Friuli Venezia Giulia
Merlot is a red wine variety with strong historic ties to Bordeaux and the southwest of France. It is the predominant variety in most wines from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, the area in which the variety originated. The variety is now widely planted in wine regions across the world and, in terms of the volumes of wine produced internationally, it is rivaled only by its Bordeaux companion, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Investigations into the genetics of Merlot suggest that it is closely related to Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, its Bordeaux blending partners.
The precise flavors that Merlot imparts to a wine are not easily grouped. It is a grape used for producing wines of a particular texture, rather than a particular taste, relying on organoleptic properties other than just flavor and aroma.
Smooth, rounded and “easy-drinking” are common descriptions of Merlot wines. The main reason for this is that Merlot grapes are relatively large in relation to their pips and the thickness of the skins, in which tannins are found.
For this reason, the variety is used to soften wines made from more tannic varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon (in the Medoc) or Malbec (in Cahors). It is also used in cooler vintages to balance the austerity of underripe grapes and to make the wines more approachable at an earlier age.
Merlot might be seen as the reliable grape variety, or as an insurance policy. Along with its capacity to soften wine, it is early maturing – meaning that it ripens even in slightly cooler climates. Its key drawback is that the early-developing flowers are more susceptible to frost damage in spring.
Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the most famous red wine grape variety on Earth. It is rivaled in this regard only by its Bordeaux stablemate Merlot, and its opposite number in Burgundy, Pinot Noir. From its origins in Bordeaux, Cabernet has successfully spread to almost every wine-growing country in the world.
Wherever they come from, Cabernet Sauvignon wines always seem to demonstrate a handful of common character traits; deep color, good tannin structure, moderate acidity and aromas of blackcurrant, tomato leaf, dark spices and cedar wood.
Used as frequently in blends as in varietal wines, Cabernet Sauvignon has a large number of common blending partners. Apart from the obvious Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the most prevalent of these are Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere (the ingredients of a classic Bordeaux Blend), Syrah/Shiraz (in Australia) and Tempranillo (in Spain and South America). Even the bold Tannat-based wines of Madiran are now generally softened with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes
DNA profiling carried out in California in 1997 confirmed that Cabernet Sauvignon is the product of a natural genetic crossing between key Bordeaux grape varieties Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Most wine authorities agree that this crossing happened only within the past few centuries, making the variety’s global fame and dominance all the more impressive.
There are two key reasons for Cabernet Sauvignon’s rise to dominance. The most simple and primordial of these is that its vines are highly adaptable to different soil types and climates. Secondary to this, but just as important, is that despite the diversity of terroirs in which the vine is grown, Cabernet Sauvignon wines retain an inimitable “Cab” character, nuanced with hints of provenance in the best-made examples.
There is just a single reason, however, for the durability of the variety’s fame and that is simple economics; the familiarity and marketability of the Cabernet Sauvignon name has an irresistible lure to wine companies looking for a reliable return on their investment.
As a late-flowering and late-ripening variety, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes mature slowly. This can also work for or against wine quality; in a cold season or climate there is a risk of the grapes failing to ripen fully, while in most other conditions the steady rate of progress offers producers a wider choice of harvest dates.
Refosco dal Peduncolo
Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso is a red Italian wine grape grown predominantly in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy.
The grape is a variety in the Refosco family (which also includes e.g. Terrano) and derives its name from its red stems. It is found in the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) of Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli Aquileia, Friuli Grave and Friuli Latisana. It is also found in the Veneto portion of the Lison Pramaggiore and in the Slovenian wine region of Koper.
Like the other Refosco grapes, the origins of Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso are not completely known but current evidence suggest that it is indigenous to Italy. The grape was well known in antiquity and it or a similar variety was praised by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder in the first century for the quality of wine it produced. In 1390, the Italian writer Francesco di Manzano noted that wine made from Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso was the favorite of Augustus’s wife Livia.
Beginning in the 1980s, the grape experienced a revival in interest along with other Friuli-Venezia Giulia grapes, and more wines made from the grape were exported internationally.
Ampelographers have long thought Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso was related to the Marzemino grape of the San Michele all’Adige region of Trentino. In the early 21st century, DNA profiling confirmed that Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso was a parent of Marzemino.
In Friuli, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso vines are planted in both hillside and level terrain. Ripening is a concern and the grape requires sufficient access to warmth and sunlight, which play a major role in deciding where to plant the grape.
Despite being a slow ripener, the grape does have good resistance to rot that can develop during autumn rains. The deeply colored wine produced from the grape tends to be full-bodied with high acidity levels and flavors of plum & almond notes. Since the renewed interest in the grape of the 1980s, winemakers have experimented with producing more internationally recognizable styles of the grape with techniques like malolactic fermentation and new oak aging to mix results.
Schioppettino is a dark-skinned grape variety native to Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the far northeastern corner of Italy. Having declined massively in the late 19th and 20th centuries, it was saved from extinction in the 1970s, and is now regaining the respect and recognition it once had.
Most Schioppettino wines are medium bodied, deeply colored, aromatic on the nose (violets and red berries) and spicy to the palate (peppery, earthy). Schioppettino is most often produced as a dry red wine, but can also be made into sparkling spumante versions, a local specialty of Friuli.
The finest Schioppettino wines come from the Colli Orientali del Friuli (“the eastern hills of Friuli”), which mark the border between Italy and Slovenia (where the variety goes by the name Pocalza). The variety grows particularly well around the hillside parishes of Cialla and Prepotto, less than a mile from the Slovenian border. The variety is also used in blends, most often with the equally fascinating and idiosyncratic Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso.
Schioppettino has been in viticultural use since at least the 13th Century.
Whatever hopes the variety had of being revived at this time were soon dashed by the two World Wars, during which those responsible for tending the vines were called on to abandon their vineyards and fight. By the 1960s there were less than 100 Schioppettino vines left in existence, scattered all over eastern Friuli. Salvation came in the early 1970s, when Paolo Rapuzzi founded the Ronchi di Cialla winery, and began seeking out native Friulian grape varieties for his vineyard. By this time, the variety was so long-forgotten that it was neither recognized nor permitted for use by Italian wine law.
Schioppettino is not Friuli’s only wine grape to have come close to oblivion; two of the region’s other signature varieties, Pignolo and Tazzelenghe nearly suffered a similar fate.
Outside Italy, Schioppettino is almost entirely unknown.
However a tiny patch of Schioppettino vines (less than an acre) is planted in California’s Russian River Valley. They belong to the Holdredge Family, who use the grapes most often for blending into other wines, but occasionally to produce varietal Schioppettino bottlings.
One of Schioppettino’s regional synonyms is Ribolla Nera, because it was once thought to be a dark-skinned relative of the better-known Ribolla Gialla.
Pignolo is a dark-skinned grape native to Friuli, in the northeast of Italy. It has a long-standing reputation for producing deep-colored and high-quality wines that were once popular with the monks of the region’s ancient Abbazia (Abbey) di Rosazzo. It is now enjoying a renaissance in Italy, making wines that are tannic, brooding and rich, with blackberry and plum flavors.
Pignolo is a difficult grape variety to cultivate, which is one of the reasons that it suffered an almost fatal decline in plantings over the last hundred years or so. In the region of Fruili, authorities advised against planting the variety in favor of higher-yielding vines such as Schioppettino. Indeed, Pignolo produces uneven and generally low yields, and its abundance of tannins can cause problems during vinification. But those who persevere are generally rewarded: Pignolo wines are strong and structured, with plump tannins and balanced acidity. The variety has an affinity for oak, and wines are often aged for 24 months or more in barrel before being released, and can age for many years.
Because of Pignolo’s slightly complicated relationship with Italy’s appellation authorities and its diminishing crop in the 20th Century, the variety is included in few DOC-level appellations, the main exception being the Colli Orientali del Fruili DOC where varietal Pignolo wines are permitted. Many examples are also made under the regional IGT title.
The word pignolo means “fussy” in Italian, but the variety is also connected etymologically with various other grape varieties, as the pignosuffix means pinecone, referring to the shape of the bunches. Pignoletto andPignola are similarly titled but unrelated, as are the Pinot varieties from France.
Pinot Grigio is more than just the Italian name for Pinot Gris. Although the two names refer to a single grape variety, the wine styles they represent are clearly distinct from one another. The difference between Pinot Grigio wines and Pinot Gris wines is so clear and well-established that the two are often treated as if they were two distinct varieties.
The refreshing Pinot Grigio style has enjoyed great success in various countries, most recently the United States, (where it is fondly nicknamed “Greej”) and Australia. The most common descriptors of the style are “light”, “crisp” and “dry”. These characteristics are complemented by aroma notes citing lemon, green apple and blossoms.
The Grigio style is achieved by harvesting the grapes relatively early, in an attempt to retain as much fresh acidity as possible; the variety is naturally quite low in acidity. To retain freshness and “zing”, fermentation and storage typically take place in stainless-steel tanks. If barrels were used, this would add palate weight and sweet vanilla-like aromas, which would detract significantly from the clean, simple style. Pinot Grigio wines are almost always intended for consumption within a year or two of harvest, so extended cellaring is neither required nor advisable.
Northeastern Italy (Veneto, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige) remains the world epicenter of Pinot Grigio production; the region exports vast quantities of the wine each year, mostly to the United Kingdom and U.S. In some parts of Italy, the variety is used to make sparkling wines, although it is notably absent from the nation’s most serious sparkling style, Franciacorta.
Friulano (formerly Tocai Friulano) is a synonym for the grape variety also known as Sauvignonasse and Sauvignon Vert – it is known as the latter when used in the Friuli wine region of northern Italy.
Limited almost entirely to the foothills of the Southern and Western Alps, the variety is decidedly less widespread than its close relative, Sauvignon Blanc. However, like its western French cousin, it produces fruity wines with lively acidity and hints of minerality. They are best drunk within a few years of harvest.
In the 1990s and into the early years of the new millennium, Friulano and a few other grape varieties have been embroiled in a legal struggle over the use of the name “Tokay” and its various permutations. For centuries Friulano has been called Tocai Friulano, but in 1995 the European Court ruled that “Tokay” should be used only to describe the wines of Tokaj in eastern Hungary.
Although the European Court ruled on the naming restriction back in 1995, the response to this has been slow, particularly in Friuli. Although the use of the name Tocai on labels has technically been illegal since 2007, some wine producers continue to use it, and it seems unlikely that the current generation of Friuli’s winemakers will drop the Tocai in conversation. It is helpful that the variety has salvaged the second half of its name, as this means “of Friuli”, making it easier to remember which of the several Tocais it is and where the grape is most widely grown.
When the time came to choose an alternative name for the variety, Sauvignon Vert may have been an obvious and easily marketable choice, but neither the Italian nor the Slovenian
producers who grow Friulano seemed keen to adopt the French-sounding name. The Slovenian contingent ended up choosing Sauvignonasse.
Outside Friuli, Friulano is also grown in Lombardy, at the southern end of Lake Garda. There it is a key ingredient in white San Martino della Battaglia wines.
Ribolla is a white-wine grape variety most widely planted in the northeastern Italian province of Friuli. It can be found in neighboring Slovenia, where it is known as Rebula, and the Greek island of Cephalonia, under the moniker of Robola.
It is thought that the vine originated in Cephalonia and arrived in Friuli, by way of Slovenia, as early as the 13th Century and during the Venetian Republic. Two clones exist: Ribolla Verde and Ribolla Gialla. The latter is far more prevalent as it is more expressive than its green sibling. Most wines labeled as Ribolla are more likely to be made from the Ribolla Gialla clone. Ribolla Gialla Grapes
The wines are often characterized by their firm acidity, peach, citrus and apply notes, and a faint floral aromatic profile. In Friuli, Ribolla Gialla performs best in Rosazzo and Colli Orientali, where it used mostly to produce dry white wines and occasionally sparkling wines. It is most often made as a varietal but is also blended with varieties such as Pinot Grigio, Friulano and Malvasia.
Ribolla Nera is no relation of Ribolla. It’s actually a synonym for Schioppettino.
Traminer is a name that may be used to refer to a number of ancient European grape varieties. Historically speaking, it was used to describe the Germanic family of Traminer variants, or as a synonym for one key member of that family, Gewurztraminer. Traminer’s history is long and complicated, with each of its traditional growing regions offering different names and local histories for the Traminer family.
The Traminer family is highly prone to mutation, just like the Pinot family to which it is closely related (whose most famous members include Chardonnay and Pinot Noir). Various forms of Traminer have appeared all over Europe, and later in New World wine regions, and have spawned some of the world’s most-famous wine grapes; such greats as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chenin Blanc are, ultimately, descendants of the early Traminer varieties. This all provides some context for the impressive span of Traminer’s history and genetic diversity.
The colors and flavors of Traminer wines vary considerably depending on which sub-set they belong to. The most prominent example is undoubtedly Gewurztraminer, which also produces some of the most profoundly aromatic wines on the planet. Less well known is the deep-pink-skinned Roter Traminer (also known as Red Traminer, Savagnin Rosé and Klevener de Heiligenstein), which produces intensely aromatic white wines, sometimes with a faint pinkish hue.
Members of the Traminer family have proven so genetically unstable that it almost impossible to track their ancestry with any degree of certainty. Even White Traminer and Savagnin Blanc, which are now accepted as being the same grape, display subtle differences in leaf structure depending on where they are grown. As a consequence, there are literally hundreds of synonyms for the grapes of the Traminer family.
Verduzzo is a white-wine variety of northeastern Italy, used particularly in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto regions. It is used to produce both sweet and dry wines, although each of the various sub-varieties of Verduzzo shows a particular propensity for one style or the other.
There are several Verduzzo sub-varieties, the most salient of which areVerduzzo Trevigiano, Verduzzo Friulano, Verduzzo Verde and Verduzzo Giallo. The latter is a further evolution of Friulano, while the Verde form remains unidentified. The relatively young Venezia DOC (inaugurated as of the 2011 vintage) sanctions both Friulano and Trevigiano for use as core ingredients in its standard bianco, with Glera (the name for the Prosecco grape outside the official Prosecco zone) making up the remainder of the blend.
Perhaps the most famous Verduzzo wine of all is sweet Ramandolo, which has had full DOCG status since 2001.
A noteworthy idiosyncrasy of Verduzzo grapes is that they have particularly high levels of tannin. While all grapes, white and red, contain tannins to some degree, it is not usual for these to be noticeable in white wines. While Verduzzo wines are never as tannic as even the softest reds, they are noticeably more astringent than other white wines, particularly when fermented to dryness. Dry Verduzzo made from any of the sub-varieties is less flavorful than sweeter versions, making it obviously less attractive (dry, tannic and more restrained) as a style.
The Trevigiano variant first appeared in records in the early decades of the 20th Century, but since then it has certainly gained profile. Although Friulano is agreed to be the finer than Trevigiano, it is less generous with itsyields, so has lost out in terms of planted area, particularly in the past few decades.
Outside Italy Verduzzo vines have made it across the oceans to Australia, notably the King Valley in Victoria, although plantings there are still minimal.
Malvasia is an ancient family of grapes that includes a diverse collection of noble varieties. These grapes are capable of producing wine of any feasible color in dry, sparkling and sweet styles. There are dozens of regional synonyms for and sub-varieties of Malvasia, painting the picture of a well-traveled family that has adapted to numerous environments. In the 21st Century, Malvasia is produced in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Croatia,Slovenia and the United States.
Believed to be of Greek origin, the Malvasia family has been commercially important to the Mediterranean for more than 2000 years. Malvasia, the name, is a derivation of the coastal Greek town of Monemvasia, where the Venetians had a strategically important fortress and trading post during the time of their empire.
Black Malvasia Nera Grapes
Throughout the Middle Ages, Malvasia wine became so ubiquitous among Venetian merchants that they started naming their wine stores malvasie. The strength of the ancient Malvasia brand may well be the first example of international wine marketing.
Malvasia has a strong historical and viticultural association with islands and some of the most distinctive examples of the wine come from these maritime environments. Most famously, Malmsey wine is made from Malvasia on the Portuguese island of Madeira in the North Atlantic. Malmsey is a varietal expression of Malvasia that is heated and oxidized after fermentation to create a unique style of wine, characterized by its dark coloring (depending on the type of Malvasia used) and rich, ripe and nutty flavors.
Another island synonymous with Malvasia wine is Lipari, off Sicily’snortheastern coast. The area now known as Malvasia delle Lipari DOC once produced enormous volumes of sweet Malvasia wine. Unfortunately, Lipari has never fully recovered from the devastating impact of phylloxera and the sweet, fresh and aromatic wines of the region are now rarities.
Malvasia is grown all over Italy under many names and styles. Often paired with Trebbiano, Malvasia blends make up a significant proportion of inexpensive table wines made on the mainland.
The Friuli-Venezia-Giulia DOCs of Collio and Isonzo are regarded as the best varietal examples of dry Malvasia, showing light stonefruit flavors and a pronounced floral bouquet.
Further south, the fashion is to create slightly sparkling versions of Malvasia in Emilia-Romagna, often with a pinkish hue. In southern Italy, semi-dried Malvasia grapes are vinified into Passito wines to take advantage of the family’s naturally high sugar and potential alcohol levels.
Passiti e dolci
Ramandolo is one of three DOCG titles in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine region of north-eastern Italy. The wine it covers is a sweet white nectar made from extremely ripe
The name Ramandolo was once used to describe sweet wines from all around Friuli’s Colli Orientali – but since the Ramandolo DOCG was created in 2001 the name may only be legally used for wines produced in Nimis and Tarcento, two communes in the north of the Udine province. Ramandolo is the name of the neighborhood in Nimis from which the wine style originated.
The official Ramandolo viticultural area extends as far as Sedilis, a village in the Alpine foothills above Tarcento. The vineyards are located at altitudes of around 381m above sea level and form a rough amphitheater above Nimis. The steep gradients here make it impossible to machine harvest, so vineyards are managed and harvested almost entirely by hand.
Thanks to the Monte Bernardia hills, the vines are protected from the cold north winds blowing down from the Alps. They also benefit from the sunny aspecton the south-facing slopes, making this zone significantly milder than the surrounding area.
The moderated climate leads to relatively mild winters, and although the summer months are a few degrees cooler than down on the Adriatic coastal plains, they are nonetheless warm.
Seasonal variation is relatively mild, yet dramatic temperature drops at night ensure higher concentration of flavors in the grapes during the last stages of the growing season. Verduzzo’s natural resistance to rot means the grapes can be left to sweeten on the vine for longer, as late as December in some seasons. This natural desiccation results in sweeter, more concentrated must, which brings added aroma and structure to the wine. Local vignerons (those who cultivate a vineyard for winemaking) consider the area’s climate to be as important to the wine quality as the lime-rich soils, which consist of alternating strata of marl and sandstone. These mineral soils are known asflysch di Cormons, and help to create the ideal terroir for cultivating Verduzzo.
A full-bodied wine of great finesse, Ramandolo offers a fragrance of dried apricots, chestnuts and honey while providing balancing tannins, acidity and sweetness. Ramandolo’s fellow DOCG, Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit, also boasts a distinctive dessert wine, but made from Picolit grapes rather than Verduzzo.
Picolit is an Italian white-wine variety used in the production of sweet late-harvest and passito wines in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. It is not to be confused with the similarly named Piculit Neri, which also hails from Friuli.
Picolit wine has a long and proud history, and was for several centuries a wine served to the clergy and nobility of northern Italy. It is still in production today in the Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit and is widely regarded as a cult favorite among those who are familiar with it.
In the vineyard, Picolit can be a difficult to cultivate. It is named after its tiny yields (piccolo means “small” in Italian), which are a consequence of the difficulty experienced in trying to pollinate it.
Picolit is also very delicate, both as a wine and as a vine, meaning that it must be harvested by hand so the fruit does not get damaged.
Picolit is thought to have originated in the Rosazzo region, which is just south of contemporary Picolit vineyards, although it is better known for its dry wines. In Friuli, Picolit has traditionally been made from semi-dried grapes and was once regarded as producing some of the finest (and most expensive) wines in Europe. Now, late-harvesting is more common, but both styles still exist.
Modern winemaking practices allow Picolit to be blended with up to 15 percent of other permitted grapes (Verduzzo is a common example), though this is generally frowned upon from a quality perspective. As a wine, Picolit displays delicate stonefruit aromas (apricot and peach) and is generally consumed as a meditation wine (vino da meditazione), to be enjoyed without food once the dinner table has been cleared.