Schiava: The Grape Of The Dolomits
Today, we’ll talk about Schiava.
It’s in northern places of the northern hemisphere that hearty-frozen grapes can express themselves to their fullest. Generally speaking, we are familiar with the most famous ones. Riesling and Gewurztraminer for whites and Pinot Noir for reds are the grapes we think about right away when it comes to cool wine regions. But other varieties can be suitable for cold climates.
We are here to introduce you to a beautiful and unknown grape that can be added to your list: Schiava. Experts say that it beautifully expresses the Terroirs where it comes from as much as a Pinot Noir could do. Therefore, outstanding varietal wines can be made from this grape. But, it plays an important role in creating new crosses everyone loves nowadays.
We’ll give you this and other important pieces of information in this valuable article. Are you ready for it?
The Italian name “Schiava” refers to distinct types or varieties, black or white-berried, grown in the northern part of Italy where the Alps are. They take different names:
- “Schiava” in Lombardy;
- “Vernatsch” in the Südtirol’s German (it comes from a Tyrolean dialect word, that derives from Latin “vernacular” meaning “native” or “indigenous”);
- “Rossola” in Veneto and Friuli;
- “Rossara” in Trentino;
- “Geschlafene” in Alto Adige (it comes from the Latin “sclavus” meaning “slave”);
- “Trollinger” in Italy and Austria (meaning “from Tyrol”);
- “Urban” in Württemberg, Germany;
A study conducted by Fossati et al. (2001) found at least four distinct varieties of Schiava: Schiava Gentile, Schiava Grigia, Schiava Grossa, and Schiava Lombarda. It must be clear that they come from the same family, but they are all different varieties. It seems that the name “Schiava” refers to a common training practice “Pergola”. This technique deprives the vines of its natural vigor, making it a “slave”.
In this article, we are going to analyze the four main varieties that Fossati identified in 2001.
Schiava Gentile (1,181 ha)
Its origins are very misleading. It seems to be close to several Muscat varieties, although this study hasn’t been proved yet. Besides, the DNA study showed that Schiava Gentile naturally crossed with Teroldego to produce Lagrein in Alto Adige. But none has proved the study, either.
Its viticultural characteristics are:
- Vigorous clusters
- Relative small berries;
- Slightly sensitive to powdery mildew and sour rot;
Wine made primarily or entirely from one grape variety. These wines are said to have “varietal character” as they fully and precisely express the personality of a specific individual grape. A blend doesn’t have varietal character, but it should demonstrate “distinctiveness”.Source: The Wine Jokers (2020)
The varietal wines labeled Schiava Gentile or Edelvernatsch are fruity and perfumed with hints of almonds and violets. A characteristic quite common when it comes to Schiava is the low-tannin level. For comparison’s sake, this could be as palpable as the level that an orange wine has. Some winemakers make a “rosato” version that enhances the lightness and freshness of the variety.
The wine jokers’ recommendations:
Schiava Grigia (70 ha)
Generally speaking, the berries are violet-blue in color. It’s likely that the name comes from the bloom covering the grape. In fact, “Grigia” means “grey”. This is the same variety as Cenerina, an obscure indigenous grape of Trentino.
For its viticultural characteristics, refer to Schiava Gentile.
The varietal wines are authorized in the Alto Adige/ Südtirol DOC. They labeled it as Schiava Grigia or Grauvernatsch; Just like Schiava Gentile and Schiava Grossa, the tannin levels are very low. As far as flavors and aromas are concerned, primary aromas related to the grape characteristics are the predominant ones. A beautiful finish of cotton candy and strawberry will pleasantly linger for a while.
The wine jokers’ recommendations:
Schiava Grossa (1,180 ha)
The Schiava Grossa is the most common from the Tyrol. It’s more planted in Germany (2,491 ha) where locals called it “Trollinger”. As the name suggests, this variety has bigger bunches and berries than the other Schiava varieties. It’s been deliberately crossed with:
- Riseling, to produce Kerner and Rotberger;
- Silvaner, to obtain Bukettraube;
- Pinot Noir Précoce, to produce Helfensteiner;
Studies in 2003 by Crespan and, in 2007, by Lacomb et al. showed that both Muscat of Hamburg and Malvasia del Lazio are the natural crossing of Schiava Grossa and Muscat of Alexandria.
It only comes as a varietal wine in the Alto Adige/ Südtirol and Valdadige/ Etschtaler DOCs (Schiava Grossa or Grossvernatsch). However, you might often read Schiava or Vernatsch on the labels.
Once again, wines coming from this grape variety are low in tannin. They must be appreciated for its fruity-driven traits, followed by floral characteristics.
There is not so much to mention about this variety, which comes from Lombardy as the name suggests. This grape is present in the provinces of:
However, it’s possible to find it even in Trentino-Alto Adige.
Look for Cantina Bergamasca for its varietal rosé classified as IGT Bergamasca.
There are countless reasons why you should drink Schiava more often. First of all, it’s a versatile wine. It can successfully work with meat (possibly white meat) and fish. But also with fresh and creamy cheeses that only need a companion to wash down your mouth. Secondly, wines made from Schiava are never overpriced as they aren’t so common yet. Last but not least, it’s as pure as the Terroir where it comes from.
The only thing that we want to highlight is the fact that you don’t have to expect these wines to be complex and multilayered. They won’t even reach complexity with years in the bottle. They aren’t age-worthy since, despite the high acidity levels, there are three main structural components missing: tannins, alcohol, and sugar. But this is exactly what makes this grape stand out from the majority of the other varieties. It’s its simplicity that makes this wine unique.
And the takeaway after reading this grape masterclass is that a complex wine isn’t necessarily better than an every-day wine. Your judgment is going to take into account several components indeed. Wine already involves all the 5 senses with its color, aroma, mouthfeel, and taste on its own. But everything would be enhanced if the landscape matched its personality.
You might think that we’re crazy when we tell you that drinking a Brunello in Südtirol isn’t as pleasant as drinking it in Tuscany (even better in Brunello di Montalcino!). But this is what we believe. We believe that wine always tastes better if there is a direct bond between the wine you are drinking and the landscape surrounding you. If drinking a Schiava in the south of Italy might not be the best wine experience, doing it right in front of the Dolomiti when the sun sets on a Sunny spring day might definitely be so.