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Lab Notes


Grape Spotlight: Susumaniello

January 29, 2023

Karin Rockstad, Spanish translator/English editor, WSET Educator, SWS, FWS, Albariño Ambassador, Certified Advanced Cava Educator


I've just taken the second part of the Italian Wine Scholar (IWS) exam, which focuses on central and southern Italy. If you've taken any of the courses from the Wine Scholar Guild, they tell you which subjects you "need to know" for an exam. Susumaniello is not one of them, but it piqued my interest, so here we are.

Susumaniello is a black grape native to Puglia in southern Italy. Although I've been to Puglia a couple of times, I never noticed it. The flagship grapes of Primitivo, Negroamaro, and Nero di Troia were everywhere. Come to find out, it was mostly a blending grape. The name derives from somarello, or "donkey." Donkey because the vine gets loaded down with clusters, or that donkeys tend to stay in small groups, liked the many-berried bunches? No one knows for sure, but I like the analogy.

Tenute Rubino is one of the wineries that can be credited with Susumaniello's revival in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The grape does well in the warm, windy coastal areas of the Salento peninsula. Older vines (10 years and up) give the highest quality grapes, as vigor slows down.

The grape has a thick skin, so it's deep in color. The aromas and flavors of red berries, plum, baking spices, and dark chocolate are rich and luscious. It tends toward high alcohol with good acidity and enough tannin to make it somewhat age worthy. It pairs well with beef dishes, sausage, game, and cheeses. Rosé is also made.

I tried this example from Masseria Li Veli: (@masserialiveli)

This bottle is sold in several local Twin Cities wine shops and, of course, online. It was full-bodied, but not heavy, with plenty of dark fruit, spice, and a bit of umami. I had it with pasta in a mushroom sauce and it matched beautifully!

Learn more about Puglia and its wines:

Cheers! Salute!

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