Italy has hundreds of indigenous grape varieties, from the well known (Nebbiolo, Sangiovese) to the utterly obscure (glass of Fogarina, anyone?). But one of its greatest red wines, Le Macchiole’s Paleo Rosso, is made entirely from a French import: Cabernet Franc.
Use of the classic French varieties isn’t actually unusual in Tuscany’s Bolgheri region, where Le Macchiole is located. Tenuta San Guido’s Cabernet Sauvignon–based Sassicaia, for instance, achieved worldwide fame and effectively started the “super-Tuscan” category back in the early 1970s. But Cabernet Franc—a supporting-cast variety in France, except in parts of the Loire Valley, and a trickier grape, especially in colder vintages when it can produce weedy, overly green wines—is an outlier.
Paleo Rosso actually started as a Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese blend, but co-owners Cinzia Merli and her husband Eugenio Campolmi (who passed away in 2001) eventually realized that Cabernet Franc grew beautifully on their property. A small percentage crept into the blend, and in 2001 the wine became 100 percent Cabernet Franc. “The result was outstanding,” Merli recalls.