6 Apr 2012

Once in a lifetime (Friuli, Italy – Day Two)

One of the guiding principles of my trip is to attempt to enjoy regional cuisine along with the regional wines as often as possible. My theory is that the cuisine of the region organically developed to match with the wines of the region (up until about 40 years ago), and if I can understand the food of the region I may better understand the wines, and the experience will strengthen the memory. The major difficulty I have with this principle is the restrictions of my budget, which is important I adhere to if I want to travel for as long as I intend. This isn’t much of a problem, except that the food I can afford is not always the best. For this reason I always relish any invitation I have for lunch or dinner with one of my winery hosts, not only because it is a free meal. The occasion has increased since arriving to Europe, particularly Italy where I have enjoyed lunch and dinner on numerous occasions. The food experience I had on my second day in Friuli however, was one of the most surreal and amazing, and will stay with me forever, as you will read below.

Does it get any better than this?
The first appointment for the day was at Bortoluzzi, who I had arranged an appointment with during Vinitaly. The winery this year celebrates its 20th birthday, established by experienced and qualified wine expert, Giovanni Bortoluzzi. The winery produces a range of varietal wines focusing mostly on white wines, and are very well known for their sauvignon blanc. In their vinoteca they not only sell their wines in 750ml bottles, but also in the traditional jugs and bag-in-box, as well as fresh pears and apples when they are in season. I knew beforehand that they would be bottling all day, and would therefore be quite busy. Unfortunately my host Angela Bortoluzzi was taken ill and holed up in bed with a fever, which made things difficult for her brother Alberto, who was well and truly focused on the bottling, and also didn’t have my number to call and reschedule/cancel. He was very nice to quickly show me around the winery and taste a few of the wines they would be bottling, and in apology gave me a few bottles to take with me (which I felt a bit guilty about).

No ordinary wine shop
The Pinot Grigio 2011 had the classic Italian freshness and crispness, with citric and apple notes, but was far from simple having texture and balance. The Friulano 2011 had a similar intensity yet delicacy of acidity, but was more textural and rich in the mid-palate, showing salty minerality and some skin contact complexity. The Sauvignon Blanc 2011 showed very elegant tropical fig and passionfruit aromas, with light touches of smoky, was bold and fresh on the palate but very approachable. The Traminer 2011 to finish was challenging aromatically as it was very reductive under sulphur, but had a very wild character on the palate, dry and savoury with a character reminiscent of hot dog water.

Bottles be fillin'.
The Bastianich name is almost totally unknown in Australia. In fact its almost totally unknown outside of the United States. In the United States however, it is practically a household name thanks to Lidia Bastianich, who is the American equivalent of Stefano DiPieri. Originally born in the now Croatian town of Pula, she and her family relocated to New York in 1958 as refugees. In 1971 she and husband Felix opened their first restaurant in Queens, beginning one of the most important food empires in the United States. Lidia spent the following ten years training as a chef, and has since become the most influential Italian chef in the country, revolutionising the way people thought of regional Italian food. Lidia has appeared on numerous television shows, published many books and her family have also become important figures, such as her son Joe who was a judge on the American and Italian versions of Masterchef. As part of the Empire Joe has also established wineries in Friuli (historically part of the same region as Istria where Lidia and Felix are from), Tuscany, Piedmont and Mendoza.

Lidia on the left hosts us for lunch
During Vinitaly I was introduced by Trembath & Taylor to Wayne Young, a relocated American, who is the factotum/jack-of-all at Bastianich, but mostly handles the marketing & communications. When I told him I'd be in Friuli the following week he mentioned that a group of bloggers from the USA (and one from the UK) would be there all week and Lidia was cooking for them on the Tuesday, he very generously invited me to join them as a fellow (amateur) blogger. As mentioned before, Lidia Bastianich is not a well known name way down in Australia, so the significance of this didn't hit me until the day before. Over a sumptuous four course lunch prepared with fresh seasonal ingredients (best risotto ever), Wayne introduced the Bastianich wine story, and some of the wines as well. We were also joined by an Italian Chef/TV personality, who was filming proceedings. In Friuli the winery (which has been around since 1997), sources fruit from 28 hectares of vineyards in two parts of Friuli - Buttrio and Cividale - which are similar in terms of soil but quite different in terms of micro-climate. Thus varieties and wine styles differ depending on the site.

The Bastianich Cividale vineyard, in the process of renovations
The first three wines (all 2010 vintage) are part of a project between three producers in different countries, but all part of the same historic region, and under the Adriatico label. The Italian wine is Friulano, and it had dry roasted honey notes with dusty melon and peach, depth and richness with some floral complexity. The Slovenian wine is Ribolla Gialla, and had a slightly grey tinge to it, steely minerality and peach skin on the nose, and was very salty and tight on the palate with some lees derived texture. The Croatian (Istrian) Malvasia has a more oily saltiness, bold and slightly herbal with a delicate candied lime element. The Vespa Bianco is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and picolit, and the 2009 had a bright rich colour, ripe mineralic orchard fruit, and was very ripe and full on the palate, showing powerful yet focused fruit. The Plus is a 100% friulano wine, that showed roasted walnut and ripe tropical pear notes, had some serious fruity concentration and warmth on the palate, and is one of the most intense white wines I have ever tasted. The Vespa Rosso 2009 is a blend of merlot, refosco, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, and had a very rustic earthy broodiness combining with tightly wound raspberry tannins and minerality. The Calabrone 2007 (70% refosco) had bold blackcurrant spice, with both floral and roasted notes, very big fruit and yet balanced oak and alcohol.

Two vintages of the Vespa Bianco (no relation to the scooter)
Way back in 1896 Eugenio Collavini supplied wines to the Udine nobility when he began his winery, but he may not have known how important his name would become in the Friuli region. His son Giovanni took the winery through two world wars, and his grandson Manlio would take the winery into the new era through innovations both in the region and in the markets. The winery holds a very important place in Italian wines, as it was a pioneer in premium pinot grigio wines, as well as unique sparking wines made from Italian varieties such as pinot grigio and the native ribolla gialla grape. Manlio is now assisted by his sons Giovanni, Eugenio and Luigi, the latter of which was kind enough to not only host me through a tour and tasting, but also put me up in one of the best local hotels/restaurants. The aforementioned Ribolla Gialla Spumante is one of the most iconic in the category, as it not only uses a unique variety, but is also made in the charmat method, sitting on lees in pressurized tanks for several years before bottling. The tasting revealed the entry-level wines are all very sound but safe wines, whereas the more premium wines are fantastic.

Pressurized tanks as part of the Method Collavini
The Ribolla Gialla Spumante 2008 had a gentle apple and lychee fruit nose, vibrant and fresh yet full on the palate, dry and approachable, not serious but seriously good. The Broy Bianco 2009, a blend of friulano chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, had great floral and apricot concentration on the nose, rich and texturally viscous on the palate, but very well balanced and lengthy. The 2008 vintage of the same wine was much more powerful and toasty on the nose, showing more crunchy oak texture and was a little flabby and flat. The Turian Schioppetino 2005 showed candied vanilla raspberry characters, quite soft and full on the palate with fruit-sweet tannins and richness. The Forrresco Refosco 2005 to finish was lovely and plump, combining dark fruits with some dried coconut and dark chocolate, mellow yet intense and dense, a real long-liver.

Tasting at Eugenio Callavini
Click here to see more photos from Day Two in Friuli, Italy.

No comments:

Post a Comment