Try these 5 native red grapes from Italy’s Friuli region
The Friuli region of northeast Italy is best known for its white grapes and wines, such as Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Verduzzo and Picolit, which have been available in our market for years. The red wines of the region, while important to the wine industry there, have been less prevalent, particularly in international export markets. Beyond some medium-bodied, herbaceous and often unripe Merlots and Cabernets, consumers have only recently begun to be exposed to the high-quality red wines produced from the region’s native red grapes. It’s about time as the notoriety and demand for these red wines appears to be growing.
Although Italy possesses a plethora of native grape varieties, few regions can match Friuli (or Campania) for its tremendous wealth of native grapes. On a recent trip, I had the opportunity to attend a conference in the town of Cividale del Friuli that focussed on the region’s red grapes. While Friuli possesses many native red grapes varieties, there are five that have the greatest significance.
Refosco is actually a group of grapes so referring solely to Refosco as the grape or wine is incorrect. The two main types are Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso and the less common Refosco di Faedis. The former is probably Friuli’s best-known red grape and its impressive lineage attests to the fact that it is an ancient and noble grape variety. Genetic research has shown Teroldego (Trentino’s most important red grape variety) to be the parent of Lagrein and Marzemino, with the latter and an unknown parent giving birth to Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso. In addition, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso is the parent of Corvina and grandparent of Rondinella, two important grape varieties used to make Valpolicella and Amarone wines.
Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso is a late-ripening grape that tends to produce dark red, medium-bodied wines with aromas and flavours of cherries, blackberries, fresh herbs and almonds with firm, sometimes aggressive tannins. When the grapes fail to ripen fully, the wines can be quite green and vegetal. Improved viticulture and vinification techniques (and arguably climate change) over the past 20 years has made this less of an issue, as evidenced by the lack of un-ripeness found in the majority of wines tasted during the conference.
Officially known as Refosco Nostrano, local Friulan producers prefer to call the grape Refosco di Faedis, after the town considered to be the grape’s main centre of production. Compared with wines made from Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, Refosco di Faedis wines tend to be slightly fruitier, floral and spicy, with more elegant tannins, higher acidity and frequently possessing red liquorice notes. Though not as structured as Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, I found the Refosco di Faedis wines to be graceful, elegant, fresh and well built, with an engaging brightness and drinkability. It doesn’t appear that there are any Refosco di Faedis wines currently available in Canada, which is a shame because these wines, in general, were fresh, elegant and delicious, and great food wines.
Cadibon Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2015, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($32)
Slightly herbaceous and red fruit aromas with flavours of bright cherry, fresh herbs. Remarkably soft tannins and a juicy finish.
Tenuta Cà Bolani Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2015, DOC Friuli Aquileia ($30)
Aromas and flavours of dark cherry and blackberry with bright, juicy acidity, notes of fresh herbs and firm, muscular tannins. 2015 was generally perceived to be a good vintage by producers as it was relatively warm with rain at the right times and a longer hang-time allowed for more even ripening of the grapes — important, as a characteristic of this grape variety is asynchronous maturation, even within individual grape bunches.
Castello di Buttrio Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2014, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($32)
Ruby red with aromas and flavours of dried cherries, currants and dried herbs. Minerally, focussed acidity. Medium-bodied with firm tannins on the finish. 2014 was a relatively rainy year.
Aquila del Torre Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso At Refosco 2013, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($30)
Loads of dark cherry and blackberry character with well-integrated leafy notes. Earthy with firm, edgy tannins. Quite well constructed and balanced.
Livon Riul Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2013, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($30)
Ripe, juicy chocolate-covered cherries, fresh herbs and vanilla with lush tannins. The winery also does a version vinified and aged entirely in stainless steel, which would have been interesting to taste as a comparison.
Macor Gianni Refosco di Faedis 2015, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($26)
Bright cherry and currant aromas and flavours with red liquorice and spice. Full, juicy, round tannins, lively acidity and a fresh finish.
Graziano Mosolo Refosco di Faedis 2013, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($28)
Quite floral with dark red fruit and spice, earth and minerality. Bright acidity, lush tannins and well structured.
Zani Elvio Refosco di Faedis, 2012 DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($32)
Ruby red with floral notes of violets, ripe and concentrated red fruit, fresh herbs, liquorice and spice. Juicy, approachable tannins and lifted acidity on the finish.
Tazzelenghe and Terrano
The two revelations of the tastings were Tazzelenghe and Terrano. In the local dialect, the former means “cuts the tongue” due to its high acidity levels and prevalent tannins. Tazzelenghe’s production remains limited to the area around the towns of Buttrio, Manzano, Rosazzo and Cividale. The wines tend to be bright, fresh and fragrant, with aromas and flavours of violets, blackberries and currants, lively, focussed acidity, medium-weight and firm, but well integrated, angular tannins.
Terrano is genetically related to Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso and produces wines that are deep coloured, fresh and bright with blueberry and blackberry flavours, minerally, juicy and focussed. The grape is typical of the Carso area of Friuli.
Both Tazzelenghe and Terrano are perfect barbecue wines as their precise and chiselled acidity totally cuts through the fattiness of barbecued pork, brisket or burnt rib tips. However, if there are any Tazzelenghe or Terrano wines currently available in Canada, they are few and far between. It’s time for a few importers to get on it as the demand for these wines is growing and producers are thankfully considering new plantings due to the increased interest and the total hectares of vineyards for both is dangerously low.
Colutta Gianpaolo Tazzelenghe 2012, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($36)
Pretty floral aromas, concentrated blackberry and currants due to the grapes air drying on the vine. Hints of cocoa, racy acidity and relatively well managed and elegant tannins.
Jacuss Tazzelenghe 2012, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($36)
Fresh black cherry and currants, focussed acidity and firm but well-managed tannins with the ripeness of the fruit smoothing the edges. Immense drinkability. The grapes were not air-dried. Delicious.
Bajta Terrano 2015, IGT Venezia Giulia ($34)
Deep coloured with lifted, bright acidity. Fresh, lean and focussed with a juicy, silky texture. Loads of fresh red berries and blueberries, mouth-watering salinity and a minerally finish. The freshness seems enhanced by the winery’s use of carbonic maceration.
Skerk Terrano 2014, IGT Venezia Giulia ($48)
Fresh, lean, tart and juicy aromas and flavours of blueberry and blackberry. Bright acidity and minerality. Lively texture that is balanced and structured with a deliciously fresh lifted finish.
Named for its small compact bunch (reminiscent of a pine cone), Pignolo produces wines that are dark, big and brawny with loads of ripe berry, juicy minerality, herbal notes and powerful, lush, fruit-laden tannins. Almost like Petite Sirah or a big Zinfandel in character, the wine is atypical of what most people’s preconceptions (or misconceptions) of what a Friulan red should be (namely, lean, high acid and herbacious).
Scarbolo Pignolo 2011, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($46)
Well-crafted wine with loads of ripe berry and currant aromas and flavours. Bright acidity. Full and slightly edgy but with well-integrated, fruit-laden tannins, spice and a lush finish.
Specogna Pignolo 2011, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($50)
Big, bold and fresh with ripe black cherry and black currant fruit that is pure and focused with spice. Grippy, lush tannins with smoke and herbal notes on the finish.
Livio Felluga Pignolo 2009, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($54)
Rich and concentrated with an abundance of bright fruit. Big, velvety tannins. Smoky and minerally with fresh herbs, currants, plums and blackberry.
Schioppettino is historically linked to the town of Prepotto and ironically it was a law created by the local government in 1976 that effectively impeded the planting of the grape, laying the path for what would have been the variety’s demise. A local rebellion thankfully resulted in the law being repealed and Schioppettino not just being included in the list of authorized grape varieties for the area but also listed as a recommended variety.
The wines tend to be elegant, bright and perfumed with flavours of black currant and black cherries with high acidity, smooth tannins and typical notes of green peppercorns.
Conte d’Attimis-Maniago Schioppettino, 2013, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($28)
Well balanced and elegant. Quite peppery with minerality. Fresh acidity. Juicy, but not fruity, with bright acidity and a smooth texture. Difficult to stop drinking this one.
La Tunella Schioppettino 2012, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($32)
Structured and fleshy with lifted acidity, black currant and black cherry fruit flavours and green peppercorn notes. The grapes were air dried for up to 30 days.
Flaibani Schioppettino 2011, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($46)
Fresh, juicy and fruity with high acidity. Elegant and focussed with only a hint of the peppercorn character due to a warmer vintage. The producer views Schioppettino as Friuli’s Pinot Noir with a splash of Shiraz. Not a bad comparison.
Grillo Iole Schioppettino di Prepotto 2013, DOC Friuli Colli Orientali ($50)
Rich and concentrated with fresh black cherries, fresh herbs, green peppercorns, chewy tannins and a lifted finish.
The red wines of Friuli are interesting, fresh and drinkable, with loads of character and a great affinity for food. And, importantly, they express the personality of the region. Native grapes are not a fad, but unless we support these distinct and delicious wines, they risk extinction. Just because unfamiliar names or ones that are difficult to pronounce shouldn’t be a barrier. One taste is all you need.