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Foglia tonda, who dares to bet on the unknown Tuscan grape with the round leaves?

A wine does not have to have strong colour to be good, just look at pinot noir and nebbiolo. But it helps, at least if one goes with many consumers’ preconceived ideas. If one were to judge by the colour, foglia tonda would be among the most treasured grapes, but instead the grape has almost completely fallen into oblivion. However, about ten producers in Tuscany agree that it is a good idea to invest in the grape with the round leaves. They gathered one morning in February to explain their work with this unknown Tuscan grape, foglia tonda. BKWine Magazine’s reporter Åsa Johansson tells you the story about this unusual grape and its wines.

“No one who knew the sagrantino grapes from Umbria or timorasso from Piedmont forty years ago. Sometimes you need a producer, an enthusiast, who spreads knowledge about a particular grape for things to speed up,”says Gianni Fabrizio, one of Italy’s most well-known wine journalists and wine tasters.

Together with the wine producer Donatella Cinelli Colombini, from the Fattoria del Colle winery in Trequanda and il Casato delle Prime Donne in Montalcino, he invited some ten producers working with the grape foglia tonda to tell their story.

“There is probably no one in Montalcino or Chianti Classico who will go for foglia tonda but in lesser known areas foglia tonda can create interest and give attention,” Gianni Fabrizio continues.

Foglia tonda wine producers

Foglia tonda wine producers, copyright A Johansson

Donatella Cinelli Colombini explains that there are documents from 1877 (Di Rovasenda) that describes the grape as planted at Castello il Brolio, in Gaiole in Chianti. But it was not until 1970 that foglia tonda was officially entered into Italy’s national grape register.

“In the past, the poor peasants thought that foglia tonda did not ripen properly, it had a bad reputation and was replaced by other more easy-to-grow grape varieties,” says Gianni Fabrizio.

Foglia tonda is named after its round leaves, the name means just that, and is believed to come from Tuscany or possibly Umbria. There are about twenty producers working with the grape, but the total planted acreage is not more than forty hectares. The grape is very resistant to diseases, which many producers appreciate, but tends to give too much grapes, which can be a disadvantage. That’s probably why they didn’t ripen properly in the past.

“Foglia tonda must be kept control with a proper green harvest as it tends to overproduce grapes, especially in clay soils,” says Donatella Cinelli Colombini.

On the other hand, a positive feature is that it retains a high level of acidity even when weather is warm. Something that is interesting today considering that the climate is getting warmer.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini was one of the first to believe in foglia tonda. Eighteen years ago, she received 400 cuttings from the Tuscan nursery and decided to graft them on to vines in an already existing vineyard. [Ed’s comment: this means that you graft new branches on existing vines and thus “change” grape variety on adult vines.]

“Our farm Fattoria del Colle is located in the Orcia DOC, sandwiched between two giants, Montepulciano and Montalcino and I was thinking about how we could create our own identity. We decided, among other things, to invest in foglia tonda. Our wine Cenerentola is a blend of sangiovese (65%) and foglia tonda (35%),” Donatella explains.

She also menitons that Cenerentola has gained high scores in international wine guides. She thinks this indicates that the market is ready for foglia tonda even though the wine today is sold almost exclusively through direct sales at the winery.

“Wine tourism is incredibly important for us producers here in Orcia DOC,” adds Donatella.

Foglia tonda wines

Foglia tonda wines, copyright A Johansson

Another producer, Il Castellaccio, who is next door to Sassicaia and Ornellaia in famous Bolgheri, has also chosen to make a blend with foglia tonda (25%), pugnitello (25%) and sangiovese (50%) in a wine they call Valénte.

“Foglia tonda adds flavour and colour to sangiovese, they balance each other well,” thinks Alessandro Scappini, the young owner who inherited the winery from his grandfather.

Cenerentola is an elegant wine with a nose with ripe cherries, light vanilla and white pepper. Ripe fruit and tight tannins are on display in the elegant palate. Valénte reminds me of plums, and coffee and gives a youthful impression a taste of red berries and cocoa and has a distinct acidity that I like a lot. It is good wines but it is also difficult to identify foglia’s specific contributions in a blend.

One hundred percent foglia tonda

Other producers have chosen to make wines from one hundred percent foglia tonda. One of these is Podere Ema, just south of Florence. They make a delicious wine that they both ferment and age in terracotta containers from Impruneta in Tuscany.

“We have tried different ageing methods, including oak barrels, concrete and terracotta. We think we get the best results with the terracotta vessels. They retain foglia’s most interesting features while the wine develops faster,” says owner Enrico Calvelli.

Foglia tonda wines

Foglia tonda wines, copyright A Johansson

He also says that foglia tonda easily increases in sugar contents during ripening in the vineyard and therefore often reaches a high alcohol content.

“However, it is positive that the grape at the same time retains a good acidity,” he says.

The wine from Podere Ema is ruby red with brick-coloured hints, has inviting fresh aromas of cherries, lingonberries and coffee beans, high tannins that are well-rounded and which together with nicely retained fruit and a tight acidity make the wine complex but at the same time juicy and easy-drinking. Very good.

Another producer working in a similar way, with one hundred percent foglia tonda and ageing in terracotta vessels, is Sequerciani, a biodynamic winery in Maremma, in southern Tuscany near the village of Gavorrano. Here, the climate is warmer and can notice in the wine in its deeper colour that goes towards purple. The vintage is 2017, which was also an unusually warm year. The aromas are ripe, as is the fruit, violet, cherries, cinnamon, soft tannins and medium acidity. But the wine is not in the least tired, on the contrary, the finish is long and the delicious flavours linger in the mouth for a long time.

Foglia tonda wine producers attracting a lot of attention

Foglia tonda wine producers attracting a lot of attention, copyright A Johansson

The producer Le Moline from the village of Asciano in the Orcia Valley, who also works with one hundred percent foglia tonda, previously aged his wine, called S´Indora, in barrique.

“I have brought a wine from the difficult 2014 vintage; why always bring the best vintages? We do this to learn from each other. We have changed the way we work and now we age foglia tonda on large one thousand litre barrels, botti, because the ageing in barrique did not give good result,” says the farm owner Valerio Brighi.

“We try out, it’s the only way to get to know a new grape variety,” he concludes.

If you also want to try your hand then just choose from the list of these brave producers who work with foglia tonda in Tuscany. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Some wines with foglia tonda

Fogliatonda di Ruedi Gerber, IGT Toscana 2017, Sequerciani – Gavorrano (GR)

Cenerentola DOC Orcia, 2016, Donatella Cinelli Colombini – Fattoria del Colle – Trequanda (SI)

Foglia Tonda IGT Toscana 2016, Podere Ema – Bagno a Ripoli (FI)

Valente IGT Toscana 2016, Il castellaccio – Castagneto Carducci ( LI)

Mor di Roccia IGP Toscana 2015, Podere Anima Mundi – Usigliano di Lari (Pi)

Foglia Tonda IGT Toscana 2015, Mannucci Droandi – Montevarchi (AR)

Arcere DOC Orcia 2015, Roberto Mascelloni – Poggio al Vento – Castiglione d’Orcia (SI).

Poggio al Tempio IGT Toscana 2015, Santa Vittoria – Foiano della Chiana (AR)

S’Indora IGT Toscana 2014, Mocine – Asciano (SI)

Åsa Johansson is BKWine’s person in Italy. She lives in Florence since the early ’00s. Asa writes regularly on wine and food in Swedish and Italian publications as well as online.

There will be many exciting and delicious wines to taste on a wine tour to Tuscany with BKWine, although we cannot guarantee that it will be the rare grape foglia tonda.

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