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We were lucky enough to share dinner with the Specogna family. They were so generous as to pull two different wines right from the barrel for us–a Picolit we closed dinner with (something sweet for last), and a Pinot Grigio Ramato that had been on skins for a month (it is a wine “For Friends”, as Christian told us. How lucky to have such friends! I count myself truly blessed.).

With the meal we tasted through a good portion of the Specogna portfolio, including the father’s 1998 Chardonnay that showed incredible life and richness–flavors of almond, lime zest and light pepper. A real treat.

An interesting surprise was tasting how well the Ramato paired with the family’s Rovata–a bean soup made with fermented turnip that stole my heart. The Ramato had the pleasing tannin effect and overall almost crunchy texture of the long skin contact style with nutty, light date, lime zest and maple notes alongside the salt mineral notes common to the region, all shown through a vibrant strawberry-copper color.

Check out Whitney’s picture of the gorgeous wine–

I really am so grateful.


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Specogna wines carry a style much like their spokesman, Cristian–passionate, enlivened and enlivening, fresh, and richly expressive. I was impressed by the work he and his brother Michele are doing, and by their presence as well.


Michele Specogna has also ventured into a second wine making project with Paolo Duri. Together they are producing a portfolio of wonderful wines under the label Toblar. We were able to taste their Schioppettino during dinner with the Specogna family, and then to taste three more of their portfolio later during our visit in Colli Orientali del Friuli.

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The Schioppettino was one of the most elegant presentations of the varietal we tasted during the trip. The Refosco carried a great balance of Refosco’s signature strength in a more integrated and drinkable presentation. It was one of the most approachable, and at the same time distinctly Refosco varietals we tasted.

Thank you so much, again, to the Specogna family and Violetta Babina for your generosity, and warmth of spirit.


Keep an eye out! Specogna and Toblar wines are being imported to the UK, and are soon to be imported into the United States as well. I honestly can’t wait to have more wines from both labels!


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Summer Travels

One of the side effects of having grown migrating between Anchorage in the Winters, and the Western Coast of Alaska in the Summers, then taking up a career in academia (where summers are markedly different from the school year), is that I still plan summer like it is time to do everything.

As a result, I’ll be out of Arizona for over two months with visits to New York City; the coast of California; Seattle; the fishing grounds of Bristol Bay, Alaska; Pinot country in Oregon; the wine and desert of Eastern Washington; and perhaps even a quick pop into Okenagan, British Columbia. My plan is to go ahead and do and write wine everything (at least, within the United States).

First up, I’m on the way to New York City for a week of walking around seeing city stuff (Flagstaff is beautiful but I long for city stimulus by now), and doing wine related activities. There are a number of people I’m very much looking forward to seeing. (Yay!)

During my week, one of my plans is to hunt Schioppettino–the wild, juicy wine from Friuli-Venezia Giulia. It’s harder to get in the United States but a number of importers and retail shops carry it in NYC.

Hunting Schioppettino

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comic inspired by “Five Things You Love About Schioppettino (but don’t know it yet)” by Talia “I was born a unicorn” Baiocchi

As those of you that followed along on the #cof2012 trip know, our group was pretty obsessed with the wild berry, slightly saline, earthy, medium-bodied loveliness of Colli Orientali del Friuli’s Schioppettino varietals.

While there we were lucky enough to attend a Schioppettino focused dinner hosted by the Association of Schioppettino Producers of Prepatto, which included tasting 15-20 varietals, and one lovely, well-executed Schioppettino-Refosco blend by Sacrisassi, all from the Prepatto region. The Association regulates the production choices of wine makers to some degree, including minimum durations of oak influence and aging in bottle before sale, in order to preserve a focus of quality and style for the grape. Additionally, we tasted varietals from the likes of Ronchi di Cialla, Ronco del Gnemiz, Toblar and others, some of whom are outside the Association and outside Prepatto and therefore produce a lighter, juicier style for the grape.

Part of what fascinates me about Schioppettino is simply how localized it remains. Studies have shown so many different clones for this one grape all in the particular subzone of Prepatto that scientists are comfortable claiming it to be an ancient variety. Additionally, the vines particularly flourish within the zone of Friuli that is Prepatto, with its 23 different micro-climates, each sustained within Prepatto’s relatively small amphitheatre shaped landscape.

Schioppettino is the one grape indigenous to the region that really does grow uniquely in one appellation alone–Colli Orientali del Friuli. Prepatto is its primary home, with it growing minimally outside its amphitheatre. (Some people are currently experimenting with trying the grape in California but the vines are still too young to know yet how they will do in the New World–if anyone has more information on this project, I’d love to hear more about it.)

While we were lucky enough to taste much of all the Schioppettino produced on the planet, only a few currently make it into the United States. For those of you in North America, that, like me, wish to drink more of this tasty grape, three of the stand out producers brought into the United States include La Viarta, available from Kermit Lynch Wine; Ronco del Gnemiz, available in very low quantities from Italian Wine Merchant; and Ronchi di Cialla.


If you’re wondering how the heck to pronounce the grape’s name, check out Do Bianchi’s video from his Italian Grape Name Pronunciation Project. We were lucky enough to spend an afternoon with Ivan who pronounces it for us here.

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Colli Orientali del Friuli celebrates a blending of a Mediterranean with an Alpine climate–the mild temperatures brought by the sea, coupled with the drying winds from air rushing water to mountain. The calcium rich ponca (marl) of the Eonician sea bed that covers the appellation guarantees distinct minerality in the wines as well. As a result, the area is brilliant for white wines, and creates world class examples from a range of grapes.

Indigenous Grapes

As mentioned here previously, the wine makers of Colli Orientali carry a deep commitment to grapes indigenous to their hills and valleys. As a result, the region hosts wines truly unique to their soils.


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Considered the signature white of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Friulano boasts a combination of rich texture, full body, and delicate flavors. Tending towards moderate to lower acid, wines from this grape readily carry a rounded, almost fatty mouth feel. However, many wine makers of Colli Orientali play with such texture by beginning to test for acid levels on the grapes early, striving for that perfect balance of rich texture and still bright acidity.

Malvasia Istriana

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One of several grapes known as part of the Malvasia family, Malvasia Istriana is a strain native to the Istria peninsula, and readily grown in Colli Orientali, as well as Collio of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. This strain of Malvasia grows throughout the border region of Friuli, found in the hillsides of its nearest neighbors as well–Croatia and Slovenia.

Claiming the grape is indigenous to Friuli is lightly slippery as the grape is believed to originate from cuttings brought by merchants from Greece and then planted in the Friulian hillsides. Today, the grape grows almost exclusively in the Friuli region. However, some small plantings are also to be found in Emilia, to the southwest of Friuli, where it is used to produce a sparkling white wine.


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An unusual grape that celebrates a firm foothold throughout Colli Orientali, Picolit is used primarily in the region for making a sweet, dessert style wine. However, some wine makers also use small quantities of the grape in white blends to bring a fuller body and lightly sweet notes to their wine.

Picolit has been found to be an incredibly old variety with information showing it reaching back all the way to the Roman empire. In its history, Picolit has celebrated distinction at the tables of emperors and popes, as well as leaders from countries throughout Europe. It has also nearly faced extinction only to be saved again through its offering as a gift to kings through Europe.

Today many wine growers in Colli Orientali have at least some small portion of Picolit planted. It is considered a wine to share with friends, or give as a gift, and is often celebrated at the end of a meal as a token of “sweets for the last.”

Picolit also boasts its own DOCG as it is considered a unique grape and associated style with excellent quality.

Ribolla Gialla

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Because of its documented history back to the 14th century, Ribolla Gialla is believed to be even older to the region. The grape showcases a brilliantly clean neutrality that allows it to really show the unique minerality of the region’s soils. The varieties naturally high acidity keeps its wines crisp and light serving as a wonderful palate cleanser. Historically, the wine was also used to make sweet wines, but today is generally produced clean and dry.

Verduzzo friulano

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Grown throughout Friuli, Verduzzo friulano is commonly associated with the DOCG designated wine Ramandolo, of the hills of the village Ramandolo. There the grape is treated to a unique sweet wine process that keeps good acidity alongside mouth gripping tannins.

The wine Ramandolo has a documented history back to the 15th century where it is known to have been served to popes and distinguished nobles. However, the grape’s history in the region of Friuli is believed to reach back to ancient times.

The grape Verduzzo friulano is unique in that it is a white variety that carries very high tannin levels. Its nearest genetic relatives have been shown to be entirely made up of red grapes, and so it is believed that Verduzzo originates as a genetic mutation from a red grape.

Though the grape is most commonly used to make the sweet wine Ramandolo, it is also used by some wine makers as a blending grape bringing textural qualities and weight to their white wines.

International Varieties

Though Colli Orientali has a special focus on its indigenous grapes the region also celebrates a host of high quality white wines from International varieties.


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Colli Orientali showcases a host of wonderfully crisp, good aging, good quality Chardonnays with many wine makers choosing to produce varietals of this grape without oak influence. Other wine makers in the area choose to generate a richer bodied, still mineral driven rendition by allowing malo-lactic fermentation and oak influence.

Chardonnay is considered one of the most important international white varieties in the region, though originally it was planted under the belief that the clones were Pinot Bianco. Today the confusion has been cleared up and the region readily grows quality chardonnay vines.

Pinot Bianco

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A uniquely flavored and scented variety, Pinot Bianco (aka. Pinot Blanc) originates in France as a mutation of Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir). Though the grape is now less commonly grown in Colli Orientali than the international varieties Chardonnay or Sauvignon, there are some distinct, good quality Pinot Biancos celebrated in the region. Its good acidity and warming alcohol levels make it a nice pairing for richer starter dishes like lightly creamy soups, or egg dishes.

Pinot Grigio

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Though the grape Pinot Grigio is commonly associated with a crisp, clean, light flavored style wine, the variety originally tended to have a much fuller body and richer flavor in the Colli Orientali region.

Prior to the 1960s, the more common production style for this wine was to ferment it on skins allowing the pink or gray color of the grape to tint the juice, and the tannin and flavor of the grape body to impact the wine as well. The practice known as Pinot Grigio Ramato is still made in the region ranging from only a couple of days on skins with filtering following–leading to a richly textured, more fully flavored but still light bodied wine–to a full month on skins–creating a brightly colored, highly textured ‘white’ wine. Though they can be found, these extended skin-contact wines are not commonly sold on the market.

It is usual, however, to find the more commonly expected ultra light, often steely, apertif style wine from Pinot Grigio. Today Pinot Grigio from Colli Orientali will be sold either as a white, or as a lightly copper colored wine from skin contact occurring for 48 hours or less.


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One of the less cultivated international varieties in the region, Riesling was imported to the region from Germany and is used in Colli Orientali to produce a dry style, crisp white wine with good acidity and bright, fresh fragrance.

Some of the wine makers we met referred to it as their project for fun.


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Named by Bobby Stuckey, of Frasca in Boulder, as Colli Orientali’s “secret weapon,” Sauvignon (Blanc) has garnered special attention in and for the appellation. The consortium of wine makers for Colli Orientali del Friuli invested in a six-year research project specifically focused on the grape as a means of both determining what made the variety distinctive in its region, and to compare it against the famous Sauvigon Blancs of both France and New Zealand. The result of the study was to move forward an already world class quality wine.

The minerality of the soil produces a crisp herbal and tomato leaf nose to the wine coupled with good structure and a full body. The bright acidity makes it well suited to food, or as a pleasing apertif.

Traminer aromatico

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Known elsewhere as Gewurtztraminer, Traminer aromatico carries an unknown origin with some placing its start in Germany, and others in the Alsace region of France. Its movement into Italy is also uncertain, but today it is most commonly grown in Trentino, and in Friuli. That said, it is a beloved grape to the region, and yet also less focused on than the international whites of Chardonnay and Sauvignon.

The grape is known for its highly aromatic qualities, and in Colli Orientali its overall crispness is boosted by the growing conditions of the region.


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One of the insights of our visit to Colli Orientali del Friuli was how readily the region produces white wines that age well. A number of our winery visits included older white wines with their wine makers showcasing these bottles in order to share with us first hand the treasure developed in the appellation.

At Specogna it was a 1998 Chardonnay with incredible vibrancy. Conte d’ Attimis-Maniago let us select a 1997 Friulano that even having originally been made to drink young still carried fresh and lively aromatics. Ronchi di Cialla finished our lunch with a 1983 Verduzzo that brought together a mouth gripping texture with concentrated fruit and nut flavors. Livio Felluga offered a side by side tasting of their Terre Alte blend–1997, 1999, and then, for comparison, 2009. In each case, with differing white grape types, the wines were ready to drink, and enjoy.

Livio Felluga

A Missoni Rendition of the Livio Felluga Label

Planting his wine passion in 1956, Livio Felluga helped develop the wine industry of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Beginning his vineyard projects immediately after the region became part of the country of Italy, Felluga faced the challenges of a post-war countryside. The region had suffered particular economic hardships during the World Wars, and though historical vineyards still stood through the hillsides of the border area most were abandoned or severely damaged as a result of the mid-century difficulties. Additionally, many indigenous grapes were no longer being produced as international varieties had been planted through the region during the post-phylloxera revitalization. Felluga focused his efforts on identifying vineyards still healthy enough to be restored, and on planting new vines in suitable soil through the Colli Orientali and Collio appellations.

Today, the winery of Livio Felluga is managed by his four sons and daughter, but as his daughter told us, Livio still visits the vines regularly, taking time to walk through his vineyards and check their overall health.

Inspired by the history of his region, Felluga chose a portion from a historical map of the area as his original label. Considered unique, the label has been celebrated by artists and writers from around the world as an expression of Felluga’s joy for the region he helped root a vibrant wine industry within.

Livio Felluga Terre Alte

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One of the signature white blends of the Livio Felluga winery, the Terre Alte celebrates a blend of Friulano, Sauvignon, and Pinot Bianco. As they explain, there is no formula for the blend. Instead, the character of the vintage determines what will best balance the quality of the three grapes within the bottle.

The Felluga family selected two older vintages of the Terre Alte for us to taste specifically so we could experience directly how well Colli Orientali del Friuli does in producing long lived white wines. They then also set a more recent vintage of the same blend alongside as comparison.

The 1997 and 1999 both showed vibrant and bright in the glass, very much ready to drink and enjoy now. As Jeremy described, the 1997 drank as a wine stretching its muscles–focused on fitness–while the 1999 carried itself more comfortably “like it was wearing a suit and ready to go out to dinner”–focused on style. To put it another way, the 1999 was more comfortable in the glass. Both showed impressive structure, and freshness both, while the 1999 felt rounder and the 1997 leaner on the palate. Each, admittedly, also showed as very slightly oxidized, though the 1999 was more so.

The newer vintage, the 2009, offered a more candied character while also a more precise expression, and crisper overall mouth feel.

Thank you very much to the Felluga family and winery for hosting us at the tasting room, and afterwards for lunch. We were able to eat at their Agriturismo across the street from the tasting room. The food and company carried a wonderful balance of rich flavor and lightness that led me to tell Whitney that the lunch was deepening my capacity for joy. The whole day really did. As mentioned in a previous post, Chris and I spent much of the meal nodding across the table at each other in appreciation of the food. He took some wonderful pictures of it as well. What a treat!

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I’d been thinking maybe I was posting too much on Friuli, and should start shutting down that whole cycle of posts. This morning I realized though that the thing that would make me happy, and bring joy to the day would be to dwell in the wines, and experiences from the trip that really hit the richest chime in my heart. To put it another way, I realized I hadn’t actually finished doing wine comics for my very favorite wines from the trip. I’d hit some of them–Ronco del Gnemiz Schioppettinos, Specogna and Toblar, Ronchi di Cialla–and I’d even posted stories from others of my favorites. But there were other wines I haven’t drawn yet simply because I was thinking I’d posted enough.

On the trip Chris asked me about drawing wine comics, how I got started, and what it was like for me. I responded, I don’t know. It just makes me happy. When I’m drawing one, I’m not thinking of anything else. I just am there, happy. So, to indulge in this self-revelation just a touch more–when I’m drawing comics of wines I really love, oh! Oh, the joy is deep and complete.

All of this is to say, the rest of this week I’ll post wine comics for a few more places I really loved visiting, and tasting. Mixed in will also be one more story from Ramandolo, and then finally white wine varieties of Colli Orientali del Friuli. THEN I’ll get on to something completely different (though still with joy, I’m certain).


The Wines of i Clivi

As Marco Zanusso explained, the Zanusso family (owners of i Clivi) chooses to keep their wine making process very simple. They try to be as precise as they can at each stage of production, while keeping out of the process as much as possible at the same time. As he told us, each stage of intervention with the wine is a kind of loss, so they try to do what they need to with as few stages as possible. The Zanussos believe that wine is meant to show the character of the soil, the environment, the earth from which it arises. As such, they try to reduce, as they are able, what Marco called “the marks of the cellar.”

As others through the region had also shared, the appellation celebrates a unique soil–a calcium rich marl they call “ponca”–that transfers a unique minerality to the wines, often showing either as a kind of saltiness, or a stark slate.

As a result of the Zanusso philosophy, their work readily counts within the natural wine category. Marco explained they are entirely organic, do not introduce yeast, and only introduce copper sulfate (to help prevent mildew on the vines), and sulfur (to help the wines stability in transport). In both cases, the family went through thorough testing to determine the ideal and minimum amount that best suits their vineyards, and their wines.

Interestingly, though i Clivi wines fulfill the natural wine category, the family has no interest in promoting their wines as such. As they explain, they’ve focused their practices in such a manner from the beginning, but promotion of wines as “natural” is a more recent phenomenon. Their views on avoiding such promotion are two-fold.

First of all, as Marco explained, the category seems to operate “not as a phenomenon, but a religion” and “not as a movement, but a crowd.” That is, the Zanusso family is well-invested in the practices of wine making that happen to make a wine count as “natural” but disagree with a lot of the ways in which people approach the idea of natural wines. As an example, Marco pointed out the sort of implicit contradiction that occurs when a wine maker refuses to use any additives because of the damage they appear to do to the environment, while then transporting their wines as far away as Japan, for example, thus using excessive fossil fuels that also damage the environment. Or, as another example, people refusing to drink any wine with additives while then spreading nutella all over their bread. His preference is to approach what can be done to support the vineyard, while doing so with a dedication to overall balance. In respect to the vineyard health, Marco emphasizes that it is the overall environment and soil itself that should be most considered. That is, only some locations and soils are suitable for growing wine making grapes. In focusing too heavily on the idea of natural wine people often forget to consider the quality of the wine itself–whether a wine maker is using appropriate terroir, and whether or not the wine he or she is producing is actually flawed.

Focus on the wine itself marks the second departure point for the Zanusso family from the natural wine ‘movement.’ As both Marco and Ferdinando Zanusso (Marco’s father) explained to us, they believe the focus should be on the wine itself. That is, whether the winemaker is present or not, whether the wine announces itself as natural or not, the question first is whether the wine is interesting, good, and worth drinking. As such, not only do the Zanussos avoid marketing their wines as anything other than i Clivi, they also avoid too heavily emphasizing themselves in the process. The value of the wine is to be found in the wine itself. The value of the vineyard should be in the estate and ground itself, not the wine makers’ name.

We were lucky enough to taste three i Clivi wines with Marco and Ferdinando Zanusso. I can’t even explain how grateful I am for the time given to us in their home. Dear Ferdinando, thank you.

i Clivi 2010 Ribolla Gialla

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The i Clivi Ribolla Gialla struck a cord with several of us in the group. The incredibly fresh, clean, and vibrant clarity of this wine is striking. As Talia commented, “I love the neutrality of Ribolla Gialla for how it transports the minerality of its ground.” The i Clivi rendition offered the most precise and clean sea fresh saltiness of any we tasted in the region. The acidity here was brilliant, watering the mouth and offering a long finish alongside the lightness of lemon, lime, and tangerine citrus notes.

i Clivi 2010 Friulano

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As Ferdinando explained, they work very hard to preserve the acidity in their Friulano. It is a grape that readily becomes almost fatty in the glass, due to its lower acidity levels. They prefer the freshness that spins through Friulano’s flavors when the acidity is higher, and so take great pains to keep the levels up in their wines. To do so, they begin sampling the grapes in early August and do so 2-3 times a week to determine the best harvest point. As Ferdinando stated, Friulano’s acidity levels drop very quickly on the vine, and so close attention is needed to target the right point for picking. Further, while they used to allow this wine to go through malolactic fermentation, they no longer do so, again to keep the acidity levels up.

The San Pietro Friulano offers the smooth texture of a Friulano but with good acidity, keeping your mouth watering for a medium-long finish. The mouth is simultaneously round and crisp-tart on this wine. Again, the minerality of the ponca shows here, but in balance with white pepper, lime blossom, touches of evergreen, and dried herbs.

clivi Galea 2005

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When asked about his own wines, Ferdinando responded that what he and his son like about the wines they had us taste is that there is a lightness to them, even with a fuller body and structure. As he described it, “when you put these wines on your tongue, it is not heavy. It goes easily.”

The clivi Galea carries the fullest texture of the three wines tasted, but just as Ferdinando describes, its rich texture is well balanced with an overall lightness that goes down easy. The clivi Galea offered hints of caramel and dried herb, alongside lemon and lime zest, honeysuckle, yeast bread, and touches of white pepper.

Thank you again to Marco, and Ferdinando Zanusso for hosting and taking the time to talk with us.

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Day 1: Arrival and Greeting

Thank you to La Sclusa, Solder, the Consortium of Colli Orientali del Friuli e Marina

Day 2

Thank you to Ronchi di Cialla, Conte d’Attimis-Maniago

Day 3

Thank you to La Vigne di Zamo, Ronco Delle Betulle, e Specogna

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