Friday, February 27, 2015

Fiano and friends

Photo: Serafino's Maria Maglieri

An Australian wine tasting is the last place where one would expect to taste white wines made with Fiano and Vermentino, two Italian varietals.

Yet there were examples of both at the Vancouver International Wine Festival this year, where Australian wine was the theme and Shiraz (of course) was the featured grape.

The explanation is simple. Along with much of the new world, Australia over the years has attracted immigrants from Italy. The Italians can’t help themselves: whenever they settle in a salubrious climate, they grow grapes and make wine.

The 2013 Bellisimo Fiano on the festival’s tasting room floor is produced by Serafino Wines, a McLaren Valle winery run by the Maglieri. Maria Maglieri, the chief executive, related that her grandfather Giovanni migrated to Australia in 1958. He and his son, Serafino (now called Steve), who came a few years later, began developing a McLaren Vale vineyard in planted grapes in 1968.

“They were turned down by Canada,” Maria told me as I tasted her wines.

Canada’s loss was Australia’s gain. Maglieri Wines ultimately became a very successful wine business, largely because the family decided to copy the style of Italy’s sweet red wine, Lambrusco. The wine became one of the top sellers in Australia. In 1999 the Maglieri family was clever enough to cash out, selling the business to Beringer Blass, one of the wine conglomerates then gobbling up other producers at top of market prices.

The sale included the Maglieri name. However, the family had retained prime vineyards and soon were back in business as Serafino Wines.

Serafino’s portfolio includes the varietals for which McLaren Vale is well known: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Chardonnay. Several were on sale in the BC Liquor store at the festival and, hopefully, will subsequently be listed in the BCLDB or in private wine stores.

The winery has added an extensive range of Italian varietals, including Lagrein, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, Sangiovese, Vermentino, Pinot Grigio, Moscato and Fiano.

Italy, of course, is replete with indigenous varieties seldom grown elsewhere. Never having heard of Fiano, I turned to Wine Grapes, the fat and definitive volume released a few years ago by Jancis Robinson and colleagues.

“Fiano is an old variety from Campania in southern Italy whose presence near Foggia was mentioned as early as 1240 in a register of purchases by Emperor Frederick II,” the book says. “The name Fiano is said to derive from a place named in Appia … where the grape supposedly has its origin.”

Fiano was widely grown until phylloxera arrived in Southern Italy in the early 20th Century and decimated the plantings. The variety was revived in the 1970s by renowned Taurasi winemaker Antonio Mastroberardino. The Italian vine census in 2000 counted just under 2,000 acres.

“Fiano has more recently found favour in Australia with growers looking for varieties that withstand the heat,” the Robinson book says. “There now are at least 10 producers who claim to have the variety planted, including Jeffrey Grosset in the Clare Valley.”

Serafino planted its Fiano in 2011. The 2013 vintage poured at the festival may have been the debut wine. It is a crisply refreshing white, tasting of honeydew melons and apples.

It fires my interest in tasting other examples. Currently, the BCLDB lists two Fiano wines from Italy: Acante Fiano at $14.99 and Miopasso Fiano at $16.99.


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