Pugnitello – The Forgotten Grape

Pugnitello – The Forgotten Grape

Today’s topic is an ancient and almost forgotten red grape from Northern Tuscany: Pugnitello. Usually we associate Sangiovese with Tuscany as its the grape behind the likes of some of Italy’s best known wines including Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano and of course Brunello di Montalcino. PugnitelloPugnitello used to be a widely-planted grape but because the Sangiovese-based wines have a much higher yielding Tuscan wineries abandoned Pugnitello and started focusing on Sangiovese. The Etruscans who inhabited Tuscany before the Romans did (around 200 B.C.) used to cultivate Pugnitello.

The yields of Pugnitello are naturally low, about 3000 kg per hectare. The name derives from the very small, tight bunches which resemble the shape of a fist. Pugno is Italian for fist. Pugnitello therefore means little fist.

In 1981, the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Florence a small amount of Pugnitello grapes at a winery in the province of Grosseto. The owner did not know anything about the grape. There was pretty much no information left at all about the grape and in the same year the University of Florence started their research on Pugnitello. In collaboration with the winery San Felice, the University of Florence planted around 200 vines in the “Vitirarium”. In the Vitirarium the University did some tests to gain information about the grape and to find out whether the grape was suitable for winemaking or not.

In 2002, 21 years later, the tests were pretty much complete and Pugnitello was entered in the “National Registry of Vine Varieties” but it was only in 2003 when the regional government of Tuscany gave permission to vinfiy Pugnitello. Today, Pugnitello is grown only by a handful of wineries.

In 2006 the University of Florence concluded that Pugnitello tastes best when it’s not blended with other grapes. The resulting wine has an intense color and an aging potential of more than 20 years. Tuscan Pugnitello is usually classified as IGT Toscano.

Agricola San Felice

Agricola San FeliceSan Felice is much more than just an ordinary winery. The winery was acquired by Allianz and San Felice’s viticulture ambitions now primarily focus on scientific research and environmental protection. Next to their research on Pugnitello together with the University of Florence, San Felice experimented on Sangiovese grapes to discover their full potential. Therefore the winery opened two more estates – one in Montalcino and one in the Maremma and is headquartered in the heart of the Chianti Classico.

San Felice is open for visits. If you would like to try some Pugnitello then make sure to give them a visit on your next trip to Tuscany.

Pugnitello Recommendations

There are two Pugnitello that I really liked so far. I am going to review them more in-depth in an upcoming post.

Le Buche produces an excellent Pugnitello and I strongly recommend the 2009 vintage. The wine retails for 29€ in Italy. The Pugnitello from Agricola San Felice is very good, too. According to Wine Searcher it is available in the US. I tasted the 2008 vintage and liked it a lot. The price per bottle is around 30€.

Pugnitello will always have its price especially because of the grape’s low-yielding. Don’t let the price tag scare you though.

Parting Words

If you are one of these grape hunters that I heard of then Pugnitello should now be on your list. I hope I could convince you to give this ancient grape a try. Please share your thoughts about Pugnitello in the comment section below.


26 comments on “Pugnitello – The Forgotten Grape”

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  2. Andy Andy Reply

    Julian I’ve never heard about this grape before. The history behind Pugnitello is so interesting. Thanks for this great article. Good work! How did you stumble over this grape? I mean it seems to be pretty rare..

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Thank you for your comment. I am fascinated by this grape and am so happy that I discovered it a few months ago thanks to a friend who was visiting Le Buche. He brought back a bottle that’s how I got I came across Pugnitello 🙂

  3. wineking3 wineking3 Reply

    I’m not familiar with Pugnitello and have never seen one in a store before but I’ve also never really looked for one. 30 Euro is a lot of money for a wine – especially for one where I’m not familiar the grape so I think I’ll have to pass..

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      I hear what you’re saying but I can only repeat that I strongly recommend Pugnitello from Le Buche and from San Felice. If you change your mind then give them a try 😉

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      I knew that if one of my readers would know Pugnitello then it would be you 🙂 Glad to hear that you like Pugnitello from San Felice a lot. Finding wine from rare grapes is always one of the best challenges when buying wine which reminds me that I still need to buy a bottle of Torrontes..

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  5. drinkforlife Reply

    I saw the San Felice Pugnitello a couple of times in a store before but actually never bothered to buy it. I’m curious now how it tastes.. Hopefully they still have some left 🙂

  6. Sean P. Reply

    Thanks for bringing my attention to this obscure grape. I’m going to order a bottle of San Felice Pugnitello online.

  7. EatwithNamie Reply

    I’ve never heard of the grape, either. I will rememer that. thank you for the info.
    Ther are so many indigenous grapes in Turkey that Jancis has praised about. I’ve just drunk a bottle with a decanter sticker and it was really aweful and had to be tipped into the sink.
    I am going to a neighbouring coutry Greek. Do you by any chance know any good Greek wines?

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      The grape is very rare and only a handful of wineries make wine out of Pugnitello.
      Regarding these Decanter and Wine Spectator stickers I have to say that many wineries just use them to increase sales. There are rumors that many of these so called “awards” were sold unofficially which explains why sometimes these wines just simply disappoint.

      Unfortunately I am not very familiar with Greek wine. So I can’t really suggest any. I only drank Greek wine a couple of times before. Both times the wine was from Xynomavro (a red grape native to Northern Greece). The wines were were heavy, tannic and had a high acidity. Xynomavro is an interesting grape because the wine usually ages in walnut and not in oak.

  8. Suzanne Reply

    How interesting, I have never heard of this variety of grape before. I love reading about the history, I really want to try the Agricola San Felice and am excited to see that it is available in the US. Do they regulate which wineries and how many can grow this ancient grape? I really look forward to giving a try. So interesting, thanks Julian.

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      As far as I know, there are no regulations on which wineries are allowed to grow Pugnitello. The reason why there are only a handful of wineries cultivating the grape is Pugnitello’s low yield. Furthermore I believe that many wineries don’t even know about Pugnitello – it’s still quite rare and obscure.
      Please let me know how you like San Felice Pugnitello after you’ve tried it – in my opinion it’s a fascinating and outstanding wine.

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  11. Joshua Reply

    Pugnitello is pretty fantastic in my opinion. It’s a big boy that could use some maturity for sure. I always tend to find aromas of iron and olive tapenade—-very little fruit.

    While the University concludes it’s best on its own, I suggest people try Rocca di Montegrossi’s San Marcellino Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. It’s 95% Sangiovese with the remainder comprised of Pugnitello. I’m tasting the 2010 right now, it takes some good decanting, but just that little touch of Pugnitello is definitely noticeable; it adds a bit more leather and some of that iron and olive tapenade I mentioned.

  12. Jan Schuurkes Reply

    Fattoria La Vialla makes a fantastisc blend of 30 % Pugniitello plus Malvasia Nera (30) Aleatico (20) Colorino (10) and 10% Sangiovese.

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