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Questions and Answers between Anthony von Mandl


Questions and Answers between Anthony von Mandl, founder and owner of Mission Hill Winery, B.C., Canada, and Porthos

Making world class wines in Canada? What an unbelievable concept… How is this possible?

– First of all, let me situate our magical valley for your readers. We can be found just north of the wine-growing region in Washington State, on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain range. The Okanagan Valley has a splendid history of growing a wide variety of fruit including apples, peaches, cherries, apricots, pears and grapes. Many visitors remark that the Okanagan Lake is like the Lago di Garda.
Contrast that with the fact that we’re at the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert (it starts to the far south of us in Mexico). Thanks to the mountains, we enjoy a rain shadow that allows our temperatures to rise to +40 degrees centigrade in the summer. Our long hot days and cool nights are ideal for growing exceptional grapes. Our microclimates are unlike any other wine-growing region in the world. In the Okanagan, we enjoy on average two and half-hours more sun than California during our peak-growing season. So, thanks to the wonder of Mother Nature, it’s possible to make world class wines in Canada.

Tell our readers about Mission Hill. How has it changed in the almost 20 years that you’ve owned it?

– The changes are breathtaking. When I fulfilled my dream and purchased the winery in 1981, it was badly rundown and in need of major repairs. Undaunted, my family and I worked side by side to turn Mission Hill around. We were committed to seeing it through in spite of unbelievable obstacles. It was to be our legacy...a very personal project.
Slowly, we began to make some inroads. But, I wasn’t satisfied. In the late 1980s, I began a three-year search for a new chief winemaker who could help put Mission Hill on the world wine stage. I was able to convince New Zealander John Simes to join our family business. Prior to coming to Canada, he was chief winemaker at Montana Wines where he helped put New Zealand on the world wine map.
He arrived just as the 1992 harvest got underway. As the leader of Mission Hill’s winemaking team, John’s skill and dedication allowed us to soar to new heights. Our 1992 Grand Reserve Chardonnay, from John’s first vintage, was judged to be the best Chardonnay in the world at London’s prestigious International Wine & Spirits Competition. When the distinguished panel realized they had given top honours to a Canadian wine, they insisted on re-tasting everything again. Mission Hill still won and that recognition helped to put us on the world wine map. We’ve never looked back.
In 1996, we purchased our first vineyard property in the Southern Okanagan Valley. Today, 80 per cent of our Mission Hill Family Reserve Wines come from our own estates; estates that range from the Canada/U.S. border in the south to Oliver and north to Mission Hill in Westbank, British Columbia.
As you can see , I have not done this alone. My family stands with me today as always. I’ve searched the world to find a talented team of professionals who share my passion for wine and my unwavering commitment to quality. In just two decades, Mission Hill has been transformed into one of North American’s premiere wine destination sites. When the expansion is complete next year, we’ll be able to offer our guests a truly memorable visit.
Some of the changes that are underway include the construction of two Bordeaux-styled cellars, blasted out of volcanic rock. We’re also building a San Giminiano-like 12-storey bell tower with four handcrafted bronze bells cast by the Paccard Family Foundry in Annecy, France. The bells of Mission Hill will ring daily and will serve as a landmark, welcoming visitors from the world over to the Okanagan. Our expanded wine & food interpretation centre will feature a test-kitchen modeled after the one found in New York’s Le Cirque restaurant.

Who are your customers and why should they buy Mission Hill instead of a wine from California?

– Right now, the vast majority of our customers are Canadians. We have expanded our distribution arm into Washington State and the United Kingdom, but it’s still early days yet. In the main, our customers are people who understand and enjoy quality wines. Mission Hill has a tremendous reputation, especially in Western Canada. We want to build on that success…on that word of mouth appreciation for our wines.
To your point about why someone should buy Mission Hill instead of a wine from California, I will only say that I know first hand the commitment to quality that goes into every bottle. I don’t believe it should ever come down to an “either or” type situation. Try a bottle of Mission Hill Family Estate wine. If you like it, try another. You should sample widely because the world of wine has much to offer.

How do you see the international wine market? Is it a great opportunity or the end of the world as we know it?

– At Mission Hill Family Estate, we see the international wine market as an opportunity, as something to discover. We won’t rush in blindly though. We want to understand your market, your customers and your traditions before we come calling.
I recently hosted Tuscany’s pre-eminent winemaker Piero Antinori and his family at Mission Hill. They visited our estates and sampled our wines and I know they came away impressed. It was a very special time for me…an occasion to build a relationship, to open a dialogue with one of the world’s leading wine families.

What is the personality of Mission Hill Wines? Is it what you hoped for?

– I believe that our wines are simply elegant. It’s what we consistently strive to promote as a philosophy within Mission Hill Family Estate. If we can achieve that consistently, and I believe we can, I could not hope for anything more.

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Many thanks to Catherine McMonagle and Corinne Kovalsky for their precious help.

The FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA and its wines

The Friuli Venezia Giulia or Friuli for short, has long been known as the source of Italy’s best white wines.
Although some remain skeptical over the quality of Italian white wines, there can be no doubt that a large number of Italy’s whites today are of particularly high quality and a real joy to drink. While many of these interesting new whites come from various regions in Italy, most still hail from the Friuli. Wines such as the Vintage Tunina by Jermann or the Pieré sauvignon by Vie di Romans are world class whites. Furthermore, Friuli is home to a panoply of wines that do not see much oak, with bright, fresh fruit flavours and that marry extremely well with food.
Winemaking in Friuli originates back in time to the period in which Celtic tribes roamed these lands.
However, it was with the Roman empire that grape growing and wine making became a thoroughly florid business.
The city of Aquilea, founded by Roman soldiers who had received land as payment for their valiant battles in name of the empire, has long been an important archeological site, in which thousands of amphoras that were used to contain wine, some still containing fossilized grapes, have been found. Strabonius, in his Geographica, narrates of wine barrels in Aquilea as large as houses. Later in time, wine was produced in Friuli even in the Middle Ages, and here the Abbeys and religious orders played an important role. The hill of Rosazzo and the namesake abbey have been well known for quality wine production up until today.
Mention of typical Friuli grapes such as the Ribolla is found in literature as far back as 1299 AD, and today native varieties are grown (and often blended) alongside international varieties such as merlot and chardonnay. It is important to underscore the fact that Friuli is a veritable treasure trove of native grape varieties, some of which are garnering real attention and praise as a result of more modern winemaking techniques and viticultural practices. There is undoubtedly a real market out there for different flavour profiles such as those given by Schioppettino or Ucelut, as wine loving palates all over the world are undoubtedly fatiguing of repetitive flavour profiles such as those given by over oaked, buttery, tropical fruit loaded, blowsy wines that most of the time don't fit well at meal time with anything on the table. Interesting bottles from Friuli are now becoming the rule rather than the exceptio, and it behooves wine lovers to get to know these wonderful whites better.

 

 

Grapes and style of wines

 

The wine zones of Friuli

 

The wine zones of Friuli

 

Friuli has been divided up into 8 wine zones or DOC (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata). The most famous are indubitably the Collio, the Colli Orientali del Friuli, the Carso, and the Isonzo. The others, Annia, Aquilea, Grave, and Latisana are less reknowned for great wines, but usually offer well made, easy to drink, pleasant wines. The Grave produces about 50% of all Friuli wine; it is a rather flat land where gravel (as the name implies) plays a prominent role in the composition of the soil, and it yields oceans of fairly uninspiring wine, but there are valid exceptions. It is therefore important to get to know the better producers, or to try different bottlings of the same grape to see for yourself, and not miss out on excellent, and usually not costly, whites that marry well with food.

The Colli Orientali and the Collio are the territories comprising the hills that move east of the Torre creek right up to the city of Gorizia with terrains being mainly a mix of sand, clay and limestone. The Carso is characterized by white-grey rocks, with the soil being quite reddish in appearance (it has in fact a high ferrous content). These are the hills that extend themselves from Gabia, Monte San Michele, San Martino al Carso, Doberdò del Lago, Monfalcone, Aurisina, and Santa Croce to Trieste. It can therefore be subdivided into a Carso Goriziano and a Carso Triestino, but differences -geologically speaking- between the two are minimal. The Isonzo is a flat river plain, and it’s alluvial, silty and quite rocky terrain yields elegant wines redolent with floral and mineral notes.

Each DOC contains within its boundaries certain communes that have long been associated with the production of the best wines. For example, the area around the town of Rosazzo in the Colli Orientali del Friuli is considered by most everyone as one of the two top crus in all of Friuli for the Ribolla and the picolit grapes. Verduzzo is never better than the one grown in the Ramandolo area of the Colli Orientali, but the one from the Prepotto area, in particular Cialla (again in the Colli Orientali) being slightly different due to terroir differences, is easily its equal. Oslavia, a series of low lying hills above the city of Gorizia near the border with slovenia is generally felt to be the best cru for Ribolla, while the Carso in general is where the best Malvasia comes from, although there are excellent exampls made in the Isonzo and the Collio. The best sites for pinot blanc and sauvignon are most likely around Spessa, Russiz Superiore and Capriva in the Collio, but absolutely mind blowing sauvignons are also made in the Isonzo. When choosing wines from the Collio, it is good to remember that the area of Spessa, Capriva, and the Monte Quarin are by far the warmest in this DOC, and usually yield slightly more full bodied wines. The area around Dolegna is instead cooler and the wines have a beautiful nervous acidity to them.

The VENETO and its wines


Vine growing has been present for centuries in the Veneto region of Italy, up high in the northeast corner of the country. In fact, fossils of vines demonstrate the presence of the vine already 50 million years ago. It is also well known that a number of Veneto wines were thought of highly in Roman times, such as the reticum. Indeed, Virgil felt the latter wine was second only to the Falerno, by most everyone considered to be the one true Grand Cru of antiquity. With the Barbarian invasions, many vineyards were destroyed, but even in those somewhat darker times grape growing and wine in the Veneto area was of considerable importance. Cassiodoro, a famous minister of the Barbarian king Teodorico, wrote lengthy descriptions of the Cinatico (or the Roman acinaticum, which is considered the ancestor of modern day Amarone).
Later, with the advent of Venice as a Marine Republic and a dominating force over mediterranean exchanges, grape growing became even more important with numerous new varietals being brought back from travels across the seas, such as the Malvasia (which most likely originated in Greece), now found all over not just Italy, but Spain and the Canary Islands as well.
The Venetians also attempted to improve the quality of wines already being made with local varieties such as vespaiola, marzemino and raboso, and instituted severe penalties for those who did not abide by rules regulating wine production. Wine was such a popular beverage of the times that it was sold out from carts and stands much like soft drinks are today. In fact, the name of “ombra”, with which Venetians still today refer to a glass or cup of wine, referes to the ombra or shade provided by St.Mark’s cathedral, under the imposing facade of which wine was often sold in the square.

The Veneto is located in between the Adriatic sea to the east, the lake of Garda (Italy’s largest) to the west, and the Reticean Alps to the north. Today, it is the Italian region with the largest production of DOC wines, with 17 different production zones.
The city of Verona alone, and its sorrounding area, produces by itself more DOC wine than the whole of Tuscany!
There are nowadays over 73000 hectares of vines in the Veneto. It has always been a particularly fertile land, and the hills and depressions in the landscape, as well as the lakes and rivers present throughout, have created numerous diverse microclimates ideal for quality grape growing. Most wine growing areas are subdivided in Classico and Tipico zones: the former are areas in which grape growing has always historically taken place and are theoretically associated with the best wines, while the latter areas can yield wines of good quality in the style of the ones made in the Classico zones. In reality, differences in the wines produced from each zone are fairly difficult to discern, and much depends on the producer involved.

 

 

Grapes and wines

 

The wine zones in the region

 

The wine zones of Veneto



There are numerous DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) areas in the Veneto, but not all yield interesting wine. The ones you need to know and recognize are the ones we shall discuss now. Moving roughly west to east, the first set of interesting wine producing communes are those around the city of Verona, she of Romeo and Juliet fame. If amongst your vineyard travels you wish to stop by the city, do so and you will not regret the time spent in having done so. Besides, the balcony made famous by Shakespeare really does exist and is flocked to by a myriad of tourists every day. Around Verona then, we have the area of the Bianco di Custoza, an area famous for light white wines made mainly of Trebbiano grapes, spruced up with a 10% addittion of other grape varieties that can range from malvasia to riesling to just about anything else! They are therefore usualy more interesting than the average trebbiano based wines. Next one has Bardolino, Valpolicella, and Soave, all discussed above. Still moving east, one moves into the area around Vicenza, a pretty, aristocratic town also blessed with excellent vineyards. Here one has the Gambellara zone, one that makes wines very similar to Soave (but does not have a similar wealth of quality conscious producers-yet), and immediately south of the city the area of the Colli Berici, famous for merlot and the tocai rosso. In reality, the latter is actually the grenache grape, and the best versions of this tocai rosso hail from the little hamlet of Barberano. Just north of Vicenza we have the Breganze area made famous by the very capable Maculan family. Next we move on to Padova, where we have the Colli Euganei, a unique zone in the Veneto where the soil is volcanic – in fact there are many hot springs in this area, which is famous fore excellent reds, and where cabernet and merlot do particularly well.

North of Treviso we have on the western side the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene DOC, while in the eastern sector we have the Montello-Colli Asolani DOC. All these areas are famous for their prosecco, the best coming from Conegliano and especially Valdobbiadene, which is by far the largest of the two. It is in Conegliano by the way that Antonio Carpené made the first ever Champagne style wine in Italy, way back in 1868. It is in the Valdobbiadene area that one finds the Cartizze cru, a small handkerchief of land yielding an absolute gem of a sparkling wine, and that you must remember is always vinified slightly sweet. It is therefore NOT a dry style sparkler, so keep that in mind when you consider something to accompany your meal. It is nonetheless an absolutely wonderful wine, and its popularity and fame explain why so much of it is found everywhere, from superkmarkets to high end retail shops. In fact, there are only 106 hectares of Cartizze in total, an amount of land that could really only yield about a million bottle of wine total, but anyone spending some time in Italy soon realizes that many more bottle than that of “Cartizze” are actually being sold. Recent legistlative moves will however make it more difficult and financially risky to use the name “Cartizze” without legally being able to do so, a welcome move in favour of consumers everywhere.

The remaining DOC areas of Lison-Pramaggiore and Piave are less interesting from the high quality wine point of view, although it is from this area that one runs into bottles of Raboso wine, an interesting red that besides a strong violet note when young, goes on to develop a beautiful red cherry flavour, especially after 5-6 years of bottle age. The name raboso by the way, which actually most likely derives from the Raboso river, a tributary of the much larger Piave river, is actually felt by common lore to comefrom the Italian word “rabbioso” or angry, because the wine really is quite rustic and hard when young. Give it some time however, and with alittle bottle age, you shall be pleasantly surprised and richly rewarded.

Mission Hill Winery and its Wines


SITUATED IN AN enchanted setting atop Boucherie mountain, this large Canadian estate has extensive vineyard holdings in British Columbia (B.C.), such as Osoyoos (Osoyoos estate), Westbank (Mission Hill estate), and Oliver (Black Sage Road Vineyard). The wine maker is John Simes, from New Zeland, who has already diverse award winning wines to his credit. The owner, Anthony van Mandl, head of a wine and spirits conglomerate, cites Robert Mondavi's vision and influence on the California wine industry as his role model and has taken huge steps forward (amongst others, a modern visitor's center) in an effort to achieve this goal.


Chardonnay
The real surprise in the tasting is that this was the most interesting of the three wines in the tasting. The colour is a classic golden yellow, typical of many international chardonnays. The nose is clearcut: fruits, butter, a delicate toastiness that all combine to give one the initial impression of dèjà vu; instead the wine changes in the glass, revealing a nice and hitherto unsuspected complexity. Certainly not on a par with the best of Bourgogne, but way above the average of many insipid, characterless chardonnays, victim of a mass global standardization. The palate shows nice structure, with a good balance between alcoholic warmth and acidity, although it is overall less interesting than the nose.
+ a wine that deserves some attention, and that we shall follow with care. Excellent quality at a reasonable price.
- clearly the product of young vines, it will take time before it yields mystery and complexity.

Cabernet sauvignon
A nice red that starts off well, good volume and dimension, but fails to excite. Intense ruby red, not overly concentrated but very bright. A clean fresh nose, the oak is present but not overly so: black currants, followed by black pepper and an herbaceous note on the finish, telltale of the grape. Not particularly complex, but nice depth overall on the nose. In the mouth it is soft, velvety even, but soon develops a dry note that tends to linger and make it much less pleasant overall.
- the initial sip was promising, but the overall sensation is that of a "constructed" wine that could use a little more soul.

Icewine
An interesting example of a good sweet wine made with the aid of technology:it is unlikely to be the product of frozen grapes picked singly by hand. Very nice nose, a slightly less interesting palate, but a pleasant wine overall. Golden yellow with greenish tinges, the nose is dense with candied fruit and sweet almond notes. Quite sweet, there is a little carbonic sensation to testify the difficulties of fermenting similar wines. Overall it is a simple wine that does not reach the status of the great dessert wines of the world.
+ very well made and will undoubtedly be much liked
- thinking of great German icewines penalizes this effort tremendously, and so it is an exercise best avoided. The perception here is that technology is quite necessary, while in Europe the fruit starts off with a physiologic advantage.
MISSION HILL WINERY
Address: 1730 Mission Hill rd.
Westbank,, B.C. V4T 2E4
Tel: (250) 7687611

The Friuli grape types and the styles of wine

The grape types of Friuli are best divided into native and international types. Much as in California or Alsace, here wines are often labeled with just the name of the grape type, making for easy recognition of the product on the part of the consumer. There is however a large and very important category of reds and whites that are the result of an assembly of various grape varieties (international and native types being employed here together), and these are some of Friuli’s greatest wines. These categories can be somewhat simplistically labeled as Friuli Bianco or Rosso, or more specifically a Collio Bianco or Rosso, but one needs to know the single wines and producers since each producer has his or her own special mix of grapes used (and with varying pecentages of each). These wines usually have pretty or important sounding names such as Vintage Tunina or Ronco dei Domenicani and are therefore fairly easy to remember.


The White Grapes

Ubiquitous is the Ribolla gialla, a wonderful grape that can be used to make easy quaffing wines just as easily as it can yield absolute great whites, such as the examples given us over the years by Gravner. It is, along with the tocai, Friuli’s most typical grape, and usually the wine that is given you as the house white in most osterie or trattorie. It has a delicate nose of flowers of the field, white peaches, chestnuts, and acacia honey; in the mouth it can be quite oily or rather fresh, with a clean palate and a rather complex finish reminiscent also of chestnuts in the examples from the best producers. The real problem with ribolla has been that as it is a low yielding grape much of it has been torn out, and only now with better clones being studid and used, is it starting to give wines of the class it is undoubtedly capable of producing.
The Tocai, not to be confused with the Hungarian wine of the same name but different spelling (as it is made from the furmint grape), is a native friuli grape that may be in fact quite similar (if not the same) to the sauvignonasse or sauvignon vert, a grape that is quite common in Chile. The Tocai does in fact have a nose and taste that is somewhat reminiscent of sauvignon, but the predominant notes should always be those of toasted almonds or marzapan, with both pear and apple also being always found in the more typical and better examples. Often one encounters a nutty character to the nose as well.
The malvasia, of the Istriana subtype (generally considered the best of all the members of this rather large grape family), is a truly exciting white of great potential. Ranging in appearance from pale yellow to almost golden depending on when the grapes are harvested, it has a beautiful nose of ripe fruit (especially apricots and peaches) and of flowers, and with prolonged contact with air often develops faint spicy characteristics of cinnamon and nutmeg. On the palate it is characterized by a very slightly salty flavour that is characteristic of the grape. The pinot grigio in Friuli does particularly well, as it does in the nearby region of Alto Adige.
The pinot grigio of Italy is usually produced in a light, high acid, fruity style, quite different from the high alcohol and oily characteristics exhibited by the Alsatian versions. It is a very refreshing drink, usually of some character from most producers, and much better and more interesting than the rather insipid industrially made versions that are well known to most everyone who drink wine.
The sauvignon is undoubtedly a success story in Friuli, with bottlings by Vie di Romans rivalling the world’s best, but numerous other bottlings are excellent. The style of wine is usually herbal, but less so than the very herbaceous efforts from the best Loire producers, and there are usually some beautiful citrus notes.
Chardonnay and pinot bianco are also grown extensively inthe region, but, in all honesty, give their best results when used in blends with other grape types. Although some may not like to hear this because of the imporatnce chardonnay holds in the world market today, there are, quite simply, no Friuli chardonnays that can compete with the world’s best, and neither is it the region’s best white wine.

Friuli has two native varieties that yield excellent sweet wines. The verduzzo, which perhaps reaches its best expression in the area of Ramandolo, is a delicately floral but at times quite sweet white wine that has been known in Friuli for centuries. It has a nose reminiscent of marzapan, with pears, apples and apricots all present, and they are present on the palate as well. There are different styles made by different producers, but usually has a good price-quality ratio. The same cannot be said for the picolit, Friuli’s most famous dessert wine and one of Italy’s most famous grapes. Over the years many poor examples of this wine tarnished the reputation of the grape, something made altogether worse by the exorbitant prices at which single bottles are sold, as well as by the fact that it doesn’t appear that the wine ages particularly well. Therefore, although when well made it is an absolute joy to drink within 2-4 years of the vintage, it usually does not gain much from more time than that in the bottle. Another problem has been the tinkering with different winemaking techniques, such that now some producers have taken to drying the garpes to make a picolit passito, but in the hnds of overly enthousiastic producers the wine loses a lot of its finesse and charm. I therefore caution you when coming across bottles with the word “passito” written on it, as some examples are, quite simply, not particularly pleasant. This notwithstanding, recently picolit has undergone a quality revival of sorts and a number of producers have started to produce truly world class dessert wines with it. Absolutely outstanding are the bottles produced from grapes grown on the Rocca Bernarda, if you will the Montrachet of Picolit. The Rocca Bernarda is not just the place where the best picolit grows, but also the name of an important producer that has only recently begun making high quality picolit again. To this effect the 1997 example from the producer Rocca Bernarda (but not the 1996, as the rebirth of the wine in the hands of this producer begins with the 97 bottling) or just about any bottling from Specogna (who also has vineyards on the Rocca) are absolutely textbook and can compete with any of the world’s best. Really exceptional is also the 1999 version by Dorigo.

The Red Grapes

Red grape varieties in Friuli have done extremely well over the last 20 years, and it is well known that cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot have done remarkably well here. Cabernet in Friuli tends to present some green, vegetal notes on the nose that are also found in some of the native red varieties, but these tend to diminish with bottle age. Native grape varieties are especially interesting. Pignolo, which had almost altogether disappeared, is undoubtedly one of the world’s great red grape varieties, if perhaps one of the least well known. It yields wines that can age extremely well, and that are full bodied, tannic, and redolent with red and small black fruits both on the nose and the palate. It is especially valid when grown in the area of Rosazzo. Schioppettino, a name deriving from the explosion one has in the mouth when biting into a grape (from “schioppettare” in Italian) is another little known native red that has a very interesting flavour palette, again characterized mainly by red fruits, especially cherries, and that can age deceptively well. Ten year old Schioppettino is an absolute joy to drink. Refosco, of which there are many subvarieties, is more common in Friuli than the previous two. The Friuli subvariety is known as “of the peduncolo rosso” (“of the red stem”, in italian) because the grape stem is indeed of a reddish colouration, and it does present some green and “wild” notes when young. These do attenuate with time, and 8 to 10 year old Refosco is a thing of beauty, although it is not to everyone’s liking when young or when made from a producer who presents a version where the aggressive notes are too evident. Do not make the mistake to believe that refosco does not age, as is erroneously written in many texts or magazines. It can age extremely well, and the 1989 by the Ronchi di Cialla estate drunk repeatedly in 1989 and 2000 was absolutely sensational. Last, but not least, amongst Friuli reds is the Terrano, which is only made in the Carso zone. Once felt to be a variant of Refosco (the two are instead not related), it is a particularly rustic wine in its youth which ages gracefully, gaining tobacco and leather notes in addition to those of red fruits and violets one can easily appreciate when enjoying younger versions. Due to its rather large framework and the ferrous soils it originates from, it is a wine that was often given to young ladies in decades past with the intent of warding off anemia.

 

The native varieties in Friuli have always played an important role, and now that they are being tended with more care, are revealing themselves to be, especially in some cases, capable of giving us world class whites. It is all too easy to look at friuli and say that the international varieties are the ones yielding the best wines, but this, with the exception of sauvignon, is simply not true. For one thing, the native varieties usually perform best in an unoaked or underoaked style, and go particularly well with food. Unfortunately, this real strength of Friuli white grapes such as the malvasia, the ribolla, and the tocai, is somewhat diminished by some excessive wine making techniques by which there has been a noticeable increase in the presence of overoaked, quite alcoholic (14 and more degrees), and somewhat bitter finishing whites on the market. This is a true shame, and one that is due to the misguided desire of many producers to go with the flow of today’s market wishes, where low acid, big structure, mouth filling wines are all the rage. Unfortunately, most of these wines (nowadays coming from just about anywhere in the world) are constructed mainly to win medals at fairs and competitions, rather than accompany us in the daily pleasures such as eating at the table alone or with friends. One potential problem in friuli is that producers are legally allowed to make a wine that contains only up to 90% of the stated variety, and if that may not be necessarily a bad thing, since it can help make some efforts more interesting, it does become a problem if a more aromatic type is blended into a more neutral wine. Although the resulting wine may be more appealing and sell better, I feel it does not necessarily help Friuli in the long run should a consumer buy a Tocai one day that is completely different from the one acquired the next time out. An example of this would be the blending of malvasia into ribolla: this ribolla will be much more difficult to recognize as such. The same goes with the addition of sauvignon to tocai, an unfortunately altogether more and more common practice. Finally, one last problem with Friuli whites needs to be addressed, that being the cost of these wines. Although many are fairly priced, some seem too expensive, and hopefully Friuli won’t price itself out of the market. However good it may be, a tocai at $35-40 U.S. (not the usual price tag, I admit, but single vineyard designations or reserve bottlings easily fetch this price) just seems too expensive, especially as consumers have great wines from other parts of the world to choose from.

The Friuli Venezia Giulia main Producers



Borgo Conventi

Founded in 1980, located between the Collio and the Isonzo, it sells about half of its production abroad. Well made solid wines that have their pinnnacle in the Braide Nuoive, an international style bordeaux blend.

Borgo del Tiglio
Perhaps the best Tocai made in Italy (no relation to Hungarian Tokaji, the Friuli Tocai is closer to a light sauvignon), especially in the cru Ronco della Chiesa version, whose only limit is the expense of a bottle! The regular bottling is also excellent, and this is not surprising, as the owners of this estate hold a particular love for this grape variety and have dedicated themselves to it with a passion.

Castelvecchio
An excellent little known producer from the Carso, that surprisingly makes one of Italy’s better gewurztraminers. The malvasia is also excellent.

Collavini
Around since 1896, it is a well known producer abroad, since much of the production is exported. Particularly interesting is the pinot grigio, the schioppettino, and the refosco, this house makes a whole line of wines ranging in quality from light and almost too easy drinking to interesting cru bottlings (which are the ones worth seeking out).

Dorigo
Famous house founded in 1966, it is well known for an excellent picolit and the excelllent cru Montsclapade,an international style Bordeaux blend, as well as for the Pignolo, one of Friuli’s two best.

Livio Felluga
Huge estate by Friuli standards, their Terre Alte, a white blend of sauvignon, pinot blanc, and tocai, is consistently one of Italy’s best whites. The picolit is also one of the better examples of the grape, but all the wines here are solid interpretations of the varieties commonly found in Friuli today. Livio Felluga is one of the patriarchs of Friuli winedom, and his bottlings are really reference standards for what the land can yield.

Filiputti
Walter Filiputti is a huge expert of Friuli history and its wines, and has penned a wonderful book on the subject. He is also almost singlehandedly responsible for the rebirth of the Pignolo grape variety, one that, as mentioned before, had largely been forgotten, and instead is now giving all us wine lovers absolutely great bottles of red wine.

Jermann
Founded back in 1881, it is with the advent of Silvio Jermann that this house has become likely the best known of all of Friuli’s producers. >From here originates the famous Vintage Tunina, a blend of sauvignon,chardonnay, picolit, malvasia, and ribolla –but percentages and grape composition will vary from year to year- which is generally considered the best Italian white wine of all. It also age surprisingly well, with the 1985 drunk in march 2001 in absolutely splendid form. Also excellent is the chardonnay (which sees quite a bit of barrique) called “Were dreams…now it is just wine” (used to be “Where the dreams have no end”, probably Friuli’s best. The Vinnae is a ribolla with slight additions of malvasia and/or chardonnay and/or pinot blanc, and is also an excellent bottle of white wine and one that is fairly priced.

Kante
The master of the Carso, Edy Kante is an excellent wimemaker who produces some of Italy’s most interesting white wines. His malvasia is an absolute benchmark for the variety, and he has resuscitated the Vitovska, a native variety that had long been forgotten. His altogether excellent Terrano, a red of somewhat rustic proportions in its youth which ages gracefully with time, is another benchmark for the variety.

Livon
A huge estate, open since 1960, it now makes wine not only from the Grave and the Collio, but also out of Tuscany, as it has acquired the Borgo Salcetino estate where the usual lineup of Tuscan reds is made. The Braide Alte is particularly intersting (sauvignon, chardonnay, picolit).

Pittaro
Only in business since1978, this producer dreamed of being a music conductor, but his wines are the symphonies now. 73 hectares yielding excellent grapes, which lead to the making of an interesting spumante, a sparkler in the style of Champagne (50%chardonnay, 40%pinot noir, 10% pinot meunier) and an interesting chardonnay Mousqué, a highly aromatic clone of the grape that is rarely used.

Princic
One of the many families in the area with clearly Slovenian names, and one of the fathers of quality Friuli wine production. Absolutely top notch is the pinot bianco, one of the region’s best (the best?) and the pinot grigio and tocai are not far behind.

Ronchi di Cialla
Since 1977, the Rapuzzi family has been instrumental in helping improve the quality of wine production in Friuli. They have a huge number of feathers they can place in their cap. First, the “saving” of the schioppettino grape that would have likely disappeared if it hadn’t been for their efforts. It is because of these efforts that today we have many schioppettini made (in truth not all of the same quality level, unfortunately) and have an idea of just how great the grape can be. Second, this is the first producer in Italy to have ever experimented with the barrique for sweet wines (a little known fact), and first did so with the stellar picolit made in these parts. Third, helping to bring on the realization that the sub-zone of Cialla, in the area of Prepotto, is a distinct viticultural area due to its specific microclimate, and that the picolit or verduzzo from this area is different from that produced elsewhere. Although recent bottls from this producer do not seem as exciting as they were in the past, it is still a name to look out for. Last, their Cialla bianco is probably the best priced white wine blend in all of Friuli for the quality in the bottle.

Rocca Bernarda
The castle was designed by none other than Giovanni da Udine, who also worked with Raphael on the Vatican loggias. The past proprietors, of the Perusini family, were particularly capable and well respected, and did a great deal for Friului wine production. Today the estate is in the hands of the Sovereign Order of Malta and makes one of the 2-3 best picolit and a very interesting merlot.

Ronchi di Manzano
Roberta Borghese is the winemaker of these beautiful 55 hectares, 20 of which are found in the high quality area of Rosazzo, one of the best crus of Friuli. The merlot Ronc di Subule is interesting, as is the picolit.

Ronco del Gelso
Since 1988, 15 hectares in the DOC Isonzo, with the tocai, the sauvignon, and the pinot grigio being of particular interest. The wines are very well made, with well integrated notes of oak they are undoubtedly important tasting wines and excellent examples of Friuli capabilities.

Ronco dei Tassi
An excellent producer of well made wines that are fairly typical of each grape variety and never overly expensive. The tocai and the pinot grigio are amongst the best, and the Fosarin, a tocai-malvasia-pinot bianco blend interesting, although sometimes overly alcoholic. Fabio Coser is a bright, hard working man and his estate’s wines are ones worth going the extra mile to seek out.

Russiz Superiore
Wines made by Marco Felluga, who now produces both in the Collio and the Colli Orientali del Friuli, since he has now bought the Castello di Buttrio. Quite good is the Rosso degli Orzoni (the counts Orzoni were owners of the castle from 1558 to 1770) . The verduzzo is also quite valid.

Venica e Venica
Famous for the excellent sauvignon, the top bottling of which is called Ronco delle mele. It is probably Friuli’s most herbaceous sauvignon of all, but very pleasantly green indeed and not at all overbearing The house also makes a truly excellent ribolla and a very good tocai and malvasia.

Vie di Romans
Along with the Ronco delle Mele, the best producer of Friuli sauvignon and one of the best 4-5 of all of Italy. The Pieré bottling is more traditional, while the Vieris is more international as it sees some barrique. The pinot gris Dessimis, made in a more important style than the usual high acid fruity versions common in Italy, is excellent, but at times marred by too much oak especially when drunk young. A red called voos dei Ciamp, mainly merlot, is particularly good with some bottle age.

Villa Russiz
Since 1869, founde by the noble Frenchman Théodore de la Tour, to whom are dedicated some of the most important wines of the estate, such as the sauvignon de la Tour (too alcoholic for my taste) and the merlot Graf de la Tour. The malvasia is one of the best.

Grapes and wines of the Veneto

Although the Veneto makes some truly world class white and red wines, its reputation is somewhat tarnished by the large amount of plonk that is still being made here. Although the lesser wines are never truly offensive, yields from vines grown on the fertile plainlands are often excessive, leading to wines that are non descript, quite insipid and uninspiring.
This is a shame, because a small number of producers have shown that, when properly tended to, the Veneto and its grapes can compete with the world’s best.

The white wines

Amongst white grapes, by far the most important is the garganega, basis for Soave, at worst an insipid, lightly acid, faint but inoffensive sort of wine, while at its best it is rich and full and very unexpected to those who have grown up drinking the industrial versions of the wine. Having undergone a real boom in interest and sales, Soave has yielded some extremely interesting wines since the’80’s, and new and up and coming products have blessed us with their versions. On the one hand this explosion of interest has made it so that we now have a better understanding of the potential of both the grape and the area, but on the other it has also made it so that we have a less clear cut definition of just what Soave ought to be. Light and refreshing, or dense and powerful? The jury is still out, and in the end it is quite likely that a variety of styles will always be present on the market.
Also common grape varieties are the vespolina and the dindarella, that are used to make light, refreshing , sweet muscat like wines.
Trebbiano di Lugana, a subvariety of the very common Trebbiano grape, yields very pleasant, light, fruity white wines all around the lake of Garda; these wines go very well with the simple fish dishes made by household mothers and lakeside restaurants all over the region. However, when it is aged in wood and aged as a reserve, the Lugana becomes a very elegant, rich wine with beautiful lemon, honeyed, and floreal notes.
International varieties such as chardonnay, pinot blanc and sauvignon are also planted, but they are not as present as they are in other parts of the country. Riesling, as well as Welschriesling (or Italian riesling, as it is called here - no relation to the aforementioned riesling of Germany) are both present in the Veneto and can give interesting wines, much as does the Tocai (no relation to the Hungarian version, but rather a sauvignon-like white wine that is also different from the much more common Tocai Friulano grown in Friuli- the two are NOT the same grape, even though many texts state so. A recioto wine is made from the recie or ears of the best clusters (usualy the top, or the portions that receive the most sunlight) and used to obtain wonderful sweet wine that are made both in the white and red style.

The red wines

The red grapes are the ones that give birth to the most famous Veneto wines such as the ubiquitous Valpolicella and the Amarone, made essentially from the same grapes but treated differently. These wines can be labeled as Classico or not, but keep in mind that quality here –as elsewhere in the wine world– is really dictated not just by hillside vineyards and low yields (the better wines) versus flatland sites and high yields, but also by the producer. For example, it is well recognized that the Classico zone vineyards of Bardolino, which have a better mineral composition of the soil and are situated closer to lake Garda (benefiting therefore of its thermoregulatory influence on the environment the grapes grow in) are better than the vineyards of the Tipico subzone. There is also undoubtedly some truth to the argument that the grapes used for Valpolicella which hail from the four areas of Negrar, Fumane, Marano, and Gargagnago –the Classico communes of Valpolicella– are the best in quality, but, again, it also depends on just what the producer does with them. Suffice it to say that Dal Forno’s valpolicella does not originate from the Classico zone, and it is a thing of beauty. In Soave, the vineyards of the city of Soave and of Monteforte d’Alpone (the only two communes in the Classico production zone for Soave) are undoubtedly blessed with better soils than those of the “Tipico” zone, in which the soil, richer in clay content, yields wines of less finesse. Here again however, some producers, like La Cappuccina, can obtain splendid results. Actually, because of different exposures of the vineyards in both Soave (south-west) and in Monteforte (south-east), the wines of the Classico zone can differ as well (the former commune usually yielding somewhat fuller wines, the latter more elegant ones). This notwithstanding, it also needs to be underscored and appreciated that quality production in the Veneto is very much on the rise, and the best wines from the Classico areas are absolutely splendid.

The grapes most often used to make red wines in Veneto are the corvina and the corvinone, with smaller percentages of rondinella. The molinara grape, which used to be present quite a bit in the blend, is now in disfavour, as it has become clearly evident that it does not give rise to particularly great wines, nor does it add much to the final blends. The corvina and the corvinone are not two clones of the same grape. The former is rot resistant, lending itself well to the dehydration process that is the key to great Amarone. Although some producers state that corvina can give a light green or vegetal edge to the finished wine when it is used alone, not everyone agrees, and actually most producers feel that it is the rossignola that lends the vegetal notes. Corvinone, on the other hand, is quite disease prone, but is characterized by higher sugar and tannin content than Corvina, it adds an extra dimension to the final blend, to which it also adds more colour as well. Besides a Valpolicella “normale” and a “Recioto”, there exists a third version of Valpolicella, that labeled as “Ripasso”. This term refers to a typical Veneto tradition of passing back (or “ripasso”, in Italian) the normale wine over the lees of the Recioto in the following spring after the vinification of the latter has been completed. This process is associated with a mild minor refermentation of the wine, yielding a pleasant, fruity drink. The Amarone wine is made by letting the grapes dehydrate on straw or cane mats (or nowadays, most often on wire grids), and the wine is made by pressing these super concentrated grapes which yield a rich, heavy alcoholic wine. There are two schools of thought here amongst producers, although the division is nowhere near as marked as it is, for example, between old style and new style Barolo. Some producers of Amarone want to ensure a production of a fairly standard dry red wine, which although maintaining the particular and individualistic characteristics of Amarone, is not excessive, as in high alcohol, quite rich, almost blowsy. They therefore limit themselves to a minimum of 14° alcohol (the minimum required by the law to label the wine as an Amarone), and doing their best to avoid nobly rotted grapes and overly dehydrated grapes in an effort to generate a less extreme sort of red, withminimal oxidation and volatile acidity defects. Other producers give the grapes the full treatment and push alcohol levels as high as they will go (16° iss not at all uncommon) and dehydration of the grapes to the utmost.

Clearly, in this manner some very unique and characterful wines are obtained, but perhaps not in the mould of what the market expects today in red wines. Consumer palates trained on an ocean of fairly mediocre, bland, and characterless merlots and cabernet sauvignons often find these super concentrated Amarone wines too much of a good thing, although in my experience, it is truly amazing just how often people who try a great Amarone for the first time absolutely fall in love with it.

In the near future, we may also be seeing more dry reds made from autoctonous or native varieties, which are currently being studied and grown by more and more producers. The oseleta grape, although less interesting in the dehydrated form and therefore not particularly suited for the making of Amarone, can yield very interesting dry reds. The rossignola and the negrara have also been often constituted very small portions of the Valpolicella and Amarone blends from different producers, but producers are now looking to make wines where these two grapes may be, if not the only grape fom which to make a wine, the largest component of the blend. Other red varieties that are often encountered in the Veneto include the schiava and the marzemino, both of these yielding pleasant, fruity wines that are especially fun to drink slightly chilled during the hot summer months.

The Veneto main Producers

 

Allegrini
Founded in 1856, this estate is at the forefront of quality wine production in the Veneto, particularly reknowned for the Palazzo della Torre and the La Grola, by which the intent is to highlight the qualities of local grapes such as corvina. The Amarone and the Recioto are just as famous, if not more.

Anselmi
One of the fathers of the qualitative rebirth of Veneto wine production, Roberto Anselmi, along with Pieropan, has done more for the wine called Soave than anyone else. Whereas Soave has long been made as a clear cut but fairly insipid easy to drink white wine, Anselmi has shown with his efforts just what heights this wine can reach. His Capitel Croce and Capitel Foscarino are two world class whites (the Croce is aged in barriques) and his recioto I Capitelli a truly world class dessert wine. It should be pointed out that these wines are no longer labeled as Soave, for Anselmi has opted out of the consortium, unhappy with the far too lax DOC and DOCG production regulations (yields allowed are deemed by Anselmi –and many others- too high, the grams of extract too low, and so forth).

Begali
An excellent young up and coming producer, whose amarone is already making heads turn and whose Recioto is one of the Veneto’s best.

Bertani
Historic producer of ageworthy Amarone, this house has been in business since 1857. Although the Amarone is undoubtedly the pride and joy of the estate, they also make an interesting Soave from old selected vines which has come to market for the first time this year. Somewhat alcoholic and slightly bitter on the finish, it is nevertheless a very interesting wine that represents an excellent addition to the other high class Soave wines on the market, and it bears watching.

Bisol
A solid producer of Prosecco, in business since 1875.

Bortolomiol
Excellent prosecco maker, with both brut and extra dry bottlings worth seeking out. In particular, I recommend the Riserva del governatore bottling, and their Cartizze.

Col Vetoraz
A very solid Prosecco producer, founded only in 1982. Here they only use grapes from the Valdobbiadene area (the best along with the one from Conegliano). About 35000 bottles a year of three different types: brut, extra dry, and Cartizze.

Dal Forno
A myth, a legend…you name it. Bottles of Amarone from this producer easily sell for $250 U.S. or more in retail shops throughout the U.S… and the bottles are still hard to find!!!! The wine has been in production only since 1983, but has been nothing short of an amazing success story. Highly extracted, highly alcoholic, great structure… true behemoths that can really compete with the world’s best, and that are a testament to the passion of Romano Del Forno. If any criticism can be dealt here, it is that at times the wines have slightly vegetal, green notes on the nose that should not be found, and are not typical of fully ripened and dried corvina and rondinella grapes. Although some producers insist that the corvina grape has vegetal, green notes of its own, it is a far more common trait of cabernet sauvignon or cabernet franc. It should be noted that this estate makes an absolutely outstanding Valpolicella, a wine that has much in common with many of the world’s best..

Gini
Another recently born producer (1980), best known for the excellent Salvarenza, a Soave that contains about 10% chardonnay. Although very popular and a very well made wine, not everyone appreciates the high alcohol and tannin of the wine.

Inama
Quite different fom most Soave, but perhaps the most interesting,and has as many detractors as it does proponents.
In my view the Foscarino and the Du Lot bottlings are benchmarks, and quite simply amongst Italy’s best whites.
The Du Lot in particular can be an unbelievable experience for all those palates accustomed to flimsy, weak, lightweight industrially made Soave. It is viscous, thick, rich, almost oily, very full on the palate, not unlike a great white Grand Cru from Burgundy.
It best represents the efforts of this producer to return the Garganega grape to the power he believes it can express.
Inama believes that the image of Soave as a light white is only the result of recent masss production: he maintains that small conscientious farmers and winemakers had always made rich wines in decades past, instead of light insipid ones. Inama also makes a good sauvignon called Vulcaia.

Maculan
An historic house, one that was already making great wines in the late ’70’s and ‘80’s when most of the Veneto had not yet been caught up in this qualitative renewal. Bottlings of the Ferrata chardonnay and cabernet are always excellent, well made wines, as is the Prato di Canzio, a sometimes overlooked, often underrated white blend of pinot blanc, tocai, and chardonnay. In my view, it can often hold its own with the famous Vintage Tunina from Friuli, generally considered Italy’s best white wine. A little known fact is that this was Italy’s first ever white to be aged in barriques. Maculan is however probably most famous for the sweet wines such as the Torcolato and the Acininobili (the latter made from botrytised grapes), which can hold their own quite easily with the best of Sauterne. The Acininobili is one of Italy’s 3-4 best dessert wines, and the Torcolato has perhaps the best price-quality ratio of any Italian sweet wine. Also very pleasant is the Dindarello, a light, spritzy muscat that is excellent with fresh fruit.

Masi
Another of the great historic houses of the Veneto, the Amarone being well known and sought after the world over. Founded in 1792, this estate also distinguishes itself for their recent innovations such as studies of nearly extinct autoctonous grape varieties such as the Oseleta. Wines such as the Toar and the Osar contain up to 80% Oseleta, and are excellent dry red wines. The Oseleta, interestingly enough, does not lend itself well to dehydration, and therefore is not used to make Amarone. The latter are always well made, with the single vineyard bottlings of Campolongo di Torbe and the Mazzano always amongst the best of the vintage. They also age extremely well, and are probably best at 6-10 years after the vintage. The Mazzano 1979, drunk in 1989, was quite simply one of the best red wine experiences I have ever had. Also very good, if in a slightly different style because of a different microclimate, the Amarone from Serego Alighieri, an estate, as the name suggests, that was in the hands of the Alighieri family, to which the famous playwright Dante (who wrote the Divine Comedy) belonged to. This Amarone does not age quite as long as the previous ones, and has a more delicate style, which finds the favour of those who prefer elegant wines.

Pieropan
The other father of Soave along with Anselmi, his Soave may just be the most faithful to type. Around since 1874, the estate of Pieropan has always been a quality leader, and all his wines are highly recommendable. In particular, the Calvarino cru (absolutely reference standard for a Soave) and the La Rocca (ages in wood) ad the recioto le Colombare are simply some of the best whites made in Italy today. The Calvarino in particular ages extremely well, and bottles with 10-12 years of age are absolutely splendid.

Quintarelli
Ask anyone who produces Italy’s best Amarone and the majority will always answer Quintarelli. The old man of Amarone, he has served as an inspiration for many of the young up and coming Amarone producers of today. Also known for a cabernet franc-cabernet sauvignon blend called Alzero (which is not just franc, as the label would lead you to believe) and an excellent Valpolicella,the only shame is that these wines are very, very expensive.

Ruggeri
Solid prosecco producer since 1950, the Cartizze bottling is especially good, but also noteworthy is the extra Dry Giustino B.

Serafini e Vidotto
Perhaps best known for the “Rosso dell’Abbazia”, a Bordeaux style blend, I can also heartily recommend the Phigaia, an excellent and easy to drink cabernet with an outstanding price quality ratio. Definitly a producer worth seeking out.

Speri
5th generation enterprise founded in 1874, this small estate is pushing forward in an attempt to continue improving quality.
A number of crus are produced whenever weather conditions permit: La rovenna, Monte Sant’Urbano, I Comunai, and La Roggia.

Tedeschi
Solid producer of good reds, especially the recioto capitel Monte Rentona, a sweet red wine of notable power and finesse.

Tommaso Bussola
An up and coming Amarone producer that is worth watching.The GB line of wines (from Giuseppe Bussola) are the ones made from younger vines, and cost less, while the TB (or Tommaso Bussola) versions are the top of the line and usually excellent. The Vigneto Alto cru bottling is particularly noteworthy.

Vignalte
A particular microclimate to the west characterized by volcanic soil, this house is particularly known for the Gemola red (70%merlot, 30% cabernet).

Zenato
Founded in 1960, well respected for the Valpolicella and the Amarone, but also makes an interesting Lugana Riserva.

Libri

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