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. Pugnitello 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
San 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.
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.
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.