Old Pinot Grigio, old Tocai Friulano, young Picolit

The younger bottlings of Picolit actually impressed me more than the older at our Butussi in situ tasting yesterday because, as the young Filippo Butussi explained, in the early 00s, his family moved away from a lighter style (for which not all the Picolit grapes were dried before vinification) opting for a richer, 80-100% dried-grape style.

But the wines that REALLY blew me away were these bottlings of 1996 and 2000 Pinot Grigio and 1999 Tocai Friulano. Pinot Grigio is SO misunderstood in the U.S., where we mostly know it as a light, inoffensive, anonymous white wine that arrives in marketing-driven packages.

These older bottlings were not intended for long-term aging, explained Filippo, but he wanted to show the COF2011 team how these grapes, when vinified correctly, retain their quality and actually develop more and more character. Man, the 1999 Tocai was fan-friggin-TASTIC, with the white fruit balanced by some grassy and nutty notes and beautifully balanced acidity and low alcohol.

Tocai Friulano Bianco: the basics

Above: “This is a 45-year-old Tocai Friulano vine that I have kept so that I could try to make a late harvest wine. We picked this vineyard in October. As you can see, there is some botrytis.” Sent to me this morning by my friend and Friulian winemaker Giampaolo Venica (Collio).

The following post is my abridged translation of the entry on “Tocai Friulano Bianco” in Vitigni d’Italia, le varietà tradizionali per la produzione di vini moderni (Grape Varieties of Italy, the traditional varieties for the production of modern wines) by Antonio Calò et alia, Bologna, Calderini, 2006. This is the first in an educational series on the grape varieties of the Colli Orientali del Friuli, posted in conjunction with the COF 2011 aggregate blog. Tomorrow, I’ll post an appendix to the present post on the EU litigation and resolution that led to the grape variety’s official name change (today, it can only be labeled as “Friulano” when shipped outside Italy’s borders).

Synonyms (documented and/or otherwise plausible): Cinquien, Malaga, Tocai bianco, Tocai italiano, Trebbianello, Blanc doux, Sauvignon à gros grains, Sauvignon de la Corrèze, Sauvignon vert, Sauvingonasse.

Erroneous: Sauvignon, Tocai, Tokai, Tokay, Tokaj, Furmint, Pinot grigio.

Origins (Historical Notes): grape variety cultivated in the Veneto and Friuli, principally in the provinces of Gorizia, Udine, and Venice. Professor Dalmasso was the first to propose the attributive Friulano to distinguish it from other possible synonyms. How it arrived in the Veneto is not known for certain. It’s possible that it was imported from Hungary (Perusini, 1935), although it bears no resemblance to the grape varieties of that region. According to documents cited by Dalmasso (1937), a grape called Tocai was cultivated in the Veneto as early as 1771. Tocai Friulano Bianco has recently been identified as Sauvignonasse, a variety that has all but disappeared in France but is widely cultivated in Chile (see Calò et alia, 1992).

Environment and cultivation: variety with high and constant production levels, susceptible to humidity but relatively tolerant of lack of water. It thrives in calcareous subsoils with median fertility and with training systems that offer greater exposure (Guyot, Casarsa, Cordone Speronato [i.e., cordon-trained, spur-pruned]).

Sensitivity to Disease and Other Issues: the bunches are particularly susceptible to rot, Esca, Peronospora, and powdery mildew. While the vines are not particularly sensitive to leafhoppers, they are sensitive to mites and moths.

Alcohol Content: 9.5-14.5%
pH: 2.8-3.8
Acidity: 4.30-7.40 grams per liter

Tocai Friulano Bianco produces a wine that is yellow and straw-yellow in color with greenish hints. Delicate, pleasant aroma, dry, fresh, softy, and velvety, typically with a slightly bitter note of almond and hay. It can be low in acidity and therefore is often blended with Ribolla.

The variety is used exclusively for vinification, for the production of wines intended for consumption within one year or with short aging times. The principal appellation for which Tocai Friulano Bianco is used are as follows: Bagnoli Bianco, Rosato e Spumante, Bianco di Custoza, Breganze Bianco, Colli Berini-Tocai Friulano, Colli Euganei Bianco, Colli Euganei-Tocai Friulano, Colli Euganie Fior d’Arancio, Gambellara, Garda Orientale Trebbianello, Lison Promaggiore-Tocai Friulano, Lugana, Piave-Tocai Friulano, Valdadige, Corti Benedettine del Padovano, Riviera del Brenta.

Translator’s Note: Oddly, Calò et alia omit the Colli Orientali del Friuli as one of the principal appellations where Tocai Friulano is used (an oversight?).