'La Scomparsa': are red squirrels disappearing from northern Italy?

Red squirrels have been wiped out from a large swath of northern Italy, according to the Guardian.

There are thought to be no red squirrels left in Piedmont, and their survival is under threat elsewhere as grey squirrels continue their remorseless advance.

Scientists are concerned that if left unchecked, grey squirrels could reach France and wreak havoc among the native red squirrel population there. It's all very sad and we have to hope that conservation efforts can stem the tide.

Italy is not only home to a dwindling population of native red squirrels, but also the breeding ground of hundreds of rare, native grape varieties. The ancient Greeks called these lands Oenotria, from the Greek word oinos meaning 'wine', because they were blanketed in vineyards. There are officially more than 350 different Italian grape varieties and perhaps many more than 500 if you include closely related clones (such as Pigato and Vermentino, or Ormeasco and Dolcetto).

Italian winemakers have traditionally been very faithful to their native grapes, yet even here the big international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Shiraz are gaining footholds thanks to commercial demands.

Red Squirrel Wine has on its books a number of rare variety wines  from Italy, such as A Mano's Fiano-Greco blend from Puglia, or Cantina Mesa's Cannonau from Sardinia. We spent a few days over the summer in Liguria, visiting producers in Cinque Terre and Dolceacqua and learning about their local varieties such as Bosco, Pigato and Rossese, some of which we hope to bring over here and put in our boxes very soon. In our special seasonal sparkling box (coming out in time for Christmas), we'll also have a bottle of Franciacorta, the Italians' take on Champagne.

Alongside it will be a delectable bottle of Moscato d'Asti, Piedmont's suddenly hip sweet  fizz and rappers' paramour du jour. That's one quirky northern Italian red squirrel that won't be disappearing any time soon.

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