I love green places. Collio is one of them. Vineyards interspersed by forests and grass. Time marches on, and sadly, I miss the greenness, the crisp air, the beauty of Collio. Sometimes the universe sends out breadcrumbs for me to follow, guiding me to beautiful places, wines, food and the people that make it all happen.
Six years ago, 2013, it does not seem that long ago, I went to a media dinner at Piccolo Sogno restaurant here in Chicago to taste the wines from a town called Cormòns in Collio, Friuli. At the time, I was working for Edible Chicago magazine and focused on all things sustainable and authentic in mostly local food and wine. At the dinner, the question came up from several other writers there, “where is Cormòns, is it a city, a village?” “Where is Friuli?” The very special wine that was the highlight of the dinner was Vino Della Pace.
I have since learned that Vino Della Pace, its name signifying a wine of peace, is a wine made from 800 different varieties planted in a specific, “vineyard of the world” and produced by Cantina Produttori Cormòns , a cooperative composed of 120 families. Their aim is to capture the soul of the world in a glass, a wine representing universal harmony which is a sentiment badly needed in the world today. This white wine was absolutely delicious, but as these dinners go, my main takeaway was that this place Cormòns, Collio was a very special place but I still had only a vague idea of where it really was. I had not started my wine studies yet so was not so focused on maps as I am now. Around the same time, renowned Chicago-based MS, Fernando Beteta held a seminar at Binnys Beverage in Lakeview on the wines of Friuli. The tasting was a short seminar focused on whites and I took away again that Friuli and Collio, in particular, was a special place for white wines. Finally, several years ago in my Italian Wine Specialist Class given by Diego Meraviglia, during the Friuli section he emphasized how the Collio area made world class white wines in particular Sauvignon Blancs among other wines. Yet again, the words Collio, Collio, beautiful white wines were stamped in my brain. When the folks at IEEM asked me if I wanted to go on an Immersion trip to Collio, those words I had kept hearing over the years, Collio, beautiful worldclass wines. rang in my head, and I immediately said yes.
Where did I find myself on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 six years later from that dinner at Piccolo Sogno, sitting in front of large, wooden, ornate barrels, decorated by notable Italian artists, filled with Vino Dello Pace in the Cooperative winery of Cormòns in the Collio region of Friuli listening to a washboard band. I sat on a wooden bench with a glass full of crisp, refreshing Friulano wine and a bag full of a picnic dinner in the land of Collio. This time I knew specifically where we were.
The Italian region (think state) where the wine region Collio is located is Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The regional name, itself, a combination of Friuli with the ex-Austrian satellite of Venezia Giulia alludes to the mix of languages, Italian, Slovenian and German and cultures that are part of the region.
Then Friuli itself is divided into provinces, the provinces are somewhat tied to their previous political affiliations. Gorizia province borders Slovenia, Trieste is the port city on the Adriatic.
Winefolly, the producer of great maps, breaks down the DOC regions of Friuli below. The Collio Gorizia DOC, Collio for short is literally right on the border with Slovenia, in the hills (Collio). And when it comes to wine awards, Tre Bicchieri, among others, Collio wines tend to win most of them.
A detailed map of the Collio communes and winegrowing areas:
Over the centuries, this specific part of Gorizia, Collio was known for its wine and food. Like other incredible wine regions such as Alsace, despite the change of political control, the area has had its own identity and been a destination because of its wines and food. Be it Venetians, Austrians, Slovenians, Italians, this specific place was recognized for the quality of wines produced. As one winemaker said, vineyards do not recognize political boundaries. The region is horseshoe shaped, it is part of Italy but looking towards its neighbor Slovenia and the eastern European countries, so a little Italian, a little Slovenian, a little German, a little eastern European.
For me, Collio Bianco, the signature wine of the region, is emblematic of the area, a blend of diverse grapes yet unified with the underlying characteristics of the terroir such as the area is a mix of culture and languages.
The signature blend Collio Bianco can be a blend of Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla, Picolit, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and/or Welschriesling (aka Riesling Italico); maximum 15% Gewürztraminer (called Traminer) and/or Müller-Thurgau. The traditional blend is using the local (or not so local grapes) Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Malvasia Istriana (not your usual Italian malvasia) with sometimes, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and/or Riesling.
Native Grapes (Notes from Richards class)
Friulano – Local grape but not so local, listed in Wine Grapes (Robinson, Harding, Vouillamoz) not as Friulano but as Sauvignonasse, a grape originating in the southwest of France, but now one of the dominate grapes of Friuli. Thin-skin, early to mid ripening, high sugar, low acid, apricot, wild herbs, green pear, almonds, Cormòns is one of its dominant growing areas.
Ribolla Gialla – A truly, ancient, native grape to the area. Thin skin, mid-late ripening, low sugar, medium-high acid. Citrus, raw apple, lemon, Oslavia and San Floriano are its dominant growing areas.
Malvasia Istriana – Not your Italian island Malvasia, grown since 14th century, high sugar, medium acidity
Other Main Grapes
Sauvignon Blanc – (See upcoming post on the Sauvignon Class) Most commonly used clone, RB3 (Raucedo 3 clone)
Pinot Blanc (See my upcoming post on a vertical tasting of Pinot Blancs at Russiz Superiore)
Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, Traminer, Riesling
The Burgundy monks may have put single variety wines on a pedestal but then Pope Clement V and the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape showed the beauty of blends. As much as during the tasting, each wine had its own personality there were underlying unifying characteristics due to the terroir and winemaking styles.
Tonya Pitts, the sommelier at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco, gets the award for best descriptors of the influence of terroir on the wines. The underlying soil which is uniform for the most part dates back to the Tertiary Period when the area was part of a sea then as the water receded marine deposits were left. The soil, locally named, Ponca, is a combination of layered marl and sandstone which conveys mineral and saline characteristics to the wines. Tonya was great in identifying the different textures of saltiness, coarse and fine. All the wines had a textural and saline component no matter the grape leading the blend.
The mountains and sea are close, the climate, hot and muggy summers and cold and rainy winters is mild. The mountains protect the hills from the cold winds of the north and the warm currents of the Adriatic Sea moderates the temperature. For the most part, where you find foothills, with mountains and the sea nearby, are ingredients for quality grape growing and aromatics in the grapes.
There was forests among the vines and grass among the vineyard rows for the most part. All the grapes are hand-harvested by small to medium-size growers.
As much as these blends are very definitely wines of terroir, there was an aromatic, floral, component, again, no matter the grape leading the blend. Fresh, fruity, floral high acidity using soft pressing techniques (pneumatic press) and low temperature control to bring out the aromas.
Richard called the seminar, “Characterized by Not Being Characterized”, but all these wines had a sense of place. I think he had us try all these wines without being too specific in his guidance so we would each individually develop our own sense of a Collio Bianco, creating our own definition of what Collio tastes like. I like high acid white wines with texture that are aromatic and these wines hit the spot.
There is a proposal on the table to create a Gran Selezione DOCG category using the equivalent of “Alsace noble grapes”, Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Malvasia Istriana, with defined percentages and 24 months aging.
As we put together a plate of food made from salads and meats of the region, I wanted to go back and actually sip rather than spit like I did in the class, some of these wines with the food. They paired so well with the San Daniele prosciutto, where the town was only a 2o minute drive away, the salad greens were so delicate and flavorful, I loved them. We all loved the wines. These are wines that are balanced, refreshing, have texture and ones that you want to have another sip of.
This was part 1 of my first day of a very intensive trip and tasting Collio Bianco was very appropriate to get a collective sense of this special place full of so much history and individuality. I was very happy that my wine path had lead me here! Stay tuned for more posts on the winemakers, people, food, places that make this very special corner of the “great white wines” of the wine and food world what it is.
Collio Bianco wines we tasted:
Livon Solarco – 2017 Friulano, Ribolla Gialla – Dolegna del Collio
Terre Del Faet – 2017 Friulano, Malvasia
Keber Edi – 2017 70% Friulano, 15% Malvasia Istriana, 15% Ribolla Gialla
Cantina Muzic – 2016 Stare Brajde, Fruilano, Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla – San Floriano del Collio
Tenuta Baroni del Mestri – 2016 Monte Quarin – Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla – Cormons
Gradis’ciutta – 2015 Riserva – Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla – San Floriano del Collio
Cociancig – 2018 Friulano, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Traminer – Pradis
Colle Duga – 2018 Friuliano, Malvasia Istiana, Chardonnay, Sauvignon
Raccaro – 2018 Friulano, Sauvignon, Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio
Keber Renato – 2017 Riserva Beli Grici – Friulano, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Ribolla Gialla, Sauvignon – Cormons
Korsic 2017 – Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Chardonnay
Bracco1881 2017 La Mont-Brach, Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, Sauvignon
Collavini 2016 Broy 50% Friulano, 30% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon
Tenuta di Angoris 2016 Giulio Locatelli Riserva – Friulano, Malvasia, Sauvignon
Russiz Superiore 2016 Col Disore Friulano, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon, Ribolla Gialla
Pascolo – 2016 Agnul – Friulano, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon
Pascolo – 2016 Studio di Bianco – Friulano, Riesling, Sauvignon
Ronco Blanchis – 2015 45% Friulano, 5% Malvasia, 10% Sauvignon, 40% Chardonnay
Venica & Venica 2015 Tre Vignis 50% Friulano, 35% Chardonnay, 15% Sauvignon – Dolegna del Friuli
Società Agricola Ca’Ronesca 2015 Marnà 40% Pinot Bianco 60% Malvasia Istriana
La Rajade 2015 Caprizi Riserva – Malvasia Istriana, Friulano, Chardonnay
Marco Felluga 2015 Molamatta – 40% Friulano, 40% Pinot Bianco, 20% Ribolla Gialla – Gradisca d”isonzo
Primosic 2015 Klin – Friulano, Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla
Primosic 2013 Klin – Friulano, Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla
Wine Grapes – Robinson, Harding, Vouillamoz