Above: Ubi major, minor cessat. Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey (left) really knows his stuff and when it comes to Friulian wines, he’s at the top of his game. It was fascinating to travel and taste with him in Friuli. Ronco del Gnemiz, where he and Lachlan source some of the fruit for their Scarpetta label, was a favorite visit for everyone (for the cast of characters, click here).
In some ways, the wines I tasted that day run contrary to everything I desire in Italy wine: they were made from French grapes, grown in Italian soil, and vinified with pharmaceutical yeast. But I loved and love them… unabashedly and unconditionally… no regrets, Coyote. They were the wines of Ronco del Gnemiz in the Colli Orientali del Friuli, a winery that I have followed since my earliest days writing professionally about wine in New York more than 12 years ago.
Above: More than once, Bobby talked about “Friuli’s secret weapon, Sauvignon Blanc.” In our tasting of a vertical of vineyard-designated Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc at Ronco del Gnemiz, I found myself writing things like “fantastic balance,” “extreme elegance,” “rich but angular,” “gorgeous acidity.” This 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, above, was fantastic.
One of the first things that nearly every Friulian winemaker will tell you is that Friuli was completely destroyed in the First World War (Friuli was on the front line between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian empire). Between the two World Wars, wine production was not a priority for a people whose farmland sat on the edge of the Italian monarchy and then fascist regime. And it wasn’t until Italy’s “economic miracle” of the 1960s that a wine fine industry began to emerge in this uniquely positioned growing zone, with its ancient seabed ponca soils, its ventilation arriving from the Adriatic, and a “natural shield” (as Petrarch would have called it) provided by the eastern Alps.
When Serena Palazzolo’s father purchased the Gnemiz estate in 1964, long before California would make Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon the hegemonic favorites of consumerist culture, he planted French grapes. (Gnemiz, btw, probably comes from the Slovenian nemitz meaning foreigner.)
Above: Chiristian Patat (center), Serena Palazzolo, and their eldest son Jacopo. As crazy as it sounds, I felt like I knew Christian and Serena from tasting their wines for so many years. And I knew that we were going to become friends. As it turns out, we have a great deal in common and Serena and I missed each other at the University of Padua by just a few years! We did indeed become friends and they are going to appear in a very special post, probably my favorite moment of my Friuli trip… Wonderful people…
French grapes have been grown with stunning results in Friuli since that time. (I’ll touch on this later in the series of Friulian posts.) And Ronco del Gnemiz is widely considered one of the greatest expressions of the Colli Orientali del Friuli.
Pharmaceutical yeast, explained Christian when the subject came up, is key to their approach. They’re not using cultured yeast to impart flavor to the wine. They use a neutral yeast to initiate fermentation because they want alcoholic fermentation to be completed before malolactic fermentation can begin. In doing so, they are able to maintain the gorgeous acidity in their wines that gives them such longevity. Their oak regimen consists of 25% new barrels, with the rest being recycled 4 times before being discarded.
I can’t think of any other region in Italy where modern winemaking techniques are applied with such extraordinary results. Of course, there are many who utilize technology excessively in search of high scores and Californian consumers. But most, Ronco del Gnemiz chief among them, exploit modernity judiciously, not with an eye to the American consumer but rather with an ideal of world-class winemaking.
And I can’t recommend Ronco del Gnemiz enough. I love the wines, period, end of report, and no regrets, Coyote.