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Researchers Uncover Parentage of Sangiovese

Two researchers working in Italy have discovered the parentage of Italy's most widely planted red grape variety

Lynn Alley
Posted: November 17, 2004

Swiss researcher José Vouillamoz revealed today the parentage of the Sangiovese grape at the Second International Symposium on Sangiovese in Florence, Italy.

From their research at the Instituto Agrario di San Michele all'Adige, Vouillamoz and his colleague Stella Grando found Sangiovese to be the progeny of Ciliegiolo (believed to be an ancient Tuscan variety) and an obscure and possibly near-extinct grape variety called "Calabrese Montenuovo," which was found by the owners of a winery in southern Italy, near Naples. The mysterious variety was brought to the region by the winery's previous owners, who had come from Calabria, the toe of the boot of Italy. "We still don't know exactly what [Calabrese Montenuovo] is," Vouillamoz said, "but it is the parent of Sangiovese."

In 2002, Italian researchers used DNA profiling to establish that Ciliegiolo had a parent/progeny relationship with Sangiovese, but were unable to determine which was parent and which was progeny.

Vouillamoz, a grapevine geneticist who also helped discover the relatives of Nebbiolo, has compiled what he believes to be the world's largest database of grapevine DNA profiles. After entering Ciliegiolo into his database, he searched for a possible second parent, first using Sangiovese as the parent and Ciliegiolo as the progeny. When he found nothing, he scanned the database again, using Ciliegiolo as the parent. "With Ciliegiolo as the parent, we had a few candidates [for the second parent]," he said. "After deeper analysis we were able to isolate one candidate, an accession that Grando's collaborators recently collected from a winery in Campania … Calabrese Montenuovo."

Sangiovese is the primary grape in the reds of Montalcino, Carmignano, Chianti, Chianti Classico and Montepulciano. There are an estimated 247,000 acres of it planted in Italy, primarily in Tuscany, which is considered to be the variety's home. Vouillamoz was quick to stress that the Calabrese in question should not be confused with Nero d'Avola, a popular grape variety native to Sicily that is also sometimes referred to as "Calabrese." "The name 'Calabrese' has been erroneously applied to a great number of grape cultivars throughout Italy," he said.

Vouillamoz hopes to next establish the identity of the mysterious Calabrese Montenuovo by looking at the many indigenous varieties of Calabria. "In the near future we would like to analyze all available ancient and indigenous varieties in Calabria," he said. "We will hunt down these Calabrian varieties in search of our mysterious 'Calabrese.' We will imitate the cry of Sangiovese, hoping his mother will recognize him and come to us."

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