Canaiolo (Nero) is a black-skinned wine grape variety that was the main constituent of the Chianti blend up until the late 19th Century. It is still grown today throughout central Italy, though around 90 percent of the total (around 1,050 hectares / 2,600 acres) plantings are found in Tuscany. It is used as a blending grape in a wide range of Sangiovese-based wines.
Just a handful of varietal Canaiolo wines are produced, although interest in the variety is increasing. Canaiolo makes for soft and mellow wine with elegant aromatics and gentle tannins. It blends exceptionally well with Sangiovese and can accent herbaceous flavors found in the Chianti blend.
Canaiolo was once extensively planted in Tuscany, Lazio, Marche and Sardinia, and it still exists, to a limited extent, in these regions. Canaiolo’s downfall was largely due to its resistance to grafting to American rootstock. Therefore it was not commonly replanted after Tuscany’s vines were ravaged by the phylloxera epidemic in the 19th Century.
Nevertheless, Canaiolo has been of considerable importance historically in Chianti. Some authorities have even argued that the variety is responsible for the successful development of the Chianti wine industry.
In the days before electricity and temperature-controlled fermentation, winemakers were much more vulnerable to inclement weather; if external temperatures plummeted during the crucial fermentation phase then the winemaker risked losing the entire production of wine.
One of Canaiolo’s great strengths is its ability to dry without rotting. Winemakers in the region soon learned that a ferment that had been prematurely arrested by cold weather could be reinvigorated by adding a portion of semi-dried grapes to the tank. The extra sugar of the semi-dried Canaiolo grapes would kick-start the ferment again and save the harvest.
At least six different white wine varieties have been called Canaiolo Bianco in Tuscany. One of these is grown in greater quantities in Umbria as Drupeggio and used in the Orvieto blend. DNA studies published in 2011 showed that it is not a color mutation of Canaiolo Nero, as had previously been surmised.
Canaiolo Rosa is, however, a color mutation of the red grape. However only a few rows are cultivated in Tuscany.
Synonyms include: Canaiolo Nero, Caccione, Tindillaro, Uva Fosca.
Food matches for Canaiolo include:
- Wild boar and mushroom ragu with pappardelle
- Lamb and tahini koftas
- Skirt steak with herbed crust