and the associated wine. The wine — requirements illustrated in the table above — was created to "eloquently express the finest qualities of Sangiovese in Tuscany.”

The producers had been exploring ways to achieve a more precise representation of their territorial uniqueness and decided that the way forward was to select their finest quality vineyards exclusively dedicated to Sangiovese — one cru per winery — to produce a wine named after that vineyard. The initial vintage was 2018 with ten participating producers. An additional two producers opted to wait until the 2019 or 2020 vintages to provide their offerings.

Writing in Decanter (Chianti Rufina ups its game with Terraelectae, 11/30/22). Michael Apstein stated that all of the 2018s showed very well. Those initial wines are illustrated below.

Apstein: “If the wines remain high-quality and a unique expression of Sangiovese reflecting the distinctive terroir of Chianti Rufina, the Terraelectae moniker on the label will be useful to customers.”

Writing in Terroir Sense Wine Review (The Magnificent 2019 Chianti Rufina Terraelectae Wine, 4/20/23), Ian D’Agata writes thusly about the sophomore edition of the wines: “I have no recollection of having ever, and I mean ever, tasted a similarly impressive set of new wines such as these 2019 Chianti Rufina Terraelectae wines.”

This is a forceful validation of the Chianti Rufina top-end wine direction from a force within the industry.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Sangiovese terroirs: Chianti Rufina

Chianti DOCG is a large wine zone spreading, as it does, over 15,000 ha and seven subzones in the heart of Tuscany. With a zone of this size, quality is bound to vary between producers and subzones and producers will engage in both intra- and inter-zone competition. For Chianti producers, this competition will extend to include Chianti Classico. 

Such is the case for the producers in Chianti Rufina, the smallest (12,453 ha) of the Chianti subzones.

Map of Chianti wine region with Chianti Rufina
enclosed within the red circle (Map sourced from

Chianti Rufina detail with districts indicated
by orange circles (Source:

Chianti Rufina is a source of well-regarded, high-altitude Sangiovese wines which punch above their weight in the market. According to Ian D'Agata, the region's wines:
... range from the sleek, steely, mineral and highly perfumed to the slightly plumper and richer; but to be clear, for the most part, Rufina's are Chiantis that are generally much more penetrating and lifted than any other Chianti or Chianti Classico wine.
Chianti Rufina has taken a step to stay abreast of Chianti Classico's top-level wine initiative (Gran Selezione) by introducing its own elevated-quality wine, Terraelectae. The high regard in which this region is held, and its fledgling initiative, dictate a deep dive on my part. I begin herein with the physical characteristics of the subregion.

Vine cultivation and wine-making in what is today’s Chianti Rufina region stretches back to Etruscan times. More recently, land records from 1401 attest to the presence of vineyards at Nipozzano. A document dating to the 15th century — the Statutes of the County of Turicchi, as approved by Messer Leonardo Salutati, the Bishop of Fiesole — records the penalties to be assessed in the event of vineyard fires.

The further history of vine growing in Chianti Rufina most likely mirrors the history of the broader Chianti as I have described it here (broader Tuscany in the 14th century), here (Chianti, 15th to 19th century) and here (Chianti, 20th century).

The first demarcation of the area occurred in the 18th century when Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, issued an edict on September 24, 1716, which declared the boundaries of four areas in Tuscany — Chianti, Pomino, Carmagno, and Val d’Arno di Sopra — in which the production and trade of wine "… was subject to regulation and control by the authorities.”

The demarcation of Chianti Rufino was further enshrined in a 1932 Italian Ministerial Decree which established the territorial limits of Chianti and defined the various sub-regions, inclusive of Rufino. Chianti Rufino attained DOC status in 1967 and DOCG status in 1984.

Chianti Rufino experiences hot summers, with average temperatures ranging between 22℃ and 23℃, and cold and moderately rainy winters. The average winter temperature ranges between 4℃ and 6℃. The average annual rainfall is between 900 and 1150 mm with a summer minimum, the main maximum in autumn, and a secondary maximum between winter and spring. Snowfall is relatively rare.

The region has a temperate sub-coastal climate, according to the Koeppin classification system (revised by Pinna for the Italian area):
  • Average annual temperature between 10℃ and 14.4℃
  • Average of the coldest month ranges between 4℃ and 5.9℃
  • Three months (June, July, August) with average temperature > 20℃
  • Annual temperature range: 16℃ - 19℃. 
The characteristic climate of Chianti Rufina is the result of a combination of factors (Consorzio):
  • Latitudinal factors
  • Orographic factors (slope, exposure, position)
  • The Mediterranean — source of masses of humid and mild air in all seasons 
  • The Atlantic Ocean — source of moist air masses and relatively mild (polar maritime) air that is colder than the Mediterranean with resulting perturbations causing frontal and vortex systems that are particularly frequent from autumn to spring
  • The Eurasian landmass — source of continental polar air masses, particularly cold and dry in the winter
  • The Arctic — source of cold air masses all seasons
  • The subtropical belt — source of torrid air masses which heat up and gain humidity as they pass over the Mediterranean.
As a part of its zonation study, the Consorzio arrived at the following conclusions vis a vis the Chianti Rufina climate:
  • … climate that in general can be defined as a warm temperate climate with a dry, hot summer
  • … conclude that the agroclimatic characteristics of the wine-growing area of Chianti Rufina make it a territory suited for quality viticulture
  • … the analysis of climatic resources shows excellent levers of radiative and thermal resources and rainfall , which are placed on values similar to those found in the best wine-growing areas in Italy and worldwide
  • Furthermore, the risk analysis of critical meteorological events for wine production (low winter temperatures, late frosts, high summer temperatures, precipitation in the pre-harvest period, drought) shows that the risk levels do not appear particularly relevant or in any case they are placed such as not to jeopardize viticulture.
Geology and Soils
The Chianti Rufina zonation study sought to identify the physical characteristics of the subregion and map those to vineyard characteristics in order to determine the optimal locations for allowed varieties. I have reported on the climatic findings of the study in a previous section and turn now to the terrestrial aspects.

The chart below shows the elevations within the Chianti Rufina area. As a result of the region’s location on the slopes of the Tuscan-Romagnola Apennines, growing zone elevations can reach as high as 700 m.

Altitude ranges in Chianti Rufina (Source:

The results of the geological and soil aspects of the zonation study are presented in the chart below.

Key elements of the physical environment have been curated from the writings of Ian D’Agata and Chateau Monty:
  • The average elevation across the growing zone is 350 m
  • Altitude helps with the moderation of summer heat as well as facilitating thermal excursions — aids acid and aroma retention in as well as extending the ripening period
  • Proximity to Arno and Sieve Rivers aids in moderation of summer heat
  • Soils of limestone (in the area extending south to Dicomano); sand, galestro-albarese, marl, and marly clays in the south; marly silt and chaotic soils west of Pontassieve and Tigliano; and differential soils in Molino del Piano and Santa Brigida.
I will explore the built environment and the wines of Chianti Rufina in future posts.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The spread of vitis vinifera in Western Eurasia

Dong, et al., shocked the wine world by providing genetic evidence of two separate, simultaneous domestications of vitis sylvestris, one in the Caucasus and the other in the Levant. I have described the study methodology and findings in previous posts

I have also written on the methodologies employed by the authors in attempting to answer questions regarding: (i) the diversification history of European wine grapevines and (ii) "when and how distinct grapevine ancestors formed in Europe with relevance to Syl-W introgressions." In this post I illustrate the vehicle and routes for grapevine distribution in Europe and North Africa.

Vehicle for Grapevine Spread
The Agricultural Revolution refers to the switch from hunting and gathering as the main methods of food production to the more sedentary domestication and husbanding of plants and animals. The revolution was characterized by domestication of wild flora and fauna and distribution between the original point of production and outlying areas either by migration or cultural exchange.

In the case of Eurasia and North Africa, “Neolithization” occurred when agricultural innovations developed in the Fertile Crescent were distributed to all points of the horizon on the backs of migrating agriculturists. The chart below illustrates the impetus and dispersal directions in the early part of the West-Asian-origin Agricultural Revolution.

The chart below shows the major population movements in Europe over the last 50,000 years. Hunter-gatherers who had moved south to escape the Ice Age had repopulated the continent, albeit with low-density groups.

This situation changed approximately 8500 years ago when " a wave of populations from the Middle East entered Europe via Anatolia." This migration wave spread farming practices into the region, "initiating the Neolithic Revolution in Europe."

These Anatolian-sourced farmers made their way into Europe via two routes: (i) a northern route across Central Europe and (ii) a westward route along the Mediterranean coast. The routes are illustrated graphically on the map below. The map also shows the ETA of agriculture for selected regions.

North Africa
According to Simōes, et al., the human population in North Africa had exhibited genetic continuity since the Upper Paleolithic, a period of isolation interrupted by the entry of European Early-Neolithic farmers. A study of genes retrieved from remains at a North African site, referred to as KTG, reveals that these European farmers were descendants of the Anatolian farmers who had spread to Europe by way of the Mediterranean route, eventually reaching the Iberian Peninsula.

These migrants travelled to Morocco around 5500 BCE bringing with them new ways of life, farming practices, domestication traditions, and pottery traditions, all of which were adopted by the indigenous populace. 

A second group of genes show up in the profile of the Moroccan populace. This new migratory group is thought to be descendants of the pastoralists who had exited the Fertile Crescent and crossed the Sinai, traveling along the African Mediterranean coast and arriving in Morocco 1000 years after the descendants of the Anatolian-origin farmers.

Grapevine Distribution
The cultivar CG1, a table grape, made its way out of its domestication center north towards Anatolia and west towards North Africa (for the purposes of this post). Somewhere within the domestication center, or within Anatolia, there was a significant introgression of Syl-W genes into CG1. Shortly thereafter, the Muscat cultivar split off from CG1. The new ancestor variant -- CG3 in the figure below — was used both as a table grape and a wine grape.

As the Anatolian farmers traversed Europe in search of new agricultural land, they carried the CG1 cultivar along with them and it interacted with Syl-W variants along the way to form new ancestor-cultivars in the Balkans, the Iberian Peninsula, and Western France (called the Western European ancestor in the below chart).

Dong, et al., identifies the Moroccan vitis vinifera as being inconsistent with a cultivar that travelled through Europe and then crossed over to Morocco. The vines did not exhibit the shared introgression from Syl-W that all European grapes possess. The Moroccan vines would have transited Africa with the descendants of the Levant-origin migrants, finally bringing vinous relief to the inhabitants 1000 years after it was available just across the strait.

The characteristics of the grapes distributed across Europe are as indicated in the table below.

Ancestry Group


Date of Split from CG1

Syl-W introgression



10,500 years ago

11.4 - 18% ancient


Balkan Wine

8070 years ago



Iberian Wine

7740 years ago



Western European Wine

6910 years ago

ditto + 25 - 30% more recent Syl-W introgression

I will continue the series with discussions of the distribution of vitis vinifera north into the Caucasus and east into Iran in upcoming posts.

EurekaAlert, Human Mobility and Western Asia’s early State-level societies, Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology, 5/26/20.
D. Baird, et al., Agricultural origins on the Anatolian Plateau, 3/9/18.
Jan Bartek, Genomics and Archaeology Rewrite the Neolithic Revolution in the Maghreb, ancient, 6/28/2023.
B. Bramanti, et al., Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers, science, Vol 326, Issue 5949, 3 Sept 2009.
Muhal Feldman, et al., Late Pleistocene human genome suggests a local origin for the first farmers of central Anatolia, Nature Communications, 10 (1258), 2019.
Iosif Lazaridis, et al., Genomic insights into the origin of farming in the ancient Near East, Nature 536, 2016.
Iosif Lazaridis, et al., Ancient DNA from Mesopotamia suggests distinct Pre-Pottery and Pottery Neolithic migrations into Anatolia, Science 377, 6609, 25 Aug, 2022.
Fernando Racimo, et al., The spatiotemporal spread of human migrations during the European Holocene, PNAS, April 2020.
Luciana G. Simōes, et al., Northwest African Neolithic initiated by migrants from Iberia and Levant, Nature, 618, 6/-6/23.
Laura Spinney, When the First Farmers Arrived in Europe, Inequality Evolved, Scientific American, 7/1/2020.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, July 23, 2023

The Muscat wines of Samos, Greece

The Muscat grape is one of the oldest and most widespread grape families in the world, splitting, as it did, from the main branch of vitis vinifera some 10,500 years ago. The, predominantly, white wine has a pronounced aromatic quality due to the higher-than-average presence of aroma compounds in the berry. The most planted of the over 200 cultivars in the family are Muscat Blanc á Petits Grains and Muscat of Alexandria and my survey of these cultivars began with a review of the former as implemented in the wines of Asti DOCG. In this post I continue the survey with a review of the Muscat wines of Samos, Greece.

Lying just 1 mile off the western coast of Turkey, the Greek North Aegean island of Samos shows occupation layers back to Neolithic times, has been ruled by every historical Western Asia great power, and is, today, one of the world renowned producers of wines from the Muscat grape.

Samos is the birthplace of notables such as Pythagoras (Greek philosopher and mathematician) Melissus of Samos (philosopher), Epicurus (philosopher), and Aristarchus of Samos (astronomer) and is the location of historically significant sites such as the Pythagorian and the Heraion of Samos. 

While the wines of Samos have been praised by Hippocrates and Theophiastos, it is unlikely that the mentioned wines were from the Muscat variety. The island was repopulated with peoples from all across Greece in the latter half of the 16th century and, according to (Viniculture at Samos), it is most likely that the Muscat grape was first brought to the island from Asia Minor around this time. According to the same source, the Muscat wine of Samos was first mentioned in the poem of Kaisarios Daponte (1714 - 1784) a priest and scholar from Skopelos.

In the early 18th century, Samos Muscat was traded to nearby Chios, Rhodes, Smyrna, and Constantinople. By mid-century it had reached the Russian market in Odessa and Taganrog. There is mention of a 3000-barrel Muscat wine production on the island in 1787 by a German named Friesman.

There was a decrease in production during the 1821 War of Independence but, overall, there were improvements in wine production and consumption during the 19th century. The French winemaker Faye was called to the island by the Government to teach advanced grapegrowing and winemaking techniques to Samian farmers. Shortly after, a young Samian was sent to France to learn winemaking techniques which he was expected to share with fellow winemakers upon his return.

During this period trade links expanded into the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Italy, Netherlands, and France and foreign companies settled on the island to be close to the grape sources.

There were significant vineyard losses during the latter half of the 19th century:
  • Blight during the 1850s was ameliorated by the use of sulfur
  • Phylloxera struck in 1892 and destroyed most of the vineyards, leading to a switch to tobacco
    • Vineyards were restored with the introduction of American rootstocks.
The foreign companies that were established on the island had pricing power over the many small growers so formation of some type of Coop had been under consideration since 1865. However, such a Coop was not founded until 1934. The now named United Winemaking Agricultural Cooperative of Samos (UWC Samos) has 2000+ growers as members. UWC Samos receives the grapes, produces the wine, and trades almost the entire production.

Physical Environment
Samos is 45 km (30 miles) from east to west, with several distinct mountain formations running across it. The mountains are separated by plains and valleys, the former of which is populated by olive groves and citrus trees. Bushes, pine forests, plane trees, cypresses, and chestnuts round out the large-scale flora on the island.

The soils are gravel, schistolistic, well-drained and moderately fertile. No irrigation is allowed. 

There are over 1400 ha of vineyards distributed across the island, with most found on the north side between Karlovasi and the city of Samos, especially on the northern slopes of the centrally located Mount Ampelos where:
  • Vines are protected from warm southerly winds
  • Altitudes of up to 900 m temper the warm Mediterranean climate
  • High diurnal temperature is the norm
    • Slows ripening
    • Aids development of aroma and character
    • Allows acidity retention.
Ninety-eight percent of the vines are Muscat. Vineyards are mountainous and semi-mountainous with the best wines coming from sites located at altitudes between 500 and 600 m. The cup-shaped vines are grown on dry stone terraces which are designed to hold and drain soils. The traditional vineyard architecture is illustrated in the pictures below.

Terraced Samos vineyard (Source:

Close-up of Samos stone terraces

Training of Samos Muscat vines

Samos Wines
The sweet rich wines from Muscat Blanc á Petits Grains are among Greece's most famous, exported as they are around the world. These wines are produced centrally in the two UWC Samos wineries located in Malagari and Karlovasi, respectively. Karlovasi produces wine from grapes grown in the northern part of the island while the Malagari winery services the grapes grown elsewhere. The Malagari site also serves as the home of the Samos Wine Museum.

UWC of Samos produces around 5 million liters of wine annually with 70% of the production exported to 25 countries. Ninety-eight percent of the wine produced is white with the remainder reds from varieties including Ritino, Fakiano, and Avgoustiatis. The sweet wines produced by the Coopp are illustrated in the chart below.

The Coop does produce some dry wines (e.g., Samaina, a dry Rosé from two rare reds, and a Retsina) but they are less prominent.

Writing on Giannis Karakasis MW's Greek Wine Explained (10/28/20), Evangelie Kostaki noted a few key trends as regards Samos wine:
  • Between 2012 and 2020, a number of new wineries had "popped up" and the newer ones were run by "young people"
  • Creation of new wine styles
    • Single-vineyard wines versus cross-island wines
      • Muscat Nature Selection
    • Dry wines
      • Samos embracing the potential of producing quality dry wines from Muscat Blanc á Petits Grains
  • Vineyard changes
    • Uproot vineyards in the plains
      • Close to the sea
      • Diseases tend to flourish due to high humidity
      • Heavy, fertile soil with high water-holding capacity not ideal for highest quality wines
    • Plantings sporadically increasing in semi-mountainous areas
      • Better aeration
      • Large diurnal range
      • Sufficient ripening.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Fonterenza (Sant'Angelo in Colle, Montalcino, Tuscany): Wines and winemaking

Fonterenza is located in Sant’Antimo in Colle, southeast of the town of Montalcino, where they planted their first vines in 1999. In addition to the vines on Montalcino, the sisters have been purchasing grapes from old vineyards on Mt Amiata and recently invested in their own vineyard on the mountain. In my most recent post I discussed the physical environment of the Fonterenza estate. In this post I round out the picture of the enterprise by describing its winemaking practices and wines.

Fonterenza produces eight wines (shown below): three whites, one Rosato, and four reds.

White Wines
All of the Fonterenza white wines are made with some degree of skin contact and all are IGT. The Bianco IGT is a blend of Ansonica, Trebbiano, Malvasia Toscana, and Malvasia di Candia sourced from a vineyard -- La Casa -- located in Capalbio on the Tuscan coast. The organically farmed, 60-year-old vines are co-planted in sandy, iron-rich soils. The first vintage of this wine was in 2018.

The Le Ragazze is a 50/50 blend of Vermentino and Malvasia Toscana made from organically farmed Mt Amiata grapes.

Biancospino is a Trebbiano varietal made with biodynamic fruit grown in the Casale Vineyard in Poggibonsi. Future plans call for the fruit to be sourced from the Ciliegi Vineyard on Mt Amiata.

Grapes for the white wines are hand-harvested, destemmed (partially, in the case of the Bianco), and gently pressed. The must is fermented spontaneously in stainless steel tanks (Bianco and Biancospino) and open vats (Le Ragazze) with no sulfur added. In the case of the Bianco, the must is a mix of whole cluster and destemmed fruit. The Bianco is macerated for 2 - 6 days and the Le Ragazze and Biancospino for 30 days each.

The aging regime for the wines are as follows:
  • Bianco -- mix of old oak and cement
  • Le Ragazze -- mix of tonneau, acacia barriques, terracotta, and steel tanks
  • Biancospino -- 12 months in old oak.
The wines are all bottled without filtration.

The Rosato is made from Sangiovese grapes sourced fro each of the estate's Montalcino vineyards. The wine is fermented by indigenous yeasts and remains on the skins for 20 hours. The wine is aged for 7 months in acacia barriques.

Red Wines
The red wines are all 100% Sangiovese (with the exception of Pettirosso, a blend of Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo) made with grapes sourced from the estate's Montalcino vineyards (except Pettirosso, the sourcing of which is illustrated in the chart below).

The Albarello grapes contributed to the Rosso di Montalcino until the decision was made to begin bottling the wine separately beginning in 2015.

The grapes for all of the Montalcino-based red wines are hand-harvested, with the Brunello di Montalcino taken in multiple passes. Once in the cellar, the grapes are destemmed and fermentation is initiated. The grapes are fermented spontaneously without temperature control, oenological products, or chemical/physical treatments. A variety of cap management techniques -- to include pumping over, delestage, manual punch downs, and submerged cap -- are employed. The grapes from the various Rosso di Montalcino vineyards are vinified separately but blended prior to aging. 

The fermentation and aging regimes are summarized below.

The estate avers that its winemaking approach "preserves the characteristics of the vintage and express our terroir to the fullest." 

The diverse range of wines showcase the estate's versatility and dedication to expressing the unique characteristic of each variety and vineyard. From the skin-contact for the whites, to the lack of additives during the fermentation process, the estate demonstrates its commitment to minimal intervention to natural processes and minimal intervention

©Wine -- Mise en abyme