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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Neil Beckett

Riccardo Cotarella, the influential winemaking consultant and producer, has criticised as exaggerated or false the distinction between indigenous and international grape varieties in Italy. He told Harpers that success with a more forgiving variety such as Merlot often gives growers a dignity and stability they lacked, helps them discover the potential of their vineyards, and stimulates them to move on to varieties such as Nero d'Avola, Montepulciano and Negroamaro. Far from replacing indigenous varieties, international varieties are encouraging their replanting. Twenty years ago,' he said, we were giving too much attention to Cabernet and Merlot. But there was a reason. I'm absolutely convinced that through Cabernet and Merlot we can come to understand the potential of every terroir. In Sicily, nobody thinks of planting Merlot now.' He defended, however, the continuing dominance of Merlot in regions such as his native Latium where there is no tradition of any other red variety. Here, he argues, indigenous varieties would be no less foreign than international ones, which experience often proves to be better suited. He experimented with 32 red varieties at his own family estate of Falesco, in Montefiascone, before settling on Merlot as the one with the greatest potential there. I respect tradition. I respect terroir. I attempt to achieve something great from it, through the grapes best suited to it. If I can find an indigenous variety, it's better. If not, I use an international variety, after experimentation. Clearly demonstrating his faith in indigenous varieties where they do perform well, Cotarella is expanding his plantings of low-yielding Roscetto (also known as Trebbiano Giallo), increasing its proportion in his Est! Est!! Est!!!