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colli orientali del friuli

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RIP Paolo Rapuzzi

My good friend Jeremy Parzen was kind enough to let me know this morning that Paolo Rapuzzi passed on. His blog post about Paolo is here. In April 2012, several of us spent lunch and part of an afternoon with Paolo, his wife Dina, and their two sons. Paolo showered us with stories of them beginning Ronchi di Cialla, one of my favorite wineries of Italy. Then we walked the vineyards with their son Ivan, who runs things now with his brother.

Paolo and Dina together rescued indigenous Friulian varieties, some of which had been thought extinct. Most particularly, they re-discovered Schioppettino from feral vines in the hillsides along the Slovenian border. The primary clone of Schioppettino, taken from their vineyard, is named Rapuzzi in their honor. Many of the local varieties at the time were going extinct through the region largely because of the ongoing impact of wars, and the governments exclusion of them for economic regions. I could go on and on about what meeting them, and their work means to me. (If you ask my friends, I occasionally do that with them in person.) Instead, I’m going to repost Paolo’s story told to us by him during our visit that April.

originally posted April 11, 2012

Lunch at Ronchi di Cialla: Meeting the Man with whom it Began

Paolo Rapuzzi standing on Ronchi di CiallaPaolo Rapuzzi, the founder and owner of Ronchi di Cialla

“The story of the winery is very simple. I am Friulian. So, when it came time to plant, we planted the grapes of the region. The ancient varieties.

“I had been working for a very big company. But we [he and his wife] spoke. We asked, should we die as typewriter sales people? Should we live in a system we don’t like? We didn’t like having someone bossing us around. The only person that can work without a boss is a farmer. So, on January 30, 1970 we started. They talked us into buying this land.

“I am not a farmer by history of profession, and we had no land. We began looking. They talked us into buying this land. It had been abandoned for 25 years, since the end of World War II. This is only 2 kilometers from the [Slovenian] border, so life in this area was very hard during the war. When it was over the family packed up and left. The house and vineyard had been abandoned for 25 years. Inside the house was grass waist deep and badgers were living in it. But we liked it a lot because there were olive trees here. Even it was abandoned we knew it was the right place to begin our new life.

A consummate story teller, Paolo Rapuzzi“My two sons had been born already. Luckily they decided to follow my footsteps. They handle the estate now and studied farming at university and handle both the grape growing and wine making.

“When I started I had no experience. So, I had no preconceived notions in what I was doing. That is what most helped me do what I ended up doing [on the farm and with wine making]. I never studied wine making and have never had an oenologist. We wanted to make wine from here, from Cialla. Some do not agree, but the grape already has everything it needs to make wine. So, the less we try to force grapes, the more its product represents wine from the area. We are meticulously involved in the entire process from growing to wine but it is very much about what we do not do than what we do. Nature has everything it needs to make wine.

“We planted in 1970. From the beginning it has been indigenous grape varieties, native yeast, no chemical farming, low intervention wine making.”

Paolo and Ivan RapuzziPaolo and Dina’s son Ivan adds a comment: “We make truly long lived wines. All of our wines–the whites, the reds, the sweet wines–all of them age very well. That is an indication that it is from the zone. It is the land itself that makes these wines.”

Paolo continues: “When phylloxera came the farmers made a mistake. Not everyone agrees with me. They began planting foreign grape varieties. We lost over 150 indigenous grape varieties. It is an indication of how viticulture changes. Today we are getting it back. More people are dedicated to the indigenous varieties.”

Ivan comments: “Friuli is one of the places in Europe with the greatest bio-diversity. It is the intersection of the Alps, the Adriatic from the Mediterranean, and the Balkans. The Northern and Eastern Alps too come together here so you are at a real crux of the Mediterranean, with the Northern and Eastern Alps.”

Later Paolo tells a story: “In the beginning we were infested with red spiders. It was a problem. We went to a phyto-pathologist for advice. He told us, don’t do anything. If you leave the spiders another type of spider will come along and compete. So, we left the red spiders. It was a big risk. But yellow spiders came and killed the red spiders. When you use pesticides you do not just kill what you are targeting. You kill everything. But nature will balance itself if you do not do this.”

Outside Ivan walks us through the vineyards and tells us more about their low intervention views. “In Cialla, proximity to Forest is the most important. The same predators that attack vitis vinifera [grape vines] attack other species in the forest. But in the forest they have natural enemies. Nature keeps a balance. So, in being close to the forest we do not have to intervene because the same balance that is in the forest is maintained in the vineyard too.”

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Thank you to Jeremy Parzan for translating Paolo’s story to us as he spoke.

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Paolo Rapuzzi, thank you for all you have done. Rest in peace.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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Visiting Ronco delle Bettulle

wines_betulle_refosco

In April 2012 six of us–Jeremy Parzen, Whitney Adams, Talia Baiocchi, Stuart George, JC Reid and myself–traveled together to Friuli, Italy to tour Colli Orientali del Friuli. We saw a large majority of the producers of the appellation, and visited beautiful vineyards as well. Before the trip we were invited to request wineries we wanted to be sure and have more time with. Stuart George suggested Ronco delle Bettulle. It’s a wine imported to the UK, that barely arrives into the United States currently.

We met the owner winemaker, Simone Secchi, in the midst of an especially beautiful day through the region. He and his mother Ivana Adami together own and operate their vineyards and winery.

Our visit to Bettulle focused primarily on grapes local to the region, with a few International varieties, including the lesser known Franconia (known as Blaufrankisch in Austria).

Simone expressed enjoyment in exploring the preferences of particular grapes. Their Ribolla Gialla sees a small portion of the overall pick left on skins for a month, then blended back with the straight to press juice. The Refosco he leaves on the vine till it is almost falling from its stems. The Franconia he gives a gentler touch to avoid any phenolic bitterness. The red blend, their richest wine with the most heft, he gives oak, explaining, “it is a wine that is proud of itself. It has big structure for aging.”

I managed to return to the states with two bottles of their Franconia. Simone explained he is “fond of this wine because it is the oldest vine we have on the property.” About a month after the trip I shared one of the bottles with my close friends Fred and Hillary. This morning I woke up thinking of the other one.

Though I enjoyed the visit at the time, in the midst of so much travel I never wrote about Bettulle. Here are a few photos from the stop along with notes from Simone. All quotations below are from Simone Secchi, April 2012.

The Betulle winery

the Betulle winery

“We have birch here on a hill. When we started there were butterflies everywhere on top the vineyard. Thus, the logo.”

Simone Secchi

Simone Secchi

There is an old monastery on the hill that hosts Betulle. “Where the monks go you can always be sure it is the best area for agriculture. They always know where to go. We are in Rosazzo. Rosazzo is cru. This is a unique microclimate. It is a bit warmer [than other parts of the region]. There is rarely hail but it one of the rainiest parts of Europe.”

the Betulle Vineyards

vineyard at Ronco delle Bettulle

“Yeast for us is not where the wine is made. We are focused in the vineyards not the cellar. We have very little technology, only temperature controlled fermentation. I love to work with little elements of the wine that make it special. For me, drinkability is very important.”

Simone Secchi explaining their farming

Bettulle is a 15 hectare (37 acres) estate, with 11.5 hectares (27 acres) planted. “We want to stay in a human dimension. We do not want to get to where we have managers. We want to be able to control everything.”

getting ready to taste

Whit and Talia getting ready to taste with Simone

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In the US: Riahi Selections.

Jamie Goode’s thoughts on Bettulle wines (he likes them): http://www.wineanorak.com/roncodellebetulle.htm

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Thank you to Jeremy Parzen and Stuart George.

Thank you to Simone Secchi, and Ivana Adami.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

In traveling through Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and tasting the wines of Colli Orientali del Friuli, I became fascinated with the fact that the region itself seems to support more natural approaches to vineyard maintenance and wine production. In closing my series on the #cof2012 visit to the appellation I want to indulge my own geeky tendencies and consider the way in which environment, soil, and specifically calcium intersect to encourage the possibility of this more natural approach, as well as the aging potential of the wines. Doing so will lead too to thinking on the controversial, and somewhat esoteric idea of minerality in wine.

Wine Growing Practices in Relation to the Surrounding Environment

Approaching Solder

Friuli-Venezia Giulia celebrates generally cool temperatures and drying bora wind that offer an ideal climate for growing grapes, plus the drying conditions that allow for maintaining healthy fruit. As a result, it is generally easier for wine makers in the region to use more natural practices in the vineyard since there is less need to intervene to avoid fungal or mildew infections on the plant. However, the region offers other natural supports for less interventionist and more chemical free wine production as well.

Many of the smaller wineries also take advantage of their other environmental conditions to develop a more natural wine making practice. As described to us by Ivan Rapuzzi of Ronchi di Cialla, by maintaining vineyards near forests, the pest-predator balance found in the forests is extended to the vineyards as well. That is, many of the pests that strike grape vines, causing detrimental effect for wine makers, can actually also be found among the plants and trees of a forest. The difference in the forest environment is that a balance of pest and predator is more readily maintained so that the overall health of the forest stands even in the face of including some various plant pests. Vineyards, on the other hand, are often designed in such a way that isolate grape vines from other plant life, and as such remove them from the kind of natural balance Rapuzzi describes of the forest. The result is that vines become more vulnerable to pests as they are also in these conditions isolated from the predators that would rid plants of their parasites. By planting grape vines in close proximity to forests the predator population of the forest is available to the neighboring grape vines as well, thus keeping troublesome pests largely at bay. Additionally, proximity to forests helps to keep temperatures well regulated for the steady ripening of fruit.

However, the overall environment found in temperatures, winds, and botanical balance are only a portion of the story for the wines of Colli Orientali del Friuli.

Considering Colli Orientali’s Soils

The View at Le Vigne di Zamo

The ponca of Colli Orientali originates from its years as an Eocenic sea bed. The waters reached almost to the southern rim of the Julian Alps, gathering a rich blend of minerals in their soils, and also a high concentration of organic materials as sediment gathered on the sea floor over time. When the sea retreated, the hills and valleys of the eastern side of Friuli (including both the appellations of Colli Orientali del Friuli and Collio) retained soils valuable for growing low yield grapes with concentrated flavors and rich mineral elements.

The wines of Colli Orientali del Friuli are known for having superb aging ability, with the whites in particular matching the aging ability of those from Champagne and Burgundy. In meeting the Rapuzzi family of Ronchi di Cialla, Ivan discussed with us their own production history testing various techniques and their effects on wine as it ages. What they discovered from the practice was that the less the family intervened in the cellar the more readily the wines lasted well in the bottle over time. Ronchi di Cialla wines are known for doing quite well over extended periods, whether the wine be red, white, or a sweet wine. In their view, this reality confirms that the reason for Colli Orientali’s age-ability originates in the soils themselves, since it is clearly not merely a matter of the strength of individual grape types, for example.

Wine makers throughout Colli Orientali discussed their pride in the value that the soil imparts to their wines. The area consistently produces wine with a distinct mineral zing that shows itself readily in any of the lower intervention wines, and stands up against the more interventionist production techniques of other wine makers as well (that is, as Stuart George would put it, some wines have more make-up).

In considering both the sustainability in the bottle, and the mineral zing of the region’s wines, the wine makers regularly stated that it was the region’s soils that did the work for them, and that, in particular, the high proportion of calcium accomplished these feats.

The Role of Calcium in Root Development

The View from the Top of Ramandolo

Colli Orientali del Friuli celebrates a calcium rich marl, their ponca, which uniquely contributes to the quality of the region’s wines. The presence of calcium in particular stands as important here. Though the calcium rich soils of the eastern side of Friuli-Venezia Giulia are generally understood as too poor for grain or cereal type crops, the soils offer beneficial characteristics for grape vines.

Calcium plays a tricky balance in its benefits for vine growth. On the one hand, calcium rich soil does well at absorbing water during heavy rains (rather than rain simply running off the surface), while then retaining moisture for good periods after, during dry weather. The retention of water in this way allows the security of vine growth over time. However, on the other hand, during longer dry periods the cells of such soils dry up and shrink as the water evaporates, causing cracking and tightening of the ground (though not necessarily in a visible way). While the roots of the vines have been nourished by the water retention of the soil, they now are able to dive deeper through the earth that, due to its cellular shrinking, readily breaks up and makes room for the roots to move through. Thus, the vines receive the nourishment necessary to achieve basic root growth, and then have ease enough to achieve deeper root growth. In pushing into deeper earth, the vines are also forced to struggle in a way that impacts the production of the fruit, concentrating the juices of them and thereby also their flavors.

The benefits of calcium rich soils, however, extend beyond mere questions of moisture.

The Role of Calcium in Vine Development and Fruit Health

Vineyards at Solder

The presence of calcium in soil directly impacts the overall balance of minerals (essential plant nutrients) absorbed and utilized by grape vines, and plants more generally.

Calcium rich earth is generally more porous, or permeable at a small scale in a way that allows greater ‘openness’ (to speak loosely) within the soil structure. These small spaces serve to provide room for root hairs to more readily absorb nutrients directly from the earth itself. The more permeable the soil is in this way the less the plant must compete to take up the minerals needed and already present in the soil. That is, it is not enough for necessary minerals to be present in the soil. The proper conditions that support the plants ability to absorb those minerals must also be present. Soil permeability is one of those conditions.

Calcium also directly impacts the pH level of the soil, keeping the ground from being overly acidic. With more basic (less acidic) soils, vine roots are more able to take up necessary minerals that support the overall plant health and development. In this way, the presence of calcium in the soil allows plants to absorb a healthy balance of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and sodium.

The absorption of these minerals strengthens not only the overall health of the plant, but also the plant’s resistance to external pests. When absorbed by the vine, calcium strengthens the cellular walls of the plant itself, thereby reducing the potential impact of both external pests and enzymes, such as those caused by mildew or fungus. In testing of grapes, calcium actually shows at detectable levels within the fruit skin, and there has the effect of reducing the permeability (and also therefore the susceptibility) of the grape.

Testing has also shown that the absorption of minerals by the vine from the soils directly impacts both the acidity of the grapes, and so then also the pH of the wine itself. In this way, the mineral qualities of the soil do directly impact the sensory qualities of the wine as well–that is, the flavor and structure of the wine. However, the minerals within the soil also impact the degree to which a vineyard manager, and wine maker are able to achieve a less interventionist, and non-petro-chemical approach in making their wine. That is, in the case of calcium rich soils, it is easier for vineyard managers to use less interventionist vineyard maintenance, and to avoid petro-chemical treatments as the balance of the vineyard translates into the pest-resistance of the vines and fruit.

The Question of Minerality in Wine

Vineyards at Betulle

While scientific studies have clearly shown that the minerals within the soil directly impact the pH of the grapes in a manner that persists in the wine produced from that fruit (allowing for variations from production choices, of course), controversy around the question of a wine’s so-called “minerality” remains. What is important to point out here, in the midst of this particular discussion, is that minerality as a descriptor of a wine’s particular qualities is not necessarily a claim of the literal minerals present within that wine. That is, there are at least two different concepts operating here–on the one hand, the role of literal minerals on wine, and, on the other, an idea of a flavoral and textural quality experienced as something like minerals, which we reference as minerality.

Let me give away the beans and cheese of the point I’m going to make, and then make my argument for that point. Here it is, the beans and cheese: My point is that these two things–literal minerals, on the one hand, and minerality in wine, on the other–might have a direct correlation such that literal minerals in the soil are tasted as minerality in the wine, but whether that turns out to be the case, or not, in stating that one tastes minerality, one need not also be claiming that there are literal minerals being tasted. (The question of a possible link is not yet proven and many people because of that argue the correlation is not there–such a claim, however, is sloppy science. Science has not disproven the link.)

Now let’s turn to the clarification of this point.

First, let us consider the role of literal minerals on wine. It is without doubt that differing soil types carry different minerals, which are not only necessary for the growth of any plant, but also that those minerals within the soil directly impact the way in which that plant grows. Further, the mineral presence of the soil, and the soil permeability, not only allow for plant growth but also distinctly impact the quality of the fruit grown by the plant. In the case of wine, the pH levels and chemical balance found within the fruit are a result of the way in which the plant is able (or not) to take up calcium, potassium, magnesium, and sodium from the soil. So, the minerals of the soil simply are relevant to the wine that is produced from vines growing in that soil. Notice, however, that this is not a claim that we literally taste the individual minerals themselves in any direct way. (In fact, the results of most studies would seem to indicate that the levels of any of these four minerals in wine is too low for us to detect as anything like specific flavors.)

Second, let us consider the idea of minerality in wine. We can understand the word minerality, loosely speaking, to reference a sensory experience of something like the flavors and scents of particular minerals themselves, without that experience having to have a direct link to those literal minerals. It is often considered a peculiar description because it seems as though we don’t go around eating, tasting, or smelling the kinds of things wine tasters reference when discussing the notion of minerality. To understand what I mean, we can simply list off different examples of wine terms that are types of apparent minerality: the smell of chalk in champagne; the taste of river stones in a cool vintage Brunello; the scent of petrol in Riesling; the flavor and bouquet of graphite in a rich Bordeaux. In such cases, the term minerality is meant to capture a sensory experience had through the smelling and tasting of a particular wine, a sensory experience where we feel as though we are recognizing something very much like chalk, river stones, petrol, or graphite.

There has been much discussion (much of it argumentative) recently (and indeed for a long time) on the seemingly esoteric notion “minerality.” Many of the arguments depend on a mistake of concept–that is, they assume that the description “minerality” is being stated as a claim of actual mineral levels of the wine itself; and, further, that if there is no such link to actual minerals, then the concept minerality must be faulty. Such a link would depend on testing the wines themselves for those mineral levels. However, continuing to utilize the idea of minerality as a description of a particular wine’s qualities does not genuinely depend upon whether or not there is an actual link between the experience of something like mineral scents and flavors, and there being those actual minerals present in that wine. This is a mistake of assuming that our subjective language of experience can only be supported by systematic scientific legitimization. That is not only false, but also a misunderstanding of (a) the purposes of science, (b) how we experience the world, and (c) how we communicate such experience with each other.

As is no doubt obvious by now, I am fascinated by such questions as, is there a link between minerality in wine and minerals from the soil that wine’s vines were grown in? I honestly want people to continue scientifically studying this. Or, as another question, which I’ve addressed in this post, in what way does calcium impact the growth of vines and the qualities of the wine those vines produce? But, I am equally as fascinated by our own experience of the world, and how we communicate and share with each other such experience.

As an example, scientific studies have pointed out that apples, potatoes, and onions have a chemical make-up that should mean they taste the same. My experience of these three foods, however, is something more like tart and/or sweet for apples, earthy and watery for potatoes, and sweet, sharp, and/or biting for onions (it is apparently the smell of these foods that causes us to distinguish them). In the wines of Colli Orientali del Friuli, however, I taste a minerality I can’t help but love.

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The following story by Lorenzo Comelli arises as part of the ongoing series on Colli Orientali del Friuli, and the #cof2012 trip our group took at the beginning of April, 2012. The wine makers of Ramandolo were generous enough to host us for a comfortable, and easy going lunch at the top of their village. We tasted their beautiful, rich, wines–Ramandolo really is a fascinating wine made from the complex grape Verduzzo–and Lorenzo Comelli told us of his “Oro ETERNO ORO” project, with its focus on preserving the uniqueness of what they do in Ramandolo.

Lorenzo Comelli’s and Margherita Ferri’s “Oro ETERNO ORO”

Lorenzo Comelli of Filippon

“I traveled to Bordeaux to study wine making. We visited Chateau d’Yquem while there and they showed us a very old bottle with a cork, and their wine. The wine had become less and less in the bottle so that it was down very low. It was full of their Sauternes, a rich gold dessert wine, but with the cork it had evaporated away. I began to wonder, what could we make that would let a wine last hundreds of years, forever. And, then I realized, instead of cork, we would have to close the bottle with glass so it would be sealed. I decided to do this.

“So, I contacted an artist from Venice. A very very good woman that had come here to live in Friuli, Margherita Ferri. I talk to her about my idea. Ramandolo is a rich, gold wine, an ancient wine, and it can be preserved in her art. So, she make this for me. She had to speak to a lot of people. She spoke to people in Milano to find out if it would be possible to make a bottle like mine, a bottle we would close on top with glass so it would be sealed. She found, it is possible. So, together we made this bottle to close with glass in Milano.

“Agulia 2000 years ago made glass. I took the form for the bottle from Aguila and we went to Milano. We designed the form of this bottle. So, we made the bottle–the shape of an angel–we made the bottle and left only a very small hole at the top to put the wine in. Then I made my wine, my Ramandolo, and we put it inside the bottle through the very small hole. Then with the glass we closed the very small hole. We sealed the wine inside completely. We brought this bottle back here with us, to Udine.

“People say it is a most important moment in Udine. A symbol. The bottle is an angel and it has a gold top, and inside is our Ramandolo, a gold wine. And so it is called “Oro ETERNO ORO“–Eternity Gold. The wine will last into the future. We made only one bottle like this, and they asked, I made presentation in the art gallery. They had artists from all over Italy make art for the presentation, all of angels, and we dedicated it, and now the bottle stays there in this place, our eternal gold wine.”

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The other wine makers of Ramandolo spoke of Comelli’s “Oro ETERNO ORO” project as quite well known throughout the extended area. The exhibition appeared in numerous papers, and enjoyed a large reception. The bottle currently remains on exhibit with the other art of angels at the Galleria la Loggia, a celebration of the unique, long-standing history of Ramandolo.

To see photos of Lorenzo Comelli’s and Margherita Ferri’s beautiful bottle of Ramandolo, view the Galleria la Loggia’s Exhibition Catalog here: http://issuu.com/laloggiaudine/docs/catalogo-sottolealidellangelo

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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.

Friulano

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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.

Picolit

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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.

Chardonnay

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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.

Riesling

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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.

Sauvignon

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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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Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

2

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!

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

8

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).

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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.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Sandro Vizzutti, Azienda Agricola Vizzutti Sandro e Marco

“We’re in Ramandolo. Every vineyard here follows the contours of the mountain. The people that live here respect the shape of the mountain. This is one of the few places where the name of the place is also the name of the wine. It is also the northern most part of the region, and of the appellation Colli Orientali del Friuli. We say here we are a border appellation and also a frontier appellation. It is a very challenging viticulture, and everything has to be worked by hand.

“The first historical mention of this wine was in 1408 or 1409, the beginning of the 15th century, being served to Pope Gregory. With the wine being documented in the early 15th century, it must have been produced much earlier.

“The wine is very small production, only 15-16 hectares. It is all very labor intensive [because of the grape type, and also the landscape. These vineyards climb up mountain sides.], and all the technical knowledge has been passed verbally from father to son, father to son.

“A Verduzzo grape ripens very very late with harvest starting in November. Then, a light drying of grapes is done. Historically, after vinification took place, in almost every case fermentation was stopped by cold weather so that in spring wines had lower alcohol levels, and a nice level of residual sugar. This is how we make the wine.

“Now, to make a technical point, even though I am not a fan of technical information. Ramandolo is made from a white but very tannic grape, Verduzzo. At the University of Udine, Professor Testoline did genetic mapping of these vines and its relatives, has sorted out how these vines have traveled. As a result, we know that the closest genetically linked grapes to Verduzzo, which is used to make Ramandolo, are all red grapes. So, it is believed that at some point there was a spontaneous mutation that turned a red grape into the white Verduzzo.

Any old producer will tell you that the best wine in the world is Ramandolo. Now, I can’t say that. I haven’t tasted every wine in the world.

Ramandolo is a wine that more than any other reflects the character and personality of the Friulian people. Imagine any where you are in the world there on the side is a bottle of Ramandolo. Then you walk by. Maybe you notice the bottle. Maybe you don’t. Eventually, you see the light reflect through the color of the bottle.

“This is just what it is like, the Friulian people. We do not try to stand out. But, people keep walking by, and eventually notice us, see the color and light of the bottle, and we get to know each other. We open the bottle. The wine, just like the Friulano, at first does not tell you much. it has a delicate, more subtle aroma. It is an aroma intended for noses that want to get to the bottom of what it is. To get to know what it is, you pour it into the glass, and then the wine becomes more intriguing. You have the courage to take a sip. Only in this sip do you realize a friendship has been made, and you learn more with every sip. It is a taste of generations–of parents, of grandparents, of ancestors.”

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Grapes of Colli Orientali del Friuli

The earth of appellation of Colli Orientali del Friuli, along the Slovenian border of Italy, hosts a mineral rich marl that is unique not only because of its blue color (all except in one part of the appellation where it is red), but also because of its high calcium content. The soil offers a rich minerality to the wines of the region that often shows as either a faintly salty quality, or a precise and dry slate.

Sitting along the intersection point of the Alps with the Balkans, just a few kilometers above the Adriatic, Colli Orientali del Friuli generally carries a mix of Mediterranean with Alpine climate–a cool, fairly mild and well-regulated temperature range with drying winds.

The combination of the soil and climate of the region intersect to produce unique characteristics for international grapes, and excellent growing conditions for grapes not seen any where else.

Indigenous Varieties

Tasting through Colli Orientali del Friuli hits all my love-for-obscure-grape buttons, as the region particularly celebrates its indigenous varieties. As Paolo Rapuzzi explained, the area once hosted over 150 grape types local to the region but after the phylloxera epidemic international varieties were planted instead replacing the original native plants.

In fact, Italian wine history includes the demand for focus on international varieties only into the 1970s when the Rapuzzi family helped fight the regulations to allow for grape farmers to grow indigenous vines without fine. Today, Colli Orientali has a huge focus on the local plants with a great pride in continuing to cultivate and bottle their wines.

Schioppettino

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We were lucky enough to taste through a wealth of Schioppettino, one of the group’s favorites of the wine types explored during our week-long visit to the region. The grape is still today predominately grown only through Friuli, though some few wine makers have begun to experiment with growing the variety in California in small quantities.

The Colli Orientali Consortium celebrates an association of wine makers in Prepotto–the village where Schioppettino is believed to have originated–dedicated to cultivating the best in quality for the variety. The Association of Prepotto Schioppettino Producers hosted a dinner for us during our trip where we tasted at least 15 different presentations of the varietal, and one Schioppettino-Refosco blend. To read more on the evening and the variety check out Do Bianchi’s post here: http://dobianchi.com/2012/04/10/schioppettino-the-next-big-thing-history-of-its-revival-and-fortune/

At its best, Schioppettino is a beautifully balanced, and elegant wine carrying a mix of fresh red and wild berries, alongside peppery notes, and light herbaceousness. It tends towards pleasing tannins with a smooth texture and bright acidity that cleans the mouth as you drink.

Refosco dal peduncolo rosso

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As Paolo Rapuzzi explained to us, while Schioppettino really is only grown through the Friuli region, Refosco extends slightly into the surrounding areas as well. Part of the large Refosco family, Refosco dal peduncolo originates in Friuli, showcasing its best characteristics thanks to the conditions of the area.

Refosco is a grape of impressive strength with the characteristics for a stunning wine of good acidity and strong tannin both. It has all of the structure for excellent aging, and admittedly its strength can sometimes work against drinking it too young. However, several wine makers throughout Colli Orientali del Friuli showed us wines that took the balance of Refosco’s strength with a younger approachability. The fruit of this variety shows a mix of dark and red berries, alongside primary herbaceous notes.

Pignolo

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Pignolo is a wine uncommon outside the Friuli region (though there is another variety from Lombardy that shares the same name but that most wine experts believe is not related (See 169 Oz Clark’s Encyclopedia of Grapes 2001)). I fell in love with its elegant intensity and nice balance of acidity with tannin. The flavors here are both fresh and rich showing red berries mixed with spice. The spice on these wines is known to develop greater sophistication with age.

Tazzelenghe

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Least common of the indigenous varieties of Colli Orientali del Friuli, we were able to taste only one Tazzelenghe. The grape is so rare it is barely mentioned in even the most comprehensive of wine books. I count myself lucky to have tried an offering, and though uncommonly, there are some varietals of this grape imported to the United States, if you’re interested in trying one.

The primary characteristics of this grape are its herbaceous notes, which soften with age, showing as dominate to its ripe red stone and berry fruit. The wine gains greater balance as it ages, showcasing good structure and distinct tannin characteristics.

International Varieties

As dedicated to Indigenous varieties as the wine makers of Colli Orientali del Friuli are, they also produce several international varieties that develop their own profile unique to the region.

Merlot

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Most common of the red international varieties to the area, Merlot bottles here as its own varietal, or as the anchor point for a number of the area’s red blends.

Cabernet Franc

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Cabernet Franc holds a key role in the red international grapes for the region. It is produced both under its own full moniker, and as a local wine called simply, Cabernet (t is pronounced here). When presented as Cabernet, however, the wine may be either a full Cabernet Franc, or blended with its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon.

The variety carries a complicated history through the region, however. As has occurred with various grape varieties around the world, Cabernet Franc was  widely planted through the region decades ago and then discovered to actually be Carmenere. Some believe that the wines of Friuli named Cabernet Franc are almost entirely Carmenere, showing the more vegetal qualities of that grape than what Cabernet Franc would tend to offer. Because of the history of naming and the establishment of the wine regulations through the area, however, the wine still appears under its original-to-the-region name, Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Sauvignon

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Cabernet Sauvignon only occasionally appears on its own in Colli Orientali as many wine makers choose to use it in blend with either Merlot, or Cabernet Franc instead of on its own. Though it produces a pleasing, full bodied red in the hills of this appellation, it is not commonly grown in Italy in general.

Pinot Noir

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The least common of the international varieties in Friuli, Pinot Noir is also the hardest to grow due to dampness hugging in amongst the grape clusters. Still, some producers are dedicated to the variety and develop it at low levels out of love for the flavor and style it produces.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com