5 Apr 2012

You’re welcome (Friuli, Italy – Day One)

If you close your eyes, ears, nose and brain, you can almost imagine what Venice must have been like centuries ago when it ruled a vast merchant empire the envy of the world, enough to inspire Shakespeare to set his famous “The Merchant of Venice” in. Shutting off the senses is vital, as the tightly packed streets are filled with either tourists from around the world, or those working to support the tourism industry. Venice is hardly a city that people live in, and for this reason after two days I was pretty sick of it. I shudder to think what it is like in summer, but if it is anything like Paris then it’s almost not worth it. Everything is a little bit more expensive and far from authentic. Thank goodness they at least have one youth hostel, which had possibly the worst breakfast so far on my trip, but in Venice 23 Euro is nothing to sneeze at. After a weekend wandering the allies and canals I drove up into the other great white wine region of Italy, Friuli. It is similar in some ways to Alto Adige, in the sense that it shares history and culture with its neighbouring countries Austria and Slovenia, it is predominantly white wine focused and there are a range of both indigenous and introduced varieties. What it doesn’t have in common is the micro-climates, as Friuli is a much more Mediterranean climate where they get a lot more rain and warmth, and thus the varieties and styles differ. In spite of the slight difference in culture (and language), the warmth and generosity is the same.

Yours truly with the Rosazzo Abbey behind me
My week started with a visit to the winery of Livio Felluga, an iconic name in the region. The man whose name the winery bears is famous for his passion for the vine and for greatly improving understanding about viticulture in the region. He was one of the pioneers of hillside high-quality viticulture. One of the things the brand is so famous for is the unique and instantly recognisable labels, which display a historic map of the area designed by Livio. The man himself is approaching his 100th birthday, and he has relinquished the running of the business to his two sons and daughter, the latter Elda hosting me for a wonderful visit.

Livio Felluga vineyards
After spending about four hours with Elda, it is clear her talents lie in the commercial side of the business. She is responsible for marketing side of the business, and also oversees the running of the Terre e Vini B&B and Osteria across the road from the winery, where she was generous enough to let me stay for a night. Unfortunately the osteria is closed on a Monday, so I wasn’t able to enjoy what is probably amazing regional food, but the osteria Elda took me to instead was very good, and she spoilt me a little. Before lunch we took her Jeep up to the 1,200 year old Rosazzo Abbey, below which sit some of the oldest vineyards (not vines) in the region. Although the winery owns 135 hectares of vineyards, the majority is planted on hills and thus is not as high yielding. Taking advantage of the many valleys and micro-climates, the ideal variety is selected for each vineyard. At about one million bottles of wine per year means they are a relatively large winery for the region, but the quality in all facets of the business is unmistakable.

Terre e Vini Osteria and B&B
With lunch we enjoyed the Pinot Grigio 2010, which had great apple, kiwi and lime purity, subtle and balanced texture, and was great with the prosciutto and polenta we had with lunch. The tasting continued with the Friulano 2011, a variety which I need to have more familiarity with as in my opinion is the most important variety in the region. The 2011 had a clean herbal green papaya and kiwi nose, but having been recently bottled was a little shocked. On the palate it also looked a little hot, but had balanced fruit and acid with full flavours and lees derived texture and richness. The Sauvignon 2011 took me by surprise, as it was one of the most complete and complex I’d seen without any barrel influence. The Abbazia di Rosazzo 2009 initially showed too creamy and buttery, with vanilla coconut and rich peach notes, a little too fat. After it had opened up it started to show its complexity, but was quite warm and textural. The Terre Alte 2009 was the highlight of the tasting, a blend of pinot bianco, sauvignon blanc and friulano. It had very subtle lees derived complexity, and had a wide variety of fruit notes, was bold and rich in character but also gentle and balanced. The Refosco dal Peduncolo 2007 showed quite rustic, but inspired me to discover more wines made from this variety.

Terre Alte 2009
Smaller and newer than my previous host, the Ronco dei Tassi winery is located further south along the Slovenian border and slightly closer to the Adriatic Sea. The winery is the passion and lifeblood of the Coser family, established in 1989 by Fabio Coser and his wife Daniela. Starting with a nine hectare property, they initially planted four hectares of vineyard in the heart of Collio. The property has grown to 25 hectares with 18 hectares of vineyards, and the name of the brand is taken from the terraces (ronchi), and the colony of badgers (tassi) in the vineyard. Second generation Enrico Coser was hard at work completing a bottling when I arrived, and afterwards showed me around the winery.

Ronco dei Tassi, the sign says it all
Enrico showed took me through the white wines from 2011, still in tank but set for bottling over the next six months. The Ribolla Gialla had recently been sulphured so was quite reductive on the nose, but was very fresh and light on the palate, showing harmony and texture with pure green apple characters. The Pinot Grigio showed the same freshness, but with more floral and nashi pear notes, more warmth and texture and some lees derived creaminess. The Friulano was looking quite funky and cheesy, having much more lees contact, and was ripe and powerful on the mid-palate with a clean mineralic finish. The Malvasia had more crunchy tropical ripeness, and whilst being bold was haunting and smoky on the back of the palate. The Collio Bianco – a blend of ribolla gialla, pinot bianco, friulano and malvasia – was quite possibly the best Italian white wine I have tasted. It had lovely fresh apple and kiwi notes on the nose, coupled with a mineralic blue cheese complexity. It was subtle and expressive, elegant and rich, lofty and confident. I was offered the red blend of Bordeaux varieties, but preferred to retain the taste of the Collio Bianco in my mouth.

Enrico Coser in the cellars of Ronco dei Tassi
Click here to see more photos from Day One in Friuli, Italy.

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