A few years ago, my favorite Russian pop singer, Zhanna Friske had a hit song entitled, “Somewhere it is Summer.” For those who have never traveled to the north of Russia, Finland, or Scandinavia, these peoples live for and worship the sun. For those of us living in more Mediterranean climates, we simply look for ways to beat the heat.
The best remedy I know for the summertime blues … wine. However, which wine would a be a more apropos question. We are all quick to reach for our favorite whites wines. Today I am going to challenge you to reach a little further, and try something new.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia lies in the northeastern region of Italy. Just south of Austria and west of Slovenia, one can find the widest array of white wines in fact, more than in any other part of the country. In this region of gentle rolling hills and alluvial soils, such indigenous grape varietals as Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Verduzzo abound.
Today we ventured to the renown mountain resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo. Italy’s most famous mountain destination is affectionately called “the Queen of the Dolomites. I am once again joined by long-time friend and fellow sommelier, Serena Dutto. After a long day of hiking, we have returned to the town of Belluno for some wine and refreshment.
“It seems only fitting.”
Our first selection, Friulano is among Italy’s best white grapes. Serena selected a La Tenutade Angoris 2011. At first glance it is evident that this is a special wine. Our Friulano is a rich gold in color. On the nose, an intensity of peach and apricot opens the bouquet of this fragrant wine. On the palate, the rich stone fruit is supported by the wine’s overall density and creamy texture. The rich fruit eventually gives way to a silky finish. The alcohol content is 13.5% with a price tag of $25.
“I love the beautiful white peach aromas,” Serena’s eyes brightened as she smiled. “This wine will go nicely with the steamed shellfish and seafood pasta that I ordered.”
“I should also think that it would equally pair as well with white meat.”
“For those who like aromatic wines,” Serena paused for effect. “Friulano is a must.”
Serena picked a Malvasia Istriana as our next selection. The varietal actually originates from the Croatia’s Istria Peninsula. Over the past few years, this popular grape has been planted in select regions of northeastern Italy. To date, they have shown great promise.
“It is believed that Malvasia first made its way into Italy via Venetian traders,” Serena paused to collect her thoughts. “It is not an easy grape to grow because it has large vigorous clusters, and yields must be controlled.”
The bouquet is of zesty citrus fruit, and on the palate, there is a most enjoyable crisp intensity. This is a very clean wine that is filled with bright notes of green melon and lime. The finish is also very clean and crisp. This is the perfect summer wine when lounging poolside or enjoying the view from the veranda. The alcohol content is 13% with a price tag of $20.
“Definitely a wine to be shared with guests,” Serena smiled softly.
“What dishes pair best with this style of Malvasia?” I queried.
“Definitely grilled fish,” she paused on the moment. “I often serve Sirich Malvasia with brill flatfish baked with capers, olives, and cherry tomatoes.”
Our next selection hailed from Italy’s mountainous north. Pinot Bianco is clearly an expression of the Alpine breezes that have shaped and balanced a mildly fragrant wine. This is a grape that thrives in cool climates. Serena selected a Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro 2011. On the eye, it is a soft straw color. The nose is layered with pineapple, pear, melon, and a hint of exotic fruits. Our 2011 showed very nice structure. It is an elegant wine with fruity flavors that are a bit playful on the mouth. The finish shows good, and memorable length. The alcohol content is 13.5% with a price tag of $25.
“I can see that,” I nodded in agreement. “The sweetness of the apple would nicely contrast the saltiness of the cured meat.”
Our last wine, Ribolla Gialla, enjoys an almost cult-like appeal with aficionados. Though popular today, Ribolla Gialla dates back to the 13th century. To add to the wine’s allure, vintners have conjured everything from light sparkling styles to thickly extracted whites that can be cellared for lengthy periods. On the one side, vintners produce acidic, easy-drinking wines that abound in flowers and citrus fruits. On the other end of the spectrum, vintners like Josko Gravner reign supreme. Truly the lord of the realm, Gravner is known to prefer the grape’s pulpy fruit and thick skins. Through long macerations and aging in clay amphorae, Gravner produces wines that are golden caramel in color and richly structured on the palate.
Serena selected a Gravner Amfora Ribolla Gialla 2005. On the eye, the wine’s striking copper-orange color heightens curiosity. There is an almost luminous brightness that defies the wine’s age. Gravner has chosen to mature his Ribolla Gialla in clay amphorae. On the nose there intense aromas of resin, pine nut, caramel, graham cracker, and candied fruit. It is rich, complex, and well-structured with a powerful fruit profile. The finish is long and memorable. The alcohol content is 13% with a price tag of $120.
“The 2005 is indeed a wine that can be enjoyed now or cellared another 10-20 years,” I paused for effect. “Gravner has produced a white wine that will eventually drink like a fine Barolo.”
“I especially love pairing Ribolla Gialla and pumpkin risotto with chopped rosemary sprinkled with shavings of smoked caciotta cheese,” Serena’s tone was one of great delight.
“Well, on that note,” I nodded in agreement. “Let’s order dinner.”
“But that my friends, is another story …”