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The One with the Extremely Rare Varietal

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

Hello again, Corkers!

If you follow me on Instagram (@thecandidcork), you may have seen my most recent Wine of the Week episode featuring this super rare grape varietal called Susumaniello, but if you missed it, no worries! I will give you all the dirty details right here!

So first of all, Susumaniello (pronounced sue-sue-man-yell-oh) is one of the world's rarest grape varietals; it only grows in the small province of Brindisi, which is located in the Southern Italian region of Puglia. I think of this area as being in the "heel" of Italy, but Wine Folly has created this awesome map as a visual reference for where this rare little gem hails:

This growing region experiences a Mediterranean climate. The warm, sunny days allow the grapes to fully ripen giving them a sweet, juicy, fruit-driven quality. On the other hand, the cooler nights and Mediterranean breeze allow the pulp to retain high acidity levels as well. The result? A grape perfectly conditioned to create a well-balanced wine with enjoyable structural characteristics.

To illustrate this point, think of lemonade. Too much acidic lemon and the result is too tart, but if the mixture has too much sugar, the beverage is too sweet. The perfect, refreshing lemonade needs to have a balance of both. The same is true for the amounts of sugar and acid in the grapes that are crushed, pressed, and fermented into the wines we consume. Warmer climates produce grapes higher in sugar, while cooler climates produces grapes with higher acidity.

Ok, enough of me nerding out on wine topics...back to the rare grape. Susumeniello means "donkey", which may be a reference to the fact that the vine struggles under the weight of abundant clusters of large, ripe grapes at harvest time. It seems to be a topic of debate as to where this unique grape came from, though the consensus seems to be settled on the fact that it shares DNA with Sangiovese.

Though rare, Susumaniello is an ancient grape that has been used in Puglia's wine blends for a very long time. In the first half of the 20th century, many growers gave up on this varietal since at the time, the region's wine industry focused on quantity over quality. By the mid 1980's, the poor winemakers of Puglia were struggling with sales and began to re-examine their vinification practices.

This is where Luigi Rubino (pictured below) comes in. After extensive research of Susumaniello, this winemaker (who founded Tenute Rubino in the Brindisi area in 1999) began to realize the true potential of this powerful little grape, stating he was "convinced that, among the traditional native varieties of the area, it had something special to express."

Rubino began creating wines made 100% from this varietal and in 2002, the first Tenute Rubino Susumaniello wine was released. It was immediately awarded a Tre Bicchierei, which is regarded as the highest honor given to Italian wines by the Gambero Rosso wine guide.

Today, Susumaniello is regarded as the "best expression of its territory", expressing notes of ripe plum, fresh cherry, pepper spice, campfire smoke, and warm vanilla, when aged in French Oak.

You can purchase Susumaniello wines both still and sparkling directly from Tenute Rubino online or you can purchase a bottle of Ruggero di Bardo Susumaniello at Trader Joe's for just $9.99! (I highly recommend trying a bottle, at this price point, you can't go wrong's simply delicious!) Tip: if you do try this one, be sure to give it plenty of time to decant before enjoying - up to two hours!

Cheers, Corkers! I hope you learned something new and perhaps feel inspired to branch out and try this rare treat of a wine. Don't forget to join the Corker Community by signing up for my email list here and by following me on Instagram @thecandidcork! Hope to see you there!

Until next time-

-Jane Marie

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