03 Feb FOGLIA TONDA, ANCIENT GRAPE VARIETY THAT LOOKS TO THE FUTURE
It is an old story about the world of wine in Italy: ancient varieties that are abandoned to make way for more productive or “famous” vines on an international level, with the aim of homologating to a global market that dictates laws and trends. Except then realizing that if that vine with an unknown name had been there for 200 years, there was a reason. The answer is simple: it was there because it was perfectly adapted to the microclimate of the territory, better than the others.
The tendency to explant ancient varieties was a widespread phenomenon especially in the 1980s and 1990s of the last century. Today, fortunately, this is no longer reasoned, and the defense of a varietal heritage as diverse as the Italian one is a widespread and shared objective.
In Tuscany, where Sangiovese wrote the wine history of the region, varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon found a welcoming home, also helping to create new wine “eldorado”. Perhaps to the detriment of grape varieties considered to be B series, as the protagonist of our recent experience, the Foglia Tonda.
Already the name of this unknown grape variety says it all: to call it that, given the characteristic rounded shape of its leaf, perhaps it was the simplest way that the peasants used to distinguish it from other varieties, in an age when viticulture was not that of now and often in the same plot many species of vine were cultivated. We were at the first Forum del Foglia Tonda, a starting point to understand the status quo of this grape variety and try to understand its potential and future developments. The appointment in Trequanda, at the Fattoria del Colle in Donatella Cinelli Colombini, a bright wine reality in the beautiful Val d’Orcia. It was Donatella, the great woman of Tuscan wine, who promoted this initiative, convinced by the value and potential of the grape variety. After some research he found the ancient presence of Foglia Tonda in Tuscany, but also in Umbria. And he started looking for those companies that still had Foglia Tonda rows on their property.
At the end a list of 18 wineries, all Tuscan, that today we are sure cultivate the Foglia Tonda. The Forum was attended by 9: Podere Sequerciani (Gavorrano, GR); Podere Ema (Grassina, FI); Mocine (Asciano, SI); Il Castellaccio (Castagneto Carducci, LI); Donatella Cinelli Colombini (Trequanda, SI); Mannucci Droandi Nuova Agricoltura (Montevarchi, AR); Podere Anima Mundi (Cascina Terme, PI); Santa Vittoria (Foiano della Chiana, AR) and Poggio al Vento Mascelloni (Castiglion d’Orcia, SI).
Briefly tracing the history of Foglia Tonda we record that Count Giuseppe Di Rovasenda in the “Essay for universal ampelography” in 1877 describes the Foglia Tonda in the Castello di Brolio, while in 1964 Breviglieri and Casini refer it to Chianti and, in 1970, the Foglia Tonda is registered with the National Register of Vine Varieties, later approved in 1978 by the University of Florence. Therefore the Foglia Tonda has certainly been present in Tuscany since time immemorial. It was abandoned for those characteristics that today, with modern agronomic techniques, could be an advantage: betrayal maturation and considerable quantity of production. If the peasants did not know what to do with all that immature grape, today oenologists and agronomists have a good opportunity, also because the Foglia Tonda, with its “round” leaf and its large and pyramidal clusters, resists well to mildew, botrytis and partly also oidium. The red berries of the Fonda Tonda guarantee phenolic richness and good acid content, with potential for aging.
With an estimate by default, perhaps today there are no more than 20 hectares of Foglia Tonda in the whole of Tuscany, but we are certain that in the future this figure will increase. And here we are at the Gordian knot of the Foglia Tonda: given the acquired cultural value of the operation of historical preservation of an ancient vine, we have to deal with objective reality, or if this variety has a role, or rather, a sense, in wine scene already saturated with objectively valuable wines. So what the Foglia Tonda has to offer in terms of quality and peculiarity once transformed into a wine.
To answer this question there is no other way than to taste these Foglia Tonda wines, with a very important premise, because the 9 companies that presented us their labels come from very different terroirs and use the Round Leaf in every possible variable , from small percentages in blend with Sangiovese, or in purity, using traditional or biodynamic methods, using barrique or amphora.
So a very reliable test, even in the small number. Nine companies are not that many, but in the end a concrete idea about the reality of the Foglia Tonda we have well defined in the head. Our opinion on Foglia Tonda is extremely positive: it gives verticality, aromatic richness, freshness and elegance to the wine when it is used in blends with Sangiovese, but can express itself with excellent results even when it is pure.
To validate our thesis we bring for example the two labels that impressed us the most during the tasting in Trequanda, although in general every wine has been able to give us excellent impressions. The Cenerentola 2016 by Donatella Cinelli Colombini is a blend of Sangiovese (Brunello) and Foglia Tonda, which contributes 35%, with vinification in steel and 12 months of aging in large wood and partly in small barrels. Aroma full of ripe red fruits, coffee, chocolate and aromatic herbs. On the palate it is very dynamic and fresh, of great depth. Here the Round Leaf gives an unmistakable elegance. The other example is a great wine, the S’Indora 2014 by Mocine. Round Leaf in purity, maturation in small barrels, even in a very difficult vintage for everyone, the S’Indora charms for an integrity of exemplary fruit, while on the palate it is crunchy, spicy, deep and of great dynamism.
In conclusion we expect a bright path for this vine with unique characteristics, certain that its peculiarities will find space to produce wines of extreme interest. If an increasingly hot climate is shedding the papers of contemporary oenology, novelties such as Foglia Tonda are welcome.
Sometimes it is enough to look at the past to understand the present and plan for the future.
COMPANIES PRESENT AT THE 1st FORUM OF THE FOGLIA TONDA
Original article in Italian: