Schioppettino, the grape that launched a revolution…

In the mid-1970s, Giannola Nonino (pictured left with mixologist Mike Ryan) helped to revive forgotten native Italian grape varieties when she launched the first-ever Nonino prize. The first winner of the award was the Rapuzzi family…

Anglophones love to say Schioppettino (here’s the entry for Schioppettino in the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project). Perhaps it’s because of the variety’s purported onomatopoeic properties: some speculate that the name derives from the fact that the thick-skinned grape pops in the mouth when you bite into it; others believe that commonly encountered secondary fermentation and the resulting fizziness gave rise to its name (an early printed mention — 1823 — of the ampelonym is Scopp, according to Calò et alia).

As for the majority of Italian grape names, we’ll probably never know the etymon. But this lacuna doesn’t diminish our pleasure in saying Schioppettino (try it).

Above: In a tasting of roughly 15 Schioppettino producers from the township of Prepotto (the village where the grape is cultivated most famously), Pizzulin and Due Terre were standouts for me (the Due Terre entry was a blend of Schioppettino and Refosco). I also liked Petrussa and La Viarte. Here’s a link to a list of all the members of the Association of Prepotto Schioppettino Producers. The tasting was hosted by the Stanig winery in its restaurant/agriturismo and there is also an Enoteca dello Schioppettino worth visiting in Prepotto.

In many ways, Schioppettino and its revival in the late 1970s were precursors to the current renaissance of indigenous Italian grape varieties.

In 1976, the Rapuzzi family won the first-ever Nonino Prize — the Risit d’Âur or Golden Rootstock award — for its success in cultivating the forgotten grape. (Sadly, the wine they made from the 1975 vintage was never tasted because it was lost in the 1976 earthquake in Friuli, one of the many catastrophic events that shaped and defined the Friulian ethos in the twentieth century.)

In era when the great architects of the revival of “real wines,” Luigi Veronelli and Mario Soldati, were pioneering a new vinography that championed the indigenous over the international, Schioppettino was one of the earliest rallying cries. At the time, it was not authorized by the official “album” of government-sanctioned grape varieties and the Rapuzzi family risked a stiff fine and forced grubbing up. Lobbying by the Nonino family, combined with Veronelli’s patronage, helped to convince authorities to stand down. Today, the canonical rootstock for Schioppettino sold by the Rauscedo nursery is named “Rapuzzi”.

Above: In Prepotto, they pair Schioppettino with herb frittata, frico, and polenta. I think it could go with just about any type of comfort food. Photo by JC Reid.

Of all the tastings we attended in the Colli Orientali del Friuli last week, Schioppettino seemed to be the grape that excited the bloggers the most.

Was it because so little Schioppettino makes the Atlantic crossing?

Was it because the grape makes for juicy wines, with bright acidity and balanced alcohol?

Was it because of the grape’s signature spice, teetering somewhere between white pepper and cinnamon?

Maybe it’s because it’s just so fun to say Schioppettino

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Bladder campion (silene vulgaris) in season in Friuli

Photo via Un architetto in cucina.

I’m posting today from Friuli where the spring has arrived early and the arrival of spring here means that bladder campion (silene vulgaris, above) is in season.

Known locally as sciopeti, the herb is used in a variety of dishes and so far, I’ve been served two risottos with this gently bitter green (see below).

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Picolit, a primer…

Nonino’s first grappa made from a single grape variety — i.e., monovarietal grappa — was made from Picolit. Here’s a short backgrounder on the grape…

Picolit is one of Friuli’s most fascinating and prestigious indigenous grape varieties. Highly prized for its delicate aromatic profile, Picolit has been the favored wine of royalty for centuries.

In high-quality vineyards, farmers do whatever they can to reduce the fruit yields so that the vines concentrate all of their energy into a smaller number of grapes. Picolit, however, has its own unique process of slimming down yields. The vine undergoes a spontaneous flower abortion that results in a grape cluster that does not have all of its berries. Its name, in fact, comes from the Italian word piccolo, meaning small, a reference to the yields and also the size of the grapes. The fruit that does grow on these sparsely populated clusters is much more concentrated and, in the end, creates a wine of unparalleled complexity.

Picolit saw the height of its popularity in the royal courts of the 18th century. Count Fabio Asquini is credited with helping the variety reach international fame. He recorded his methods of successful farming of the difficult grape, but production went into decline nonetheless due to the high cost of cultivation. The worldwide Philoxera epidemic was also a factor.

High levels of acidity and sugar make Picolit ideal for dessert wine. The most common styles are passito (drying of the grapes in ventilated rooms) and late-harvest (allowing the grapes to dry slowly on the vines).

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Grappa, a definition…

Grappa is the ultimate expression of vineyard economy. It is technically a brandy, but is made from the pomace (skins, seeds, and stems as opposed to the must in traditional brandy) leftover from the winemaking process. Nothing is wasted.

So how do we define grappa? How is it set apart from other, similar distillates? The following criteria must be in place: Grappa can only be produced in Italy, San Marino, or Italian Switzerland; it is made from pomace, and no other additives (such as flavoring or water) can be included in the production.

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The Bitter Venetian at the Indian Road Café (New York) @TheTipsyCow1

@TheTipsyCow1 shared this GORGEOUS photograph of the “Bitter Venetian” made with Amaro by Nonino and served at the Indian Road Café in New York.

Click here for the recipe.

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The Nonino Prize for Literature

Founded in 1975, the Nonino Prize (Premio Nonino) started out as a way to recognize the achievement of local growers who were reviving and safeguarding indigenous grape varieties.

But today, it also recognizes literary achievement.

This year the prestigious award went to Chinese poet Yang Lian (pictured above, center, with Nobel Laureate for Literature, V.S. Naipaul, who presented him with the prize).

From the PEN International website:

Chinese poet and PEN International Board Member Yang Lian has been awarded the International Nonino 2012 literary prize, joining academics of the calibre of William Trevor, Edward Said and René Girard. The jury, presided over by the Nobel Laureate for Literature, V.S. Naipaul, praised the work of Yang Lian as an example of the heights of Chinese contemporary thought:

“Grounded to the millenary roots of his culture, he reinterprets it, reinventing and opening it to the tensions of contemporaneity, touching in his lines all the great questions of our existence and reminding us that ‘poetry is our only mother tongue’.”

Yang Lian’s poetry became well-known in the West in the 1980s after his sequence, ‘Noriland’ was criticized by the Chinese authorities during the ‘Anti-Spiritual Pollution’ movement against writing which contained themes and associations with Tibet. Living in exile since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, Lian’s work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his ‘Where the Sea Stands Still: New Poems’ was the Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation in 1999. Lian’s latest writing, ‘Narrative Poetry’ was destroyed by the Chinese authorities because if its references to Tiananmen Square, but has been praised by critics, and the author continues to write and speak out as a highly individual voice in world literature. A PEN International Board member since 2008, Yang Lian has participated as an adviser of to ‘Free the Word’ festival events and was artistic director of the seminar series, ‘Unique Mother Tongue’. He continues to make an important contribution to the PEN International community.

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A shout out from…

Click here to read what had to say about Nonino Grappa Monovitigno Picolit.

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