Friuli Venezia Giulia: A Wine Smorgasbord

Posted on Posted in Gravner, Vodopivec, Wine Press, Zidarich

BY IAN D’AGATA | MAY 17, 2018 |

No other region in Italy offers as large a selection of outstanding white wines from so many different grape varieties as Friuli Venezia Giulia does, while the region’s native red grapes yield wines that are equally distinctive.

Make no mistake about it: Friuli Venezia Giulia is the region where, in the 1970s, Italy’s white wine quality renaissance began. Prior to this awakening, with very few exceptions Italy’s white wines were mostly charming tipples meant to be quaffed in the local market within six months or so after having been bottled, as the wines generally oxidized soon thereafter. Thanks to the example set forth by the likes of Livio Felluga, Silvio Jermann and especially Mario Schiopetto, who introduced temperature control and began paying greater attention to cellar hygiene, other producers in the region finally began making cleaner, more precise white wines from the many grape varieties grown throughout the area.

Gravner

Roughly thirty-two hectares (of which eighteen are under vine) located in the high quality area of Oslavia in the Collio, a true if unofficial grand cru for Ribolla Gialla. The estate is arguably Italy’s best (by far) at making minimal intervention wines, with long macerations, was one of the first to turn to amphoras as an aging vessel. There is simply no comparison between Gravner’s wines (in matters of texture, cleanliness, precision and depth) and similarly made wines by practically anyone else in the region or the country, for that matter. That fact recognized, I want to stress that the talent level has always been extraordinary here, such that the wines have always been outstanding, and this was true even long ago when long macerations and amphoras weren’t an issue. Witness for example the magnificent 1983 Ribolla Gialla that I remember well from my university days in Rome. Today the estate is all about trying to re-establish a natural balance in its vineyards (for example by creating ponds on the property and by planting olive, wild apple trees and cypresses to create a habitat for different animals), moving away with as much technology and equipment and utensils as possible, such as barriques. Over the years the estate has also moved away from a lot of the different varieties it had planted, so there are no more Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Grigio wines produced, for example. The Ribolla Gialla wines age extremely well and though you have to like white wines being treated as reds, it’s hard to argue with their quality. Even more impressive is the Rosso Breg, made with Pignolo (the only red grape left on the property), a variety that gives “tough tannins” a whole new meaning, yet Gravner’s version is remarkably complex and smooth.

2009 Ribolla Gialla
Deep orangy-yellow color. Pure, highly complex aromas of lemon, winter melon, apricot jelly, crushed stone, minerals and iris. Then juicy, tight and sharply delineated, with very fresh, dry, mineral-driven flavors of lemon, orchard fruit and mint. With aeration, this revealed its underlying richness even more and without losing any of its grip or precision. Fermented in amphoras with indigenous yeasts and no temperature control, it spent five months in buried amphoras, then six years in large oak barrels. An outstanding orange wine: Gravner should consider opening a school to teach many of his colleagues all over the world how to correctly make such wines.

Score 93
Drinking Window 2018 – 2024

2008 Bianco Breg
Bright, deep orange-yellow. Aromas of candied pineapple, orange peel, grilled banana, earth tones and lanolin. Juicy, smooth and concentrated, with well-integrated acidity giving shape to the herb, orchard fruit and honey flavors. Tactile and persistent, finishing classically dry and lemony but not harsh. Strikes me as richer but less nuanced and graceful than Gravner’s 2009 Ribolla Gialla. Made from a complex blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Riesling Italico (Welschriesling), this was fermented in amphoras with indigenous yeasts and no temperature control. The wine spent five months in buried amphoras, then six years in large oak barrels.

Score 92
Drinking Window 2018 – 2024

2006 Pinot Grigio
Pinkish Cognac color. Dried apricot, orange, raisin, dried strawberry, and coffee on the nose, plus a suggestion of grilled nuts. Deep, dense and thick but with off-the-charts acidity lifting the wine’s flavors of raisiny ripe fruit and sweet spices. Finishes long and suave.

Score 91
Drinking Window 2018 – 2023

2005 Pignolo Vino Rosso Breg
Vivid full ruby-purple. Blackberry, violet and aromatic herbs on the nose, along with some flinty minerality and a hint of blueberry pie. Enters bright and juicy, then turns surprisingly plush and sweet in the mouth, with an enticingly wild quality to the concentrated blue and red berry flavors. Boasts terrific density of fruit and silky texture, not to mention harmonious acidity. Finishes suavely tannic and extremely long with noteworthy clarity and cut. An absolutely knockout Pignolo: very well done. Fermented in amphoras with indigenous yeasts and no temperature control. The wine spent five months in buried amphoras, then five years in large oak barrels.

Score 95
Drinking Window 2018 – 2025

Vodopivec

2014 Vitovska
Pale golden-tinged straw yellow. Honeyed white flowers and herbs complicate orange peel and fresh pear on the nose. Then youthfully chewy but delicate with precise, fresh flavors of herbs and yellow fruits. A wine of noteworthy refinement, this boasts lots of flavor and only 12.5% alcohol. What I like best about this wine is it is what it is, eschewing gimmicks: for example, it’s so smooth and well balanced and precise, and you cannot even tell it’s been aged in amphora. The aging vessel has to be a means, not the end goal, and at Vodopivec they have understood this brilliantly. Well done.

Score 93
Drinking Window 2018 – 2025

2014 Viotvska Solo MM
Dark straw. Earthy and sweet herbal notes complicate pear, apple and lime peel on the nose and palate. Richer, deeper and sweeter than Vodopivec’s 2014 Vitovska, with a complicating candied note and a sweet vanilla nuance emerging on the long, smooth back end.

Score 93
Drinking Window 2018 – 2025

Zidarich

2015 Vitovska
Opaque straw yellow/orange with a light rim. Polite aromas and flavors of red cherry, green apple, fresh herbs and spices. Nicely concentrated and brisk, with a gently extracted impression and offering very saline flavors of apple cider and lime. This very easy to drink Vitovska finishes with fine tannins and good persistence. Made from 6-30 year old vines planted at about 260 meters above sea level on the Carso’s very poor red soils.

Score 89
Drinking Window 2018 – 2020

2015 Malvasia Istriana
Good bright light golden-yellow. High-pitched aromas and flavors of tangerine, stone fruits, minerals and nutmeg. Densely packed, delicately aromatic Malvasia that closes with a persistent finish. I like this wine’s balance and finishing lift. Made from 6-30 year old vines planted at about 260 meters above sea level on the Carso’s very poor red soils.

Score 91
Drinking Window 2018 – 2022

2014 Vitovska Kamen
Bright gold with pinkish highlights. Vibrant, finely etched citrus aromas and flavors expand with aeration, picking up honeyed pear and green papaya notes, and mix with gingery spices and minerals. Finishes with flinty nuances and a hint of faded flowers. This is fermented and macerated (18 days on the skins) in a unique marble stone cask that was especially devised by Zidarich. The wine then ages in large used oak casks.

Score 91
Drinking Window 2018 – 2022

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