Home Italy The Pinnacle and Depth of Joy: i Clivi Wines, and Meeting the Zanusso Men

The Pinnacle and Depth of Joy: i Clivi Wines, and Meeting the Zanusso Men


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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  1. I would love to try these wines, especially the San Pietro 2010 as you’ve described it. It sounds absolutely mouthwatering. Did you eat here? If so, what did you have with these wines?

    Also, love your rendition of Hokusai’s Great Wave! Awesome!

  2. […] 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 t…. […]

  3. […] 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 […]

  4. […] 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 […]

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