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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Nicolas Belfrage MW & Franco Zilini

An academic furore was created last week at a three-day conference in Florence after academics claimed Sangiovese's maternal parent was a Neopolitan grape variety. Researchers at the Istituto Agrario San Michele all'Adige (ISMAA), using DNA discovery techniques, announced that they had established a parental link between the famous Tuscan grape and a variety of apparently Neapolitan origin, Calabrese Montenuovo. The revelation comes as something of a shock, as Sangiovese has always been thought of as indigenous to Tuscany, or at least central Italy, known to the ancients as Etruria. Grape varieties are not normally considered in terms of sex, being propagated not by seed but by androgynous cuttings. Ancient varieties will however have originated from the classic male-female coupling, and this appears to be the case with Sangiovese. Two years ago, an academic, Dr Crespan, of Italy's Council for Research and Experimentation in Agriculture, suggested a parental link between Sangiovese (as offspring) and (as male parent) Ciliegiolo, another primeval Italian variety which until Dr Crespan's discovery had been considered possibly to have Spanish origins (now thought unlikely). The identity of Sangiovese's maternal parent, however, remained a mystery until the present revelation, made by Dr Maria Stella Grando of San Michele all'Adige. Dr Grando reported that, out of a database of some 2,000 DNA profiles of vine varieties from all over the world, the likeliest candidate for motherhood was this Calabrese' (not the one synonymous with Nero d'Avola) from the zone of Montenuovo near Naples. She and her collaborator, Jos Vouillamoz, continued their analyses until they had identified 50 DNA markers in support of their thesis, giving a probability factor in the region of 10 million billion to one in its favour.