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Ortrugo must truly be an obscure grape, and I can prove it. First point, there are no good pictures of it on the internet, meaning it barely exists in the Web 2.0 world. Second point, the restaurant had only bottle of this stuff and said that it’s only grown in Piacenza, which is really far west in that shaded map above (seriously, no good pics). Third and most damning point, wikipedia had the name wrong (ortruga) on the Colli Piacentini page (“hills of piacenza”) that mentioned the various grapes grown in the region, of which only Ortrugo did not have a wikipage. If I’m the one fixing the wikipage, it’s really the apocalypse of the internet.

The restaurant wasn’t lying when they said it’s only around Piacenza. All the blogs that talk about Ortrugo grape discuss a foreigner stumbling across Ortrugo in bucolic Italy, discovering its slightly fizzy zest and having their (presumbly sun-drenched) afternoon be completed like Jerry McGuire in the elevator. My experience couldn’t have been more different. Restaurant called Uva on the UES, freezing cold outside, after work in a suit, sitting at the bar alone, waiting for a friend. Find the romance in that one, Italy. All mawkish-ness aside, this Kyle Phillips guy wrote one informative post on Ortrugo and he’d have made the RSS feed if his last post wasn’t from July 2010. Well-worth the read (ed. note: for those who read the link while it lasted), especially if you like getting an actual description of how the different types of Ortrugo taste.


At the basic level, Ortrugo can be semi-fizzy or still (frizzante or tranquilo, in what I presume is Italian). It can be straight (like all good alcoholic beverages) or blended (usually with Malvasia). My particular wine was fizzy and unblended, like a champagne gone right. I was thinking flowers and tart apple, maybe with a bit of rounder fruit like a peach, but mostly apple. Little fizzy, lot of tart, lot of apple and, not too rounded – this is definitely my style of wine. Not sure where you find this wine other than Uva.

Detail Up!
Cantine bonelli Ortrugo Fizzante

Random Googles

* Colli Piacentini wins the “Wine for Dummies” award for Emilia’s “most renowned wine district” (no really, it’s in the “Wine for Dummies” book)
* Trebbianino Val Trebbia is an important wine that only Italian wikiusers care about. It has Ortrugo and comes from Piacenza.
* Known aliases of Ortrugo include: Trebbiano Romagnolo, Altrugo, Barbesino and Vernesino Bianco.

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Lagrein is a grape that I wasn’t even sure was a grape. It was only through a process of elimination that I determined Lagrein was the grape in this bottle. First, Tobin James – biggest font on the bottle, meaning winemaker (probably). Next, Paso Robles – heard of it and know it’s in California so not the grape. Year, alcohol content and “silver reserve” – nothing sounding like a grape. Lagrein it is.

Anyway, Tobin James doesn’t list this grape on their website so they might not even make it anymore. Having never heard of it before or seen it anywhere in a wine store, it seems pretty rare here in the US. In really northern Italy, knocked up next to Austria in Trentino-Alto Adige, this Lagrein is at home. Outside of its home, wikipedia calls it “rare to the point of obscurity.” Needless to say, it’s pretty cool that a friend brought it to the mac&cheese&wine party the other night.

The wine tasted a lot like a dusty shiraz, kinda more stringent and earthy without all that fruit. It looked about the same color as a Shiraz and had the same body (and high alcohol-content) but lacked all the fruit that Aussies love to export and Americans love to import. Blackberry shouted down all the other flavors in the wine but really the wine was about the structure. Not sure if they blend this in with others (yup, see below), but it’s got the body for blending and a pretty unique dirty smokey quality going for it. Less like a fine cigar, more like a country road, it’s a pretty unique wine. Not amazing but not lackluster either, certainly happy to have tried it.

Detail Up!
Tobin James 2008 Lagrein from Paso Robles – cellartracker’s pic above too

Random Googles
* Lagrein – related to Syrah, Pinot Noir and (really obscure) Dureza
* Australia’s playing around with Lagrein in trial patches to blend it with Shiraz
* Highly tannic grape that winemakers age for 18+ months

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Hello Nero D’Avola, we meet again. You sound dirty, you look filthy, and yet I see you on every Italian menu. Somebody must have a serious fetish or you’ve bribed the right people.

Tonight’s choice (by the restaurant, as there was really only one Nero d’Avola on the menu) was Sedara Donnafugata, which is included solely to help me remember since there is nothing I know about the vineyard.

As for the wine, it’s dark enough to dye my tongue a deep-hued twilight and fruity in all kinds of crazy ways. Smelling it, I’m certain it’s a blackberry, tasting it it’s a blueberry and bramble, and thinking about it afterward, it’s some kind of raspberry. Seriously, I’m at a loss to describe it as anything other than fruity. Fruity in all kinds of ways that aren’t giving it adequate description. It’s not even that it’s so subtle (it’s not) or comlex (really pretty simple actually), it’s just that there’s loads of fruit and I’m inept enough not to know what kinds of fruit.

Nero D’Avola… is in fact a grape. Was kinda worried since Italy seems to mess around with regions and grapes so you’re never sure quite what’s going on but you’re generally happy with how it’s going. Figure it’s sort of like dating an Italian guy. Anyway, the grape’s popping up on the popularity charts and the Meatpacking District has a bar named after it, so it’s only a matter of time until Sicily can’t grow enough and the Hong Kong market starts exploding with overpriced bottles of Nero. In conclusion, Nero was an Italian emperor (a crazy one) and Nero d’Avola is an Italian grape (only crazy dark, not crazy delicious).

Random Googles
* Nero d’Avola – easiest to think of it as Italy’s Syrah
* Sicily is where Nero d’Avola lives. NYC is where it parties.
* Nobody has much more to say about Nero on the internets so I’ll do it. It’s a hot grape, both in that Paris Hilton way from the early 2000’s and in that 90 degree, sweltering can-grow-in-Australia way.

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