Fragolino Time

Fragolino is a mysterious, and for some, illegal drink.  For those not in the know, fragolino is a type of grape, which gets its name from the Italian for strawberry – fragola.  This grape tends to produce a wine with a sort of strawberry flavour, hence its ‘fragolino’ moniker.

The ‘ino’ part of the word ‘fragolino’, pronounced ‘een-oh’, indicates that something is much smaller than normal in Italian.  Example: bicchiere – glass, can become bicchierino – small glass, as in a small glass of wine.   Back to the strawberry wine.

This Food and Wine Friday post takes a look at why fragolino wine became illegal, and looks at a fragolino drink which is sold, supposedly legally, in Italian supermarkets.

Grapes from America

Fragolino drink

An Italian Fragolino Drink

Popular opinion here in Italy is that wine produced with the fragolino grape, also known, interestingly as the uva Americana – American grape, is illegal.  As you may have guessed, the fragolino grape is not an European variety, but one which, judging by the name, came from the New World.  The official Latin title for fragolino is vitis labrusca, by the way.

From what I’ve understood, substandard wine production methods during the first half of the twentieth century led to worries about the quality of wines being produced in Italy, and seeing as the fragolino grape was often used in the production of poor quality wine, legislation in Italy was introduced to ban wine production using this particular grape.   Even today, the poor, misunderstood fragolino grape cannot be used in the production of wine.  It can, however, be used to produce distilled drinks, so a fragolino grappa would be OK.  Seeing as grappa is not wine, I guess Italy’s esteemed legislators must have thought that this exception was acceptable.

Fragolino Wine Not Made in Italy

Even though, technically, fragolino wine cannot be made in Italy, the boundaries between legal and illegal are often rather murky here.  Ask one person, and he or she’ll swear that something is illegal, speak to another person, and you may well be told that the same thing is legal.  Often such people are ‘experts’ or ‘professionals’, just to add to the confusion.  But I digress.

Fragolino On Italian supermarket shelves

Duchess Lia Fragolino

Duchessa Lia Fragolino

On Italian supermarket shelves, you will find a, presumably legal, product called fragolino, which is produced by Italian firm, the Piedmont based, Duchessa Lia.  The Duchessa Lia legal, one imagines, Fragolino, is described on its elegant bottle as being an ‘aromatic wine-based beverage’.  This drink, which will set you back the sum of around 4 Euros in Italy, comes in a champagne style bottle, as you may be able to see from the picture, and is not at all bad.

I often have a bottle sitting in our fridge, seeing as it makes a nice little summer drink.  Not as heady as ‘real’ wine, but very pleasant all the same, and it has that strawberry flavour, which I like.  It is doubtful whether the semi-legal fragolino grape was involved in the production of this wine, and one suspects that the crafty Duchessa Lia company, being furbo, simply added flavouring from real strawberries to achieve the desired effect.

Fragolino On Ebay

Whether this drink is available outside of Italy, I do not really know.  It can be bought on-line via websites specialising in Italian food and drink, and an enterprising German is even selling the stuff via Ebay!  The price is €6.50, plus another €6.90 postage and packing.  Eek!  Remember, I pay around €4.

Try Fragolino

Should you fancy trying Duchessa Lia fragolino, then pop into a local Italian supermarket while on your summer holiday in Italy and buy a bottle, pop it into the fridge to let it cool, and crack it open – being careful that the plastic cork does not take your, or someone else’s, eye out when it launches forth from its bottle with a satisfyingly champagne-like pop.  It can be found in Milan, I know, I have a bottle in front of me.  By the way, this drink is alcoholic, so don’t give it to your little ones, even if a sip won’t do any harm.

I would point you towards the Duchessa Lia website, but it is still ‘under construction’.  For Italian readers there is very comprehensive, complete with references to Italian and European law, article on the legality, or not, of the vitis labrusca, alias, Fragolino grape here:  IL FRAGOLINO, by one Edoardo Mori, who must qualify as being something of an expert on this strawberry flavoured subject.

Fascinating it is, the subject of Fragolino.

Back to the strawberry wine.
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Comments

  1. Jeri says

    I had a dessert wine in Rome this summer at Miscellanea Pub called “sexy” wine. I would like to be able to buy it, but failed to get the brand name. Does anyone know anything about it? Thank you!

  2. Cher says

    I too lived in Vicenza for 4 years until just recently and an Italian friend of mine one evening brought a bottle of Fragolino to a dinner that I hosted and as soon as I uncorked the bottle I was in love…..OMG the fragrance is out of this world! It’s true that you cannot buy the real thing in the stores, and that the stuff they sell and call Fragolino is not genuine…they add flavoring etc to it. After my initial introduction to Fragolino, if I wanted a bottle I would beg my Italian friends to get it for me, it is not legal and I don’t know where they got it, but they were definitely homemade the bottles were never labled. I would frequently get the white but the red was my favorite….OMG how I miss Italy!!

  3. Elizabeth says

    A lot of the wines that are labeled as “Fragolino” are typically going to be blends of other grapes rather than the Uva Americana/Isabella. Be careful because after looking further into the vineyards that I’ve found that offer the “genuine” Fragolino actually add some kind of strawberry flavor (usually natural) after fermentation and are using the incorrect grapes for the wines you folks are really looking for. I’ve been searching non-stop for the last few months trying to find even just one bottle to give as a gift, but have had almost NO luck :/

    There are a few vineyards in the US that grow the actual Isabella grape and produce a wine directly from them, but I’m also trying to get some of the genuine Italian stuff like I actually had over there, especially considering that the trouble attaining it is making it that much more intriguing :P

    Good luck to everyone, and if I find anything, I’ll be sure to post in here!

  4. Sky says

    Fragalino It is my favorite vino. I enjoy the dolche’ strawberry flavor. Oh my goodness, this was very interesting to read this post. I lived in Vicenza Italy in 2009. When I returned back to the states I brought back several bottles, red and white fragalino. I purchased it at the local Prix on Via La Roma in Torri. I paid less than 2 euro per bottle. It said it was made in Verona, Italy where there are tons of vino makers. I just drank the last bottle last week. I hope to return to Italy someday. I should have kept the bottle and posted the picutre on here. Is it true what another person said, it will cause blindness?

  5. Cap says

    It’s been many a year (14) since I last had Fragolino. I was in Italy from 1997 to 1999 and had the benefit of being friends with a few long-time American’s living in Vicenza. We would go up in the Alps and purchase the Fragolino by the case from a bar. By far, one of the best wines I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.

    I’ve found it difficult to acquire quality Grappa stateside as well.

  6. Jacs says

    I was in Italy in 2011 and had it. LOVED IT! In fact, I was able to bring back 2 bottles with me that I purchased from the local grocer in Italy. I have ordered from a site since being home but, it wasn’t the same. If anyone finds a site that sells it the way it tasted in Italy please post. It was FAB!

    • Jacs says

      I purchased it in Venice at the local grocer, the resturants wanted 15 euro’s and I paid I think 4. Also the moscato’s were like 3 euro’s in the grocery. This page is bringing back the memories. LOL

  7. Adam Smith says

    Ive had the Fragolino mentioned in the article (Duchessa Lia Fragolino) several times. I live in Vecinza, Italy and a local trattoria has it on the menu. Whether its “real” or not i guess remains to be a mystery of sorts but it sure is delicious!

  8. says

    I was told by a Venetian DOC that the original & wonderful & kept-under-wraps-behind-the-bar-counter fragolino wine – now outlawed – was from Venice.
    How our grapes got to the Venetian countryside is beyond me but now, unless you know someone, you can’t buy the real thing unless you have contacts in the right places.

    Francesca Maggi
    Burnt by the Tuscan Sun

  9. jd805 says

    I have had it and it is a delicious desert wine. It was a gift from my friend in Milano and wish i could find it locally in the states.

  10. Nestor says

    “Uva americana” is known here, in Argentina, as “uva chinche”; there are also some caveats about using it to make wine, but the National Winemaking Institute (INV) admits it for low scale production. You can get it in Berisso, near La Plata, 60 km south of Buenos Aires if you ask for “vino de la Costa” (coast – of the River Plate – wine).
    Greetings

  11. Jennifer says

    Hi I had a taste of FRAGOLINO at da Good Food an Wine show in Durban South Africa.We thought it tasted great an bought a case.Needless to sat it wil be our wine of choice frm now on.

    • Dasharia says

      @Jennifer, I also had Fragolino at the Good food and wine show in Durban, but now cannot seem to find it anywhere, do you have any idea where I could buy it?

  12. Kyle says

    Good post, Alex. A couple additions: fragolino is most likely the ubiquitous Concord grape, the most common vitis labrusca cultivar. Under Italian wine legislation, only vitis vinifera hybrids may be used. Thus, the making of wine using labrusca hybrids would run afoul of the law, making it “illegal”. Furthermore, labrusca hybrids are also known to produce high amounts of methanol during fermentation, which when consumed in large quantities can cause blindness. To my knowledge, there is no specific legislation illegalizing the production or consumption of fragolino. It is more that there isn’t legislation codifying, authorizing and overseeing production, therefore it is “outside the law”. All makes for good hype. :)

  13. Wendy says

    I had a bottle several years ago in the countryside of Florence at a restaurant, it was so good I bought several bottles to bring home to the States…and thus began my love affair with Fragolino. I managed to order a case from a local wine store. He found it for me but it took months to get. I haven’t been so successful lately :( I actually just got back from Italy ( 2nd trip in 5 years) I searched everywhere for it but couldn’t find it. We even had a professional wine tasting in Rome, I asked about the Fragolino, but she said she had never heard of it. Guess I will keep searching.

    Cheers,
    Wendy

    • says

      Hi Wendy,

      Glad to hear you are a fragolino lover, sad, but not surprised, to hear you are having problems getting hold of a few bottles.

      Where are you in the States, approximately? I’ll tweet about this and see if I can pin down a fragolino supplier for you.

      Cheers,

      Alex

      • Rita porter says

        Trying to find Fragolino… I tried it in Italy at a restaurant in Florencenear Tuscany. If you know where I can locate this wine with high alcohol content. Plase let me know.

  14. Tyler says

    I’m kind of late to the party here, but I had some fragolino while in Florence back in the summer of 2008. It was great. The other people at my table (I was on a tour) successfully encouraged me to take another bottle of it that was behind me while the waiters weren’t watching.

    I didn’t turn 21 until last summer and have tried various times to buy some at local wine shops. At first, I thought they just didn’t carry it, but then I read an article about how it is illegal earlier this summer. Quite shocked. Makes me wish we bought some for my older sister while in Italy (and for ourselves).

    • says

      Real fragolino is not at all bad, I know. No wonder you grabbed another bottle, Tyler!

      It’s not at all easy to find in shops, aside from the version I’ve come across, I know. I really don’t know why it is illegal either. There seems no good reason why this is the case, and, legal or not, it can be found in Italy.

      You’ll just have to come back to Italy one day to get some more!

      Best,

      Alex

      • Genevieve says

        I have come across a case of fragolino from a friends parents they bought on a trip to italy…the exact age of the wine isnt clear but by the label i assume its a ’93 or so…anyone interested in a bottle give us a call…BurgundyHorse Bistro 1-907-357-4050

  15. says

    Thanks for sharing about Fragolino, I will have ti try it next year while in Italy.

    The legal/illegal dilemma is very interesting indeed.

Comments welcome!