On the Road with the Grape Guy

Visit to Cantina Ninni (Umbria, Italy)

24 Nov 2020

(February 23, 2020) … Here a small group of writers gather to get a firsthand look at Trebbiano Spoletino (or Trebbiano Spoleto) vines and a winemaker that has created something “new” from historical roots. Gianluca and the writers

First, there is quite a bit of confusion around this grape variety – “Trebbiano” is a catch all term for some loosely related (or even undefined) white grapes from Italy – it’s as if you don’t know what to call the grape you call it “Trebbiano” … what makes Spoletino unique are the characteristics it brings to the wine … It’s interesting to note that while Trebbiano Spoletino and Trebbiano Spoleto seem to be interchangeable when discussing the grape / wine the easiest way to remember is Spoleto is the DOC governing the wines and Spoletino is the grape variety – clear as mud right?

Gianluca and the tree-vineNow, back to Ninni … Owner Gianluca Piernera has 70-year-old, un-grafted vines on the property and is also creating an experimental / clonal Spoletino vineyard propagated from a 150-year-old vine that has trained itself to a tree – which, according to him (and legend), is the way the vines grew back in the olden days before we learned to train them in rows.

The winery produces 1200 bottles per year, while the winery itself was established in 2012 (though it was purchased in 2006); it is unclear to me if Gianluca bought it with the notion of starting a winery, or if the idea to open a winery came afterward - my inability to speak fluent Italian and/or ask the question properly prevented me from getting the final answer – even my translator was unclear about the answer.

The Wines …

Our tasting consisted of a flight of Trebbiano Spoletino (2018 back to 2015) and then a random selection of other wines.

Poggio del Vescovo DOC Spoleto
Gianluca always makes the same number of bottles annually: 4000
2018 - nice and fresh with great minerality (eg: saltiness), lovely acidity along with citrus notes of pith and zest.
2017 - very oxidative nose and palate – not very palatable.
2016 - better than the 17 but still not showing off a great potential to age – very disappointing.
2015 - this one surprised the heck out of me, I was about ready to give up on the age-ability of Spoletino, but this one turned my thinking around; citrus notes with lively acidity freshness and mac apple … does the wine need a few years to return back to its initial freshness, or is this vintage dependent? More research is needed … perhaps an annual visit to the region (one can only hope)?

Ninni Sparkling2019 L'Edoardo Frizzante (method ancestral)
Made from a blend of “bianca locale autoctona” (local autochthonous white grapes) so says the literature we are given … fresh and lively with citrus, apple and pear – this simple fizzy wine is made of 90% Spoletini and 10% Malvasia (the mystery of the literature revealed) – or that is what is admitted to.

2015 DiavolacciuNinni Red
A six grape blend highlighted by Montepulciano (40%), Barbera (20%) and Ciliegiolo (15%) – with some Sangiovese, Aleatico and a little Merlot. It spends 6 months in barrel, 2 months in steel and 18 months in bottle. The red fruit notes peak through at the beginning and then on the mid-palate turn black … The interesting mix of grapes here creates a wine that’s rich and robust with nicely layered tannins on the finish where cassis, bittersweet cocoa, cedar and smoke also show up. This is a delicious, complex wine – one of the best in the portfolio.

2019 Pilurusciu Frizzante (method ancestral)
100% Sangiovese with a little bit of fizz, taken from 50-year-old vines, it seems a funny thing to do with such “regal” (read: old vines), but Gianluca seems to be one of those guys who’s willing to take a chance and try something different. Lively strawberry from the outset with lemon drop and a slight mineral finish.


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