Schioppettino, the next big thing? (history of its revival and fortune)

April 10, 2012

Above: The folks at Ronco del Gnemiz hosted a vertical tasting of Schioppettino — stretching back to to 1989 — for the COF2012 bloggers last week. The township of San Giovanni al Natisone (where their property is located) is not the historical epicenter of the variety. But when current owner Serena’s father bought the estate in the 1950s, there were Schioppettino vines growing there — an indication of its popularity in another era. They still make one botte (large cask) of Schioppettino every year.

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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