Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Part of the Venetian Empire before 1866
Conte Loredan Gasparini
The Conte Loredan Gasparini 100-hectare estate is located about 40 km northwest of Venice in Venegazzu di Volpago del Montello near the border with Friuli. Gasparini purchased the property in the 1950s, mainly because it was the site of the splendid Palladian Villa Spineda, a XVIII century work of the architect F.M. Preti. Ownership then passed to Giancarlo Palla, who planted 47 hectares of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec. Ruled by the French since 1797 until the defeat of Napoleon, French wine grapes are traditional in the area. The Venegazzu estate’s flagship wine is the Bordeaux blend, Capo di Stato, included in the French publication entitled 100 Vins di Legend, the wine chosen for its venerable quality. Loredan Gasparini first made the wine in the 1960s, at which time he presented it to Charles de Gaulle, who was particularly impressed by it. Gasparini named the wine Head of State to honor de Gaulle. Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso comments, “Capo di Stato has long been one of the best wines in Italy…” The family farms organically but without certification.
In addition to the Venegazzu estate, the Giancarlo Palla family, including sons Alberto and Lorenzo who work with their father, owns the 23-hectare Giavera property in nearby Montello, planted entirely to Prosecco. Situated on gorgeous, wooded and hilly slopes between 150 and 200 meters above sea level, this estate also boasts an historic villa that was the office of Provveditoria of Montello during the times of the Republic of Venice between 697 to 1797.
Then across the Friulian border in the Collio appellation in the province of Gorizia, which borders Slovenia, the Palla family makes the elegant and powerful white wines of the region at Ronco Blanchis, Ronco from the Friulian fianco, or side of a hill, and Blanchis or white like the color of the wines. The vineyards are some of the highest in the Collio Goriziano. From these high altitude vineyards, the family makes Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, and Sauvignon. Gambero Rosso comments, “…at Ronco Blanchis, complexity, freshness, length, and fragrant aromatics are the calling cards that linger in the memory after tasting.” Consulting winemaker is Gianni Menotti.
The 70-hectare Cecchetto estate is located at Tezze di Piave in the Veneto’s Treviso area, through which the River Piave runs. Often flooding the plains beyond its banks, this large river strongly influences the land as it winds through villages, some of which bear its name, such as Tezze di Piave, Mareno di Piave, and Santa Lucia di Piave. Raboso is the area’s native red grape, and Georgio Cecchetto is responsible for resurrecting and dignifying the variety, which before his efforts was going extinct. In 2002, famous Italian wine writer Luigi Veronelli described the Raboso grape as the “Black Pearl of Piave” for its superior acidity, aromas, and structure, an accolade that validated Georgio Cecchetto’s efforts. The winery also makes Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Manzoni Bianco, and Pinot Grigio.
The Perusini estate is located in the Colli Orientali or “Eastern Hills” appellation of Friuli, around Gramogliano, near the Judrio River, which until 1918 marked the border between Italy and Austria. Teresa Perusini is the current owner of the estate, which has 13 hectares under vines. She is an art historian but also an enthusiastic farmer, who divides her time between her studies and running the estate together with her husband Giacomo de Pace and their three sons. Since the 18th Century when French varieties were more highly respected, the Perusini family’s mission was to preserve indigenous varieties, especially Picolit and Ribolla Gialla. The family now produces the whites Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, and Chardonnay and the reds Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Refosco.
For several generations, the Sterza family had been selling grapes from its five-hectare vineyard in the Veneto’s famed Valpolicella zone. The Sterza family vineyard is located in the tiny village of Casterna in the foothills of the Lessini mountain range. When the estate passed to David Sterza, he decided to produce his own wine rather than sell his grapes to others and in 1995 built the winery. He then formed a partnership with his cousin Paolo Mascanzoni, an established enologist, who became the winemaker while David continued to tend the vineyards. The cousins produce about 2,500 cases of the traditional wines of the area, Valpolicella Ripasso, Amarone, and Amarone Recioto.
Italian Wines of the Month
Roncho Blanchis 2010 Friulano
Anyone who thinks that white wines are insipid needs to taste this 100% Friulano. This full-bodied white, indigenous to Fruili after which it is named, has powerful aromas and intense flavors equal to many reds. In fact, the wine has so much character that it shows itself best with food. Notice the unusual bottle shape, especially the slope of the shoulder, which is emblematic of the Collio appellation. Serve chilled with main courses like pasta primavera with spring vegetables, grilled poultry and rabbit, and seafood stews.
David Sterza 2011 Valpolicella Ripasso
The Valpolicella blend is the iconic wine of the Veneto, consisting of Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara. In its simplest form, the wine is medium-bodied, fruity and refreshing. But when the wine is passed over the less of Amarone, even for just a few days, Valpolicella is referred to as Ripasso and becomes more intense from its exposure to Amarone lees. The Sterza Valpolicella Ripasso is a versatile wine and will complement many dishes. Serve at cool room temperature.
Cecchetto 2008 Riboso del Piave
Raboso is a most unusual grape, recently joining the fraternity of fine wine, largely due to the Cecchetto family that has been its champion for several generations. In its rustic form, the wine is highly aromatic, dark, and very tannic. But the Cecchetto family has shown that the wine has a dramatically elegant side. Its color is strikingly dark, and the aromas stunningly intense, recalling wild fruit, tobacco, and pepper with chocolate on the ever lasting finish. Tannic texture is evident, but if tannins were pixels or knots in a rug, they would be dense and tight, ultimately rendering a sensation of smoothness. This is a beautiful wine but unlike most of what we drink. Decant several hours before serving and prepare for the unusual.
Perusini 2009 Cabernet Franc
This beautiful wine with deep but luminous color at first is unrecognizable as a Bordeaux variety. But its dark berry fruit aromas and flavors change in the glass with exposure to the air. Flavors and tannin structure are elegant, complex, and impressive. Serve at cool room temperature.
Perusini 2011 Ribola Gialla
This citrusy full-bodied white wine is packed with fruit, minerality, and acidity and shows elegant white flowers and pear on the finish. Definitely a food wine, it shows both power and finesse. Serve chilled with grilled salmon, roasted poultry, and risotto with spring vegetables.
Loredan Gasparini 2007 Capo di Stato
The distinctive label for this famous wine was created in 1967 by Italian artist Tono Zancanaro. He made two drawings of a male and female, who represented the double soul of wine, the grapes and their subsequent transformation into wine. Over the years, the wine was produced with just the male image except for special bottles, which presented the female image. The wine is a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec grapes. With intense and layered aromas and flavors, the wine suggests rich wild berries and light spices. Beautifully balanced with fruit, acid, and smooth tannins, all elements are seamlessly integrated into a distinctive wine that continues to captivate over the decades. Decant and serve at cool room temperature.
Cecchetto 2009 Gelsaia
The name Gelsaia comes from the mulberry tree, gelso in Italian, which in the last century in Treviso was used to support grape vines. This distinctive wine is 100% Raboso, which now has its own DOCG Malanotte appellation, the highest classification for Italian wines. The wine was made somewhat like Amarone with 20% of the grapes dehydrated for just 35 days. The dehydration adds richness to the wine, but because only 20% of the grapes were subject to the process, the wine retains is fresh fruit qualities. Cherry jam, plums, forest floor, chocolate, and rhubarb characterize the nose and palate. The wine was aged for 12 months in new and used oak barrels and casks to avoid absorption of addition wood tannins to what is already a tannic grape. This is a beautiful and unusual wine. While the name of the grape variety, Raboso, means angry in Italian, the Gelsaia is an entirely serene and elegant wine. Decant and serve at cool room temperature.
Italian Region of the Month
Friuli and Giulia both refer to Julius Caesar, who conquered the area after a long struggle with the native inhabitants. Friuli, a contraction of the Latin for Forum Julii, includes the large provinces of Udine and Pordenone between the Adriatic and Austria, while the smaller Venezia Giulia in the southeast was part of the Venetian empire. Before joining Italy in 1866, the region belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, the region borders Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia and has a sizable Slovenian minority.
The Carnic and Julian Alps cover 43% of the region and open onto the Adriatic basin. Friuli’s most exceptional DOC zones are in the higher areas of Collio and Collio Orientale on terraced slopes called ronchi and in the hills above the seaport and regional capital of Trieste. The other four DOC zones cover the low hills or plains.
Friuli has built a reputation for white wines like Tocai Friulano, Malvasia, Ribolla, and Verduzzo, which are native to the area, but it has a long tradition with Chardonnay, Sauvignon, the Pinots, Traminer, and Riesling. The Friulians have also rediscovered certain neglected varieties, such as Picolit, one of Europe’s finest sweet whites around 1800. Verduzzo also makes an exquisite light dessert wine. And Ribolla Gialla has benefited from new wine making methods and is now produced as a dry white.
But the Friulians are also making attractive reds as well. Refosco can be either light and fruity or a more substantial wine, which can age. Franconia and Tazzeieghe make distinctive reds, but the Schioppettino grape may have the greatest quality potential.
Venezia, a city built into the sea, is like no other, haunted by the princes and poets of its noble past and by centuries of tourists. The cities of Padova, Vicenza, and Verona, originally frontier posts on the Roman trade route between Venezia and Genova, grew into Renaissance splendor and are marvels in their own right. In the 16th Century, the region’s great architect Andrea Palladio worked throughout the area and his buildings are everywhere, in the cities and in the countryside. Nature exhibits its own marvels in the region, the spectacular Dolomite Mountains in the north, the rolling Euganean hills in the south, vast Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, on the eastern border, and to the west, the Adriatic with its beaches and ports.
Today, Veneto is a thriving agricultural center, a lush land of vines, ranking third after Apulia and Sicily in wine volume but the first with classified DOC wines. There are three general areas of premium production: the western province of Verona in the hills between Lake Garda and the town of Soave, the central hills in the provinces of Vincenza, Padova, and Treviso, and the eastern plains of the Piave and Tagliamento river basins along the Adriatic coast northeast of Venezia.
Verona is the leader in classified DOC wines and the site of Vinitaly, the largest wine trade fair in the world. A major part of the DOC wines in the region are Soave, Bardolino, and Valpolicella, a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. When young, Valpolicella is a full, fruity red, but when the grapes are partly dried, they are made into Amarone, one of Italy’s most noble wines. Bardolino is made from the same grapes as Valpolicella but is a lighter version. Similar to Soave, Bianco di Custoza is another DOC white as is Lessini Durello, a steely dry wine, usually sparkling.
The central hills produce whites similar to Soave as well as Tocai, the Pinots, Merlot, and Cabernet. Prosecco, a dry to lightly sweet white, is produced in the area as is the renowned Venegazzu, both usually sparkling.
The eastern plains have been dominated by Merlot and Cabernet Franc for decades, but the local red Raboso and white Verduzzo still have admirers. Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, and Chardonnay are also gaining ground.