Round and Round We Go

by Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng
May 26, 2010

Foja Tonda vines

Mia Dona
206 E 58th St
(2nd & 3rd Aves)
New York, NY 10022

Always on the lookout for a stand-out bottle, I recently discovered an Italian red from a grape I had never heard of or tasted before. Of course, this being Italy and not France, there are hundreds of indigenous grapes I have yet to taste. So what sets the Foja Tonda apart?

Also called Casetta, Foja Tonda — which literally means “round leaf” in local dialect — is an ancient grape from Vallagarina in Val d’Adige, northeastern Italy. It had almost reached extinction until winemaker Albino Armani rediscovered it and pushed the Italian government to cultivate the variety in 2002. Presently, 12 hectares of this vine have been replanted. In 2007, it was given the D.O.C. Terradeiforti.

The best way to understand a grape is to study a mono cru. Still, in a mini vertical of the ’07, ’06 and ’05, it was difficult to pinpoint this mysterious grape. While I’d expected the oldest wines, the ’05, to exhibit the least fruit, it was the contrary. The younger vintages were both more austere and harder to decipher than the open and friendly ’05.

After seven days of cold maceration, the ’05 Foja sees 12 months of oak aging. The end result is an integrated and velvety red that reminds me of all the best qualities of a good Merlot with its subtle tannin and purple fruit flavors of plum and blueberries. It’s at once enigmatic and elegant.

On a recent visit to Mia Dona, I enjoyed a cavatelli with pork shoulder ragu (Cavatelli con Ragu domenica) ($17), which is a seamless match for the ’05 Toja Tonda ($45).

Thank god for winemakers who save indigenous grapes, so we can continue to enjoy diversity in wine. As we go round and round tasting different wines, we are sometimes thrown off by a completely unknown grape. Thank god for these moments, too.

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