The Resurrection Of Oseleta Grape

  • By Jacky Blisson MW
  • 19 Nov 2020
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
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Oseleta grape - Credit : Masi Agricola

Oseleta is a red grape variety native to the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. After falling into obscurity to the point of near extinction, the cultivar has seen a gradual revival in the region of Valpolicella.

History

Official mentions of the cultivar date back less than 200 hundred years ago. However local grape historians affirm that the variety has been cultivated in the Veneto for far longer. DNA profiling has yet to be completed, but Oseleta is thought to be related to major Valpolicella red varieties: Corvina Veronese and Rondinella. It is also said that Oseleta was domesticated from an ancient wild variety, but this theory has yet to be proven.

Origin of the Name

Oseleta goes by several synonyms such as Osela, Osella, Oselina, and Oselletta Nera. According to Jancis Robinson et al.’s “Wine Grapes”, the name Oselina likely derives from the Italian word for birds, uccelli, who love eating these sweet wine grapes.

Revival

The Oseleta grape produces relatively low yields. In the aftermath of the Phylloxera crisis which decimated vineyards throughout Europe, mass replanting efforts were undertaken. Given the challenging economic climate, grapes capable of producing abundant crops were favoured in many major vineyard regions. This is considered to be the major reason why Veronese grape growers abandoned the Oseleta variety.

In fact, Italian officials were so convinced of the grape’s extinction that the country’s ampelography records of the 20th century did not include Oseleta. The cultivar was only reinstated in the Italian grape variety register in the year 2000. 

The Masi winery of Valpolicella claims to have rediscovered the grape in the 1980s. “Wine Grapes” indicates that the grape was first reidentified in the village of Pigozzo a decade earlier. Regardless of who first came across it and how, Masi has been integral to bringing the grape back to life in the Valpolicella region.

The estate began trials with the grape in 1985, planting two hectares in three separate Valpolicella vineyard sites, each possessing different microclimates, vineyard expositions, and soil compositions. Masi’s enthusiasm for the grape slowly spread among neighbouring wineries. In 2003, Oseleta was officially permitted as a minor blending grape in Valpolicella Amarone and Recioto wines. Oseleta is used to add colour and tannin to Valpolicella blends.

Grape Characteristics 

The Oseleta variety has small grape berries which, according to Masi, produce 30% less juice than the region’s other varieties. Its thick skins and large seeds make it quite a tannic grape, though when fully ripened the seeds are said to yield quite refined tannins. Oseleta’s thick skins give good resistance to moulds like botrytis, a factor that makes the grape a good candidate for the Appassimento process. 

Oseleta is used to add colour and tannin to Valpolicella blends. Wines crafted from Oseleta tend to be dark-hued, dense, and full-bodied with firm tannins. Wild berries, spice, and herbal notes are most commonly found on the nose and palate. 

Wine Producers & Plantings

Despite renewed interest, Oseleta remains a marginal grape variety in Valpolicella with an estimated 25 hectares total currently planted in a region with almost 8000 hectares under vine.

Masi is the largest producer of Oseleta. They mainly use the variety as a minor blending component, but the winery does make a premium 100% Oseleta cuvée under the broad IGT Veronese appellation. The wine is called “Osar” which means “to dare”. 

Tedeschi Wines, Pasqua Vigneti, Tommasi, and the Azienda Agricola Zýmē have also begun working with Oseleta to add body and complexity to their wines.

Oseleta grape - Credit : Masi Agricola