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Inzolia

Inzolia (also known by its Tuscan name Ansonica) growing in Chalmers Merbein vineyard.

 

Heat-loving Inzolia

By Tennille Chalmers, Chalmers, Victoria

First published in the Summer 2022 issue of the Wine & Viticulture Journal

 

As an industry, what drives us to delve into seeking out a new variety or wine style? With viticulturists, winemakers, retailers and consumers often looking for the next ‘new’, there also needs to be good reason and purposeful consideration to explore, invest in and, ultimately, produce a new variety.

In 2012 at Chalmers, when we were selecting our second round of varieties to import into Australia from VCR (Vivai Rauscedo Cooperativi) in Friuli, Italy, we were naturally driven by the current market styles, the viticulturally positive attributes of the varieties, and the potential likeability/drinkability. This selection was equally calculated and adventurous, reasonably reserved and included such varieties as Falanghina, Ribolla Gialla and Piedirosso. During the selection process with VCR, we were strongly encouraged by Tuscan-based Italian viticulture consultant Stefano Dini, a dear friend and acquaintance of Chalmers, to consider Ansonica (Tuscan name), otherwise known as Inzolia in Sicily.

Ansonica had previously been imported into Australia via the CSIRO in 1969 and was available through the Western Australian and South Australian grapevine collections. Dini, having worked with Ansonica extensively across both Tuscany and Sicily, could see its worthy potential in Australia with the clone via VCR (VCR3) having particularly superior traits. His experience working in hot climate, inland Australian viticulture at Chalmers’ original vineyard in the Murray Darling, NSW, in the early 2000s also gave him confidence this variety would be well suited to many warm, dry regions of Australia. Ansonica is also specifically referenced in the Gambero Rosso Quattrocalici, an Italian based wine industry encyclopedia, as requiring ‘intense sunshine, high temperatures and low rainfall’ — the exact climactic conditions of our Murray Darling site.

Sicily, where it originates from, has a long history of various forms of Inzolia production including not only table wine, but as table grapes; used for drying for fortification for wines (i.e., Marsala); as well as rich, heavy wines, purposely produced to on sell to producers of Vermut (vermouth). Its list of various uses leads to the understanding of its versatility therefore it is still widely planted across most areas of the island. The table wine styles found across Sicily, although with some variances, typically produce aromatic, medium weight, grippy and tannic wines, often with a distinct nuttiness on the palate. They certainly fall in the more savoury, structured style of white wines. In the glass these wines can stand up to more robust flavours on the table — think dishes that you might find suited to Chardonnay or Greco.

Dini explains that in Sicily, Inzolia “thrives in sandy soil or soils that are not too heavy, where they can survive the dry conditions more easily and they keep good turgidity of the berries. It loves the heat. It’s naturally a very productive variety, and you must try to keep production lower than the natural crop levels. This will help achieve wines with more elegance. The best-balanced crop results in better natural acidity achieved. Inzolia berries have very thick skin”.

There are many regions in Sicily where limestone plays a big part in the soil profile and wines too. It’s a variety with low natural acidity, so managing crop levels is crucial to achieving balanced flavours. Some producers also cleverly encourage the natural phenolics of the variety during winemaking as a tool to assist in producing balanced and stable wines.

In Tuscany, Ansonica is grown on the mainland as well as the islands of Elba and Giglio. There are some old plantings still found, and recent interest in the variety has led to more plantings and therefore more awareness and general association of this variety to Tuscany. The climate, although warm, is not as dry and hot as Sicily. Heavier soils in Tuscany also add to a different type of wine profile compared to the southern Italian versions. There is some good focus placed on crop thinning Ansonica, striving for that balance for the vine. Typically, the styles produced from here are lighter, fresher and fruitier, and are enjoyed often as aperitivo wines where the slight nuttiness in the finish of the wine helps compliment those moreish sundowner savoury snacks.

At Chalmers, once we received the Ansonica through quarantine in 2015, we began propagation at our Merbein site and were able to fill a small row of 24 vines within the next season, trellised to VSP and hand pruned to two-bud spurs. The initial mother vine produced enough bunches in the 2017 vintage to allow for some micro analysis, and by 2018 we were able to make our first small batch wine, releasing it under the Chalmers Project label. Our initial observations about the variety included medium-large, tight ‘table grape’ looking bunches, incredibly plump berries, thick skins and an abundant crop, as well as low natural acidity and a very phenolic palate. The palate was quite a fresh and fruit forward classic table wine style but complemented with phenolics and texture, also showing a classic slight bitterness. We’ve since planted up a small section of the vineyard to VSP, have revelled in its appeal and potential ever since and now have more plantings in the pipeline.

Talented and excitable Mornington Peninsula winemaker Kevin McCarthy, who purchased grapes from Chalmers in the 2021 vintage, proclaims of his skin contact Ansonica: ‘Beguiling gold colour. Nose like classy Chardonnay with background poached quince/pear. Palate totally belies time on skins! Profound glorious phenolics in complete balance! Very serious food wine.’

In 2017 we planted up a special, experimental bush vine block, albarello style, of 730 Inzolia vines, established with overhead irrigation (which is now only used when absolutely required, often not at all) and planted on a red sandy loam rise, underneath, a base of limestone. It is tended to organically (not certified) and after the block’s initial establishment with compost and composted cow manure, to date we’ve not required any additional nutrition. A low planting density of 1600 vines/hectare allows each vine access to its own area of natural rainfall which, of course, is incredibly low in our region, approximately 115-250mm in recent years. This 2.5m x 2.5m spacing also allows enough room for passes of our small tractor for cross-cultivation for weed management. Inzolia thrives in this block and the crop bears approximately 4-5 tonnes per hectare. After trialling winemaking from the site since 2019, Chalmers will be releasing the first wine from the 2021 vintage early next year. The result? Fragrant white lilies, green olive briny nose. Pure and intriguing. More olive, fennel, depth and intensity on the palate, with limestone showing through. Firm savoury and phenolic presence, and long length with that slight bitterness at the end. It’s exciting to say the least.

Well respected Australian viticulturist, winemaker and friend Mark Walpole speaks fondly of his first ‘wow-factor’ wine experience with Inzolia on a trip to Italy in 2007; a “wine from Feudo Principi di Butera, located just inland from Licata in southern Sicily. Someone once said to me that you only have to experience one great wine from a variety to see its potential. This was the wine. A white wine which had flavour, richness and good natural acidity that was grown in a warm/hot climate. The wine was made very much like you would Chardonnay — barrel fermented and aged, using a reasonable proportion of new, small wood. I thought, ‘this is a real option as an alternative variety for warm to hot areas of Australia’. I was so taken with the wine I bought a couple of bottles from the winery and carried them home. About six months later the opportunity arose to include the wine in a blind tasting with one of the Beechworth vignerons and a sommelier from a top Melbourne restaurant. The consensus — a good white Burgundy!”

Is all this enough to warrant delving into and seeking out Ansonica/Inzolia as a promising variety for Australia? Absolutely!

 

Inzolia

By Peter Dry, Emeritus Fellow, The Australian Wine Research Institute

Background
Inzolia (in-ZOH-lia) is an old Sicilian variety, genetically related to other Sicilian varieties including Grillo, Frappato and Nerello Mascalese. It is grown in Sicily, mainly in the west where it was traditionally used for Marsala. Increasingly, it has been used for white table wine, either as a varietal or in blends with Cattaratto and Grillo. It may be found in other parts of Italy, including Calabria, Lazio and Tuscany. It has been grown in Tuscany for a long time as Ansonica, particularly near the coast and the islands of Elba and Giglio. The total area in Italy has declined from more than 14,000ha in the early 1980s to approximately 7000 ha in 2010. Synonyms include Ansonia, Ansonica Bianca, Anzulu, Insolia, Nsolia, Soria and Zolia Bianca. Inzolia is a recent arrival to Australia and there are just a few wine producers at present.

Viticulture
Budburst is mid-season and maturity is early- to mid-season. Vigour is high with semi-erect growth habit. Bunches are medium to large and loose to well-filled with medium to large berries. Yield is moderate to high in Italy. Inzolia can be pruned both short and long. It is reported to be both drought and heat tolerant. Inzolia is said to be more susceptible to powdery and downy mildews than average.

Wine
In Italy, Inzolia table wines can be fresh and crisp, well structured and with good flavour, and with notes of citrus, stonefruit and tropical fruit. Because natural acidity does not appear to be high, this variety may benefit from a cool climate.