Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Most of us, including people in the wine industry, can have no idea what it feels like to own an estate where grapes have been grown since 1273. That privilege belongs to the establishment Marco Felluga — now run by fifth generation Roberto Falluga — which purchased the 250-acre Russiz Superiore property — half planted to vines — in 1967. The part of the world of which I write here is Collio, in the Friuli region of Italy, far in the northeast, an area influenced by the warmth of the Adriatic Sea, 12 miles away, and the coolness of the nearby Alps. Friuli and the northeast generally are white wine territory, but red wine is also produced, and our Wine of the Week is one of those. The Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Cabernet Franc 2012, Collio, offers a deep black-ruby hue with a vibrant violet rim; it’s all a bit thermonuclear. The wine is 100 percent cabernet franc, and it aged 12 months in small oak casks, a device that lends it lovely suppleness and a subtle spicy background, but nothing obtrusive. This feels, in fact, like classic Loire Valley cab franc, with its seamless amalgam of cedar and tobacco, plums, blueberries and raspberries permeated by notes of black olives, loam and oolong tea; hints of cloves and sandalwood emerge after a few moments in the glass. The wine is robust, dense, almost chewy yet never heavy or overbearing, being, rather, sleek and chiseled in texture. Black fruit flavors are supported by clean acidity, mildly dusty tannins and an undercurrent of earthy graphite minerality. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18 with hearty braised meat dishes, full-flavored pastas, grilled pork chops or steaks. Excellent. About $28.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

The experience at VINO 2015 — as at VINO 2011, the last time the event was held in New York — is overwhelming. Again, the three-day conference about Italian wine and the Italian wine industry and their relationship with America occurred (last week) at the venerable Waldorf Astoria hotel, and though my room this year was not as grand as my accommodations were four years ago — not, I hope, a reflection of any diminishing of my status — the hotel is a sumptuous place that certainly fulfills any expectations for service. (In fact, the Waldorf is so exclusive that to eat breakfast in Peacock Alley, just off the ornate lobby, you have to reserve a table and wear a dark business suit.) It’s pretty interesting and even gratifying to mingle with (or observe from a distance) some of the great figures in wine education and authorship, people who wrote some of the definitive and best-known books in the business, including Karen MacNeil, Ed McCarthy, Harriet Lembeck, Kevin Zraly, Terry Robarts, Elin McCoy and others. It’s also a treat to hobnob with a host of my blogging compatriots, exchanging notes and thoughts.

To a significant extent, the conference is about selling wine or figuring out how to sell wine, so most of the attendees come from the wholesale tier of the industry, and their presence tips the focus toward getting wine to the market and in the hands of consumers. For example, a seminar about the wines of Calabria given by an author and educator emphasized the land and region, the characteristics of the grapes and the details about the wines, while a seminar on the wines of the Campania region given by an expert in Italian wines at the retail level was mostly about how to sell the wines and explain them to customers.

The overwhelming part consists of the sheer numbers of estates, producers and cooperatives offering wine to taste — according to the Italian Trade Commission, 350 producers and more than 1,200 wines. In addition, Slow Wine, an adjunct of the Slow Food organization, mounted its own, smaller and very select tasting of wines from producers featured in their wine guide. There’s no way that one sane healthy person could taste even a fraction of that vinous flood, so as I mentioned in a previous post, I tried to be judicious and pick producers carefully or, to be honest, on a whim. It’s surprising how often that rather antimethodical method works out, especially among the producers that do not have representation in the United States. Of course when the opportunity arose, I didn’t hesitate to taste the wines of prestigious estates too.

Today, I launch a series devoted to the wines I encountered at VINO 2015, beginning with four producers, from the Slow Wine tasting, that do not have representation in this country. Listen up, importers!

Postcard image of the Waldorf Astoria from
Tenuta Terraviva lies close to the coastal town of Tortoreto in the region of Abruzzo. The organic estate produces small quantities of white and red wine from local grapes such as trebbiano, pecorino and montepulciano, employing thoughtful application of wood and steel to craft delicious, lively and charming wines with a slightly serious edge and surprising complexity. Alcohol content stays consistently in the 13 to 13.5 percent range. I tried the sleek, spicy, lightly honeyed and blossomy Terraviva Trebbiano 2013, the winery’s entry-level white, made in stainless steel; another trebbiano, Mario’s 40 2012, which undergoes 12 months in large oak barrels and six months in steel tanks, lending notes of spiced pear, candied grapefruit and almond flower (about 415 cases); the intriguing ‘Ekwo 2013, Abruzzo Pecorino, made in stainless steel and offering distinct hints of heather, yellow plums, mango and lime peel (about 335 cases); and for red, the Lui 2011, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, aged half in used barriques and half in steel tanks, for a feral and woodsy effect of wild cherries and raspberries, dried mountain herbs and leather, with real dusty tannic grip (about 1,650 cases; alcohol content 14 percent). Tenuta Terraviva is looking for an American importer, and we would all be happy if one were found. At the current conversion rate of euros to dollars, the Trebbiano 2013 is priced at about $10.25, while Mario’s 40 2012 is about $13.50. Even after the costs of importation and the three-tier system, these would be attractive and reasonably priced wines.
Villa Venti is located about 30 kilometers directly west of the sea-coast resort city of Rimini, in the extreme southeastern corner of Emilia-Romagna. Boasting bed and breakfast lodging and a farm for demonstrating organic and biodynamic methods, the estate is operated by the Castellucci, Giardini and Riva families. I tried two of their wines, the exotic Serenaro 2013, Forli Bianco IGT, made from the very local famoso di Cesena grape, and the appealing and enticing Primo Segno 2012, Romagna Sangiovese Superiore, as well as the version from 2011. This red wine, which sees no oak, is deceptively light, with floral and spicy fragrances that seem to nourish the soul, very pretty red cherry and raspberry fruit, bracing acidity and a surprising amount of supple loamy tannins; that’s the 2012; the ’11 offers even more burnish, depth and purchase. It made me long for a dish of pappardelle with rabbit or a selection of salumi and cheeses. In Italy, this stylish wine costs about 10 euros.
The founding of Torre San Martino began with the discovery, in 2000, of sangiovese vines dating back to 1922. The estate occupies 70 hectares — about 173 acres — in the central Appennines of the area called Tosco-Romagnola; we’re still in Emilia-Romagna but in the far west. The stunning young woman who poured the wines of Torre San Martino supplied me with a sleekly designed brochure, all black, white and gray, but it offered no technical information about the products, and the estate’s website is “Under Construction,” so I can deliver no technical data about how these wines were made, though someone is doing something right. The intriguing white entry, the Vigna della Signora 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and albana grapes, the latter an indigenous vine that does not get much love, despite its DOCG status. In combination, though, with unspecified amounts of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, it produces a wine that seems pure gold, from its brilliant straw-gold hue to its notes of yellow fruit and flowers, spiced pears and caramelized grapefruit and orange zest, and a texture poised between pert acidity and moderate lushness. The Vigna 1922 Riserva 2011, Sangiovese di Romagna, is made exclusively from those 93-year-old vines; it’s a wine of great elegance and breeding, intensity and depth, displaying a sense of history and geography, and if you could not sell the hell out of it in restaurants in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and L.A. then you would need to get a job cleaning milk shake machines. The Gemme 2013, Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, is a younger wine in every way, fresh and amenable but with plenty of stuffing. These are sophisticated wines that embody high-design components and an interesting narrative; how could they not find an American importer?
I was terrifically impressed by the wines of Ronco del Gelso, an estate located in the Isonzo DOC of Friuli Venezia Giulia, in northeastern Italy. Mainly white wines are produced here, with a few reds, and these white wines are notably fresh, clean, crisp and spicy, as in the instance of the Toc Bas 2013, made from friulano grapes. More layered is the Sot lis Rives 2013, a barrel-aged pinot grigio that employs crystalline limestone qualities and vivacious acidity to cushion tasty peach, lime and grapefruit flavors, with hints of hazelnuts and almond blossom. The Siet Vignis Chardonnay 2013 aged a year in 2,500-liter oak barrels, lending the wine lovely subtlety and suppleness, while retaining well-defined mineral elements and delicious citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Best of these, however, is Ronco del Gelso’s Schulz Riesling 2013, a captivating and winsome wine made all in stainless steel, resting on the lees with no malolactic fermentation; the result is a beautifully balanced amalgam of peach, pear, lychee, jasmine and limestone that’s slightly sweet on the entry but very dry on the finish and exhibiting all the verve and energy you want in a great riesling.

I haven’t chosen a pinot grigio as Wine of the Week since sometime in February 2012, the primary reason being that this space is reserved for products that offer distinction, class, style and, usually, value. Many pinot grigios indeed don’t cost much, but they tend to fall down in the areas of style, class and distinction. An exception to that rule is the Livon Pinot Grigio 2013, Collio, from Italy’s northeastern province of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Made all in stainless steel, this pinot grigio offers a pale straw-gold color with a faint green overlay; aromas of almond, almond skin, roasted lemon and lemon balm are highlighted by notes of lemongrass, verbena, nutmeg and a bracing sort of salt-marsh aura. No inconsequential or innocuous little quaffer, the Livon Pinot Grigio 2013 delivers a fairly dense texture that supports lemon, spiced pear and yellow plum flavors enlivened by incisive acidity and decisive crystalline limestone minerality. The whole package resonates with expressive savory and saline qualities that lift the wine above the ordinary; the finish is elegant and a bit austere. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 with shrimp risotto, broiled trout with lemon and capers, clam spaghetti, that sort of thing. Excellent. About $17, representing Good Value.

Imported by Angelini Selections, Centerbrook, Conn. A sample for review.

Unless you’re myopic or dogmatic, you know that great white wines are made in places other than Burgundy and Bordeaux, Alsace and Germany, California and Oregon. I’m speaking of Italy, which, while its many regions are capable of churning out seas of anonymous and innocuous white wines, is capable of producing not just attractive but terrific whites, largely from indigenous grapes. The eight wines I offer today rate Very Good+ or Excellent, and all represent good value, even those priced in the low and mid-$20s. We touch on Collio and Alto Adige and, farther south. Marche and Pulgia. In a departure from standard Weekend Wine Notes practice, I include a smidgeon of technical information, because though most of these wines were fashioned completely in stainless steel, a few demonstrate the quality that emerges from a deft combination of stainless steel with oak. I loved all of these wines, from the simplest to the most complicated; each provides pleasure and enjoyment in myriad ways, and they would all be wonderful will Spring and Summer fare. Enjoy!

These were samples for review.

Garofoli Macrina 2012, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, Marche (pronounced “mar-kay”). 100% verdicchio grapes. Very pale gold color; vibrant, savory, saline, crisp and dry; lilac and heather, lemon and lemon balm, notes of grapefruit peel, lemongrass and chalk; deliciously seductive, with silky medium body and supple texture; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of anise, lavender and limestone; surprising detail and dimension for the price. (All stainless steel.) Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $14, and a Freaking Great Value.

Elena Walch Selezione Pinot Bianco 2012, Alto Adige. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot bianco grapes. Pale gold color; lemon, pears, lemon curd, hints of lilac and honeysuckle; touch of spiced peach; very dry, an ethereal, almost powdery texture; super-attractive and very appealing. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15.

La Battistina Gavi 2013, Gavi, Italy. 12% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Pale pale gold; a shimmering white wine, lovely with hints of green apples and lemons, almond blossom and spiced pears and a distinctive edge that balances slightly honeyed ripeness with dry salinity; juicy but spare, with bracing acidity that cuts a swath and a scintillating seashell/flint character. (Stainless steel.) Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $16.

Li Veli Masseria Verdeca 2012, Valle d’Itria. 13% alc. 90% verdeca grapes, 10% fiano minutolo. Light gold color; roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince, cloves, camellia and bee’s-wax; hints of pear and peach; dried herb character with a bit of sea-grass, savory and saline; quite dry with a pronounced chalk-like minerality; lively and engaging. (Stainless steel). Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18

Elena Walch Kastelaz Pinot Bianco 2012, Alto Adige. 13.5% alc. 100% pinot bianco grapes. Pale gold color; deep, spicy, notes of candied grapefruit, with quince and ginger, hints of pear and lychee; chiming acidity arrows straight through the intensity of limestone transparency, bolstering spicy lemon and stone-fruit flavors; very dry, dynamic, a powerful presence. (Single vineyard grapes; 2.3 stainless steel, 1/3 new French oak.) Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $22.

Marco Felluga Molamatta Bianco 2011, Collio. 13.5% alc. Pinot biano 40%, tocai friulano 40%, ribola gialla 20%. Pale gold color; almond and almond blossom, lemon and grapefruit, a little earthy and fleshy, slightly honeyed with a touch of lanolin; deftly balanced, elegant, yet dense and almost chewy texture; quite dry, enlivened by brisk acidity, limestone and a hint of almond skin and grapefruit rind bitterness. Lovely personality. (The pinot bianco fermented and aged in oak, the rest in stainless steel.) Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $23.
Garofoli Podium 2011, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, Marche. 14.5% alc. 100 percent verdicchio grapes. Pale gold color; spiced peaches and yellow plums, hints of honey, jasmine and rosemary, with an echo of that herb’s pithy piney character; warmly spicy yet cool with limestone and flint minerality; moderately dense, satiny texture cut by resonant acidity and a crystalline mineral quality; long finish wreathing spice, limestone and stone-fruit flavors. The difference between this wine and its cousin mention above: estate vineyards, lower yields, 15 months on the lees in stainless steel tanks. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.

Marco Felluga Sauvignon Russiz Superiore 2012, Collio. 13.4% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Very pale gold; camellias and roasted lemons, slightly herbal and grassy — thyme, timothy, tarragon — with notes of lime peel and tangerine and a hint of bell pepper; lovely talc-like texture riven by vivid acidity and a vibrant limestone-flint element; very dry, with a fairly restrained, savory and austere finish. Now through 2016. (85% stainless steel/15% oak) Excellent. About $26.

Just when you think that you’ll scream if you have to drink another cabernet sauvignon or merlot, along comes the refosco grape to renew your faith in individual red wine. The grape is native to the vineyard regions of northeast Italy and is also cultivated in neighboring Slovenia and Croatia and a bit in Greece. Its use was recorded as long ago as the late 14th Century, and its wine was a favorite of the libertine and memoirist Casanova. Of a group of related refosco grapes, the most prominent and widely cultivated is refosco dal peduncolo rosso, referring to the reddish color of its stem. These tend to be forthright and robust red wines, high in acid because of the late ripening of the grapes and deeply tannic; they do not take well to aging in small oak barrels. Today, then, I recommend the Ronco dei Moreri Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2011, Venezia Giulia, from the estate of Marco Felluga. The name of the vineyard, Ronco dei Moreri, means a hillside surrounded by mulberries. The grapes for this wine were fermented in stainless steel tanks, and the wine aged 12 months in a combination of large and small oak casks. The color is a rich dark ruby hue; the bouquet carries aromatic density of spice and earth and leather, a meaty fleshy aura of macerated plums, mulberries and blueberries and wild notes of violets and graphite. Dense, too, on the palate, the wine delivers prominent dry grainy tannins, as well as the grape’s fabled lively acidity, both aspects supporting flavors of fresh and dried red and black fruit permeated by touches of rosemary, lavender and granitic minerality. The finish is long and slightly austere. 13.5 percent alcohol. About as dignified as a rustic wine gets. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. We had this bottle with homemade pizza dominated by mushrooms, green olives and bacon; its robust and packed character would be appropriate with roasted veal chops, game such as venison and boar or braised beef or bison short ribs. Excellent. About $20.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

As in the 36 hours that the Attems Cupra Ramato Pinot Grigio 2011 spent in contact with the grape skins as opposed to the Attems (“regular”) Pinot Grigio 2011, which received no skin contact. The latter offers the palest of pale straw-gold colors, as we would expect; the former, the Cupra Ramato, delivers a very pale peach-copper color, just the faintest flush or blush. So, is Cupra Ramato a rosé or, as they say in Italian, a rosato? No, because a rosé is a pale wine made from red grapes. Cupra Ramato is made from a “white” grape, though that word is misleading. The grapes made into “white” wines, which aren’t really white strictly speaking, are typically green or greenish yellow, and while pinot grigio (and its French counterpart pinot gris) are nominally white wines, the grigio (or gris) segments of the names point to the grape’s rosy-grayish hue. Today’s wines are from Venezia Giulia, part of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in northeastern Italy; Austria is to the north, Slovenia to the east, the Adriatic to the south.

Cupra Ramato is, in essence, an “orange wine,” the phenomenon that’s been such a trend — dare we say fad? — in the world of white wine-making for the past 10 or 12 years. The technique of fermenting and aging white wines on the skins is ancient and actually was employed in Italy as recently as the 1950s and ’60s, but producers abandoned the tradition because crystal clean white wines were seen as more commercially viable. Some commentators credit Friulian winemaker Josko Gravner with reviving the practice, though he moved far beyond usual winemaking methods by aging his “white” wines in terra cotta amphorae lined with bees’-wax and buried up to the rims in the earth. Thirty-six hours on the skins is mild compared to the practices of some of the more fanatical orange wine producers. Slovenian
winemaker Ales Kristancic ferments and then ages his Movia Lunar, made from ribolla gialla grapes, seven months in barrels buried 30 feet underground.

The question then, for this post, is What difference does it make that one pinot grigio is made in the accepted (or once-accepted) manner and the other in the new skin-contact fashion? While the differences are not earth-shaking, these two examples of pinot grigio might have come from diverse sensibilities; both are very well-made and quite charming. Northeastern Italy is home to many of the best pinot grigio wines made on the planet — and many of the worst, the most industrial and over-manufactured. Attems, fortunately, can be depended on consistently to make some of the best.

First, the Attems Pinot Grigio 2011, Venezia Giulia, a model that offers far more in body, texture and complexity than the run-of-the-mill pinot grigio. Aromas of almond and almond blossom, orange rind, roasted lemons and yellow plums unfold to reveal hints of lime peel and limestone and a whiff of some mysterious tropical fruit for a touch of the exotic. The wine is blended from grapes derived from vineyards planted in 2002 but also in 1963, so there’s the grip and character of vines that are almost 50 years old; mostly stainless steel but 15 percent aged in French barriques. One feels the texture lively and persuasive on the palate, bright with acidity, scintillating with limestone-and-shale-like minerality yet almost lush with citrus and stone fruit flavors deeply imbued with notes of cloves, quince and ginger. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $19.

The Attems Cupra Ramato Pinot Grigio 2011, Venezia Giulia, is not a sibling but a cousin to the producer’s regular pinot griogio, made from different vineyards averaging 15 years old. Again, the wine matured four months, 15 percent in barriques, the rest in stainless steel; first, however, came the 36 hours on the skins. The color is very pale copper-peach; aromas begin with apples and pears, with a touch of orange rind, and then gather notes of dried strawberries, hay, flint and cloves. The whole package is subtle, delicately modulated, lightly spiced; in the mouth the accent is on fresh and dried Rainier cherries and baked pears enlivened by fresh, crisp acidity and undertones of slate, sea salt and a sort of paradoxical mocha-like earthiness. This is very charming, lovely and very easy to drink, but despite the skin contact, it lacks the dynamic personality and depth of the previous wine. Drink through 2013. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca. Map from These were samples for review.