No one knows for certain where the name Slarina comes from but Torino university researchers believe it might come from the Piedmontese word sinréna and related Italian cenerina, a reference to the bloom that commonly appears on this red grape’s skin (ceneri means ashes in Italian, hence the association with bloom, the powdery deposit sometimes found on the berries).
I finally had the chance to taste a couple of bottlings of Slarina when I visited my friends at the lovely Cascina Iuli in Montaldo di Cerrina in Piedmont’s Alessandria province over the weekend.
One was from a nearby farm where the owners have only recently begun growing and vinifying the grape. The other was from my hosts’ estate, where grower Fabrizio Iuli, known for his deft hand at lo-input winemaking, has already produced a handful of vintages from this erstwhile forgotten Piedmont variety.
Italian agriculture officials probably removed Slarina from the registry of authorized varieties during the country’s post-war viticultural renaissance because of its inconsistent productivity, a fate shared by countless highly localized grapes like this.
Because it was illegal to grow, it was all but abandoned by farmers in Monferrato where Fabrizio was born and lives with his family. Thanks to the work of University of Torino’s department of agriculture, it’s been redeemed from oblivion.
Like many of his progressive sisters-and-brothers-in-arms, Fabrizio is keenly interested in reviving its fortunes — a homage to an underexploited but rich heritage.
The slightly underripe red fruit and berry flavors in the brightly colored wines were by no means overwhelmed by their surprisingly tannic character. They were particularly delicious and well paired with juicy red steak our hosts served that night.
Young American wine professionals are always excited to learn about grapes like Slarina,
a variety plucked from the boundless treasure box of Italy’s evanished vines and winemaking traditions. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will be well received in my home country. There was even talk of Fabrizio’s planned visit to the states to present a micro-vertical tasting of the three vintages he’s produced.
Slarina, the next Piedmont grape you’ve never heard of, may be coming to a town near you soon.