Pallagrello Nero

Posted by Keith Wallace

In Italy, countless grape varietals have been lost in time, never to be tasted again. But occasionally, a variety long thought extinct reappears, offering a glimpse into the past and a chance to taste something truly unique. Such is the case with Pallagrello Nero, a red grape from the Campania region of Italy, returning after nearly vanishing from existence.

Pallagrello Nero, derived from “U parallel,” meaning “small ball,” has a historical past that dates back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans were known to cultivate the grape; it was written in Natural History, in the works of “Pliny, the Elder,” in 77 AD. This grape emerged in Italy in the 18th century on the slopes of the Matese mountains. This varietal became favored by Ferdinand IV of Bourbon and took place in the Palace of Caserta, in the “Vigna del Ventaglio.” It was a royal vineyard divided into ten rows, with all the favored grapes from the Kingdom of Two Sicily shaped like a fan. However, Pallagrello Nero fell out of favor for its low-yielding delicate product, and Phylloxera affected these regions. By the 1990s, only a few scattered vines remained.

But thanks to the efforts of a small group of winemakers and local government officials and organizations, Pallagrello Nero is making a comeback. Officials recognize the importance of the wine-making history in Camagnia and provide funding to support this mission. The research of this vine’s origin is still under test, but soon, we will know more about this grape’s history to have a better understanding.

There is no DOC for this varietal. However, in 1995 Pallagrello Nero landed the Terre del Volturno IGP. There are approximately 69 hectares of vines of Pallagrello Negro located in the Volturno IGP. While Campania is renowned for its volcanic wines produced around Mout Vesuvius, this wine comes from Caserta’s sandy arenaceous soils, which is what these hillsides in Volturno consist of. In recent years, the Matese area became interested in cultivating this vine in small wineries between Piedimonte and Raviscanin.

Peppe Mancini is the most notable winemaker who has been instrumental in reviving Pallagrello Nero. Mancini and Manuela Piancastelli own the Terre del Principe winery in the Terre del Volturno IGP. They have been working with Pallagrello Nero for over 20 years. Peppe was one of the first winemakers to recognize this grape’s potential and advocated for its revival.

Mancini has been growing Pallagrello Nero since the 1980s, and he has worked tirelessly to refine his methods and produce high-quality wines that showcase this unique grape. Today his wines are widely regarded as some of the best examples of Pallagrello Nero. His flagship wine is a blend of Pallagrello Nero and Casavecchia, another rare grape from Campania.

Another notable producer is Giovanni Ascione, the founder of Nanni Cope winery, located in the Caserta province. His Pallagrello grapes are placed in traditional rows neighboring Aglianico in the Caiatine hills where Ferdinand’s vineyard once was. Ascione expresses the Pallagrello Nero in its original delicate style, making this grape unfavorable and nearly extinct. Luigi Moio, Naples enology professor and winemaker, also played a part in the revival of this grape by growing and producing high-quality Pallagrello Nero and other local grapes and promoting it to the wine enthusiast.

Some of the challenges these winemakers face are convincing international consumers to try native grapes like Pallagrello Nero. Because the grape is relatively unknown, it can be challenging to market. But those who have tasted wines made from this varietal are often impressed by the wine’s depth of flavor and unique character. The grape produces full-bodied and complex wines with dark fruit, spice, and earth notes. However, winemakers could also make it more delicate, lending itself more like a pinot noir.

Recently, there has been growing interest in Pallagrello Nero in Italy and abroad. The grape has been featured in top wine publications, becoming a favorite among sommeliers and enthusiasts. Some wineries are even planting new vines of Pallagrello Nero, betting on the variety’s potential for success in the future.

Pallagrello Nero is not just a rare grape variety making a comeback. It is also about the people dedicated to preserving and promoting the wine heritage of their region. For wine lovers, the revival of Pallagrello Nero is an exciting development. It offers a chance to taste a unique and rare wine nearly lost to history. But it is also a reminder of the importance of preserving and celebrating the cultural heritage embedded in wine. If we keep seeking out wines made from indigenous grapes, we can help ensure that the legacy of grapes like Pallagrello Nero lives on for generations.

Shannon Stratton

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