Allegrini 2018

The origins of a unique heritage: an Atlas of the relationships of Italian grape vines

Eight scientific institutions have collaborated to carry out an extensive genetic investigation on grape vine germ plasm

The Atlas of the parentage of Italian grape vines has been recently published. Eight scientific institutions, including universities and research centers collaborated on the study. The research stemmed from the idea that a contribution to the enhancement of the wine cultural heritage also includes the possibility of uniquely recognizing and describing the different vines, evaluating their existing relationships and identifying ancestral types, or predecessors. To this purpose, the genetic profiles of hundreds of grape varieties (from the widespread to the local ones) kept in Italian and international collections have been studied, thus presenting an Atlas of the parentage of Italian vines. The Ministry of Agriculture and the AGER Foundation (Agro-food and research) funded the research, which was carried out by CREA - Council for research in agriculture and the analysis of the agricultural economy, together with the University of Pisa, the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, the University of Foggia, the University of Palermo, the University of Tuscia, the University of Turin and CNR - Turin National Research Council.
The abundance of vines present on Italian soil is unique, and is the consequence of many factors, including the geographical position, diversity of the cultivated areas, selective pressure from pathogens, farmers’ choices, and historical traditions. Therefore, there is variety as well as uniqueness, considering that the results of the study have indicated the traditional Italian germ plasm derives, for the most part, from a few primary grape varieties. Some of them have their genetic imprint marked in specific geographical areas, while others have extended it to the entire national territory. A few examples are “Strinto porcino”, together with its descendant “Sangiovese” as well as “Mantonico bianco” and “Aglianico”, the main progenitors of southern vines. Further, “Visparola”, “Garganega” and “Bombino bianco” which have left their greatest genetic mark in Central Italy, or “Termarina (Sciaccarello)”, “Orsolina” and “Uva Tosca”, forefathers of numerous local varieties prevalent in Northwestern and Central Italy.
Reconstruction of the pedigrees especially highlighted the importance of the origin of the Italian germ plasm “Visparola”. It is a grape vine that supposedly migrated from Southern to Northern Italy along the Eastern side. There are also a lot of interesting facts, such as that linked to “Sangiovese”, a grape vine that is now the symbol of a prestigious and famous wine region such as Tuscany, but which originated elsewhere, as it has been hypothesized that it migrated from Southern to Central Italy, along the western side.

The study identified homonyms and synonyms of grape varieties, while formerly postulated relationships were confirmed or rejected and, finally, numerous new genetic relationships of the parent-sibling type surfaced. The Italian winemaking world therefore has a genetic tool at its disposal, which can be useful for the propagation and selection of vines as they are now equipped with a “molecular passport” that uniquely identifies them, resolving homonyms and synonyms and guaranteeing varietal control. It can also be, however, a tool for wine producers to take into consideration to enhance and defend traditional wines, a historical heritage that must be protected.

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