As our plane flew over the Collio wine region I noted a pattern of shrubs and forested areas along with the vineyards. Sustainable viticulture is a very important topic in agriculture and one of its pillars is biodiversity. Nature does not like a monoculture. In many wine regions, vineyard and winery owners have to work hard to develop such biodiversity. In Collio, it’s been happening for decades.
The Collio DOC was created in1968 within the Friuli-Venezia Giulia Slovenia DOC, which shares a border with Austria on the north and Slovenia on the east. On a map it has the shape of stretched “C” lying on its back. It has been described as a natural landscape with a variety of plants located two hours from the Julian Alps and 130 kilometers from the coast of the Adriatic Sea. There are rolling hills offering different exposures to sunlight. The soil, called Ponca, consists of marl and sandstone, which is thought to slow ripening, add acidity, and produce wines with a touch of mineral character. Ponca also has a tendency to slide. The grower’s answer to that is to plant the vines on terraces.
It is a beautiful region where generational, family-owned wineries produce exciting wines from indigenous grape varieties like Ribolla Gialla. According to Ian d’Agata in Native Grapes of Italy, the first mention of Ribolla Gialla was in 1299 in a deed of sale. The grape has a thick skin, which gives it the ability to hang on the vine and ripen. It has low sugar, high acid and does not lose that acidity. Traditionally, Ribolla wine is light-bodied, with crisp acidity, especially if the grapes are grown on a slope. Today, winemakers might ferment and age Ribolla in oak, or let the wine ferment and age on its skins to produce an “Orange wine.”
Friulano is a popular variety in Collio. It was called Tocai Friulano before 2007. The name was changed when Hungary, home of the famous sweet wine, Tokaji, joined the European Union and successfully laid claim to the name. DNA analysis has shown that it is identical to Sauvignon Vert aka Sauvigonasse. According to Wine Grapes, Robinson, by et al., the grape is from, “the Gironde in southwest France and was introduced to Friuli in the early nineteenth century.” Other varieties grown in the region are Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Picolit, and Malvasia
While white wines are the stars of Collio, they also grow red grapes, primarily Bordeaux varieties. We tasted a 2017 Collio DOC Merlot from Tenuta Borgo Conventi, which was a beautifully balanced wine with blackberry, raspberry fruit with light herbal notes, smooth and juicy in the mouth finishing with ripe, smooth tannins.
As guests of the Collio Consortium, a union of wine producers established in 1964, we were welcomed at several wineries. The first we visited was Livon, established in the early 1960s by Dorino Livon, father of Valneo and Tonino who now run the winery. In the past few years, they have added wineries in Chianti and Umbria. We were their guests for our first winery visit and dinner. The pale orange color and the textured mouthfeel in the Carlo di Pradis Collio DOC, Pinot Grigio 2021 suggested deftly handled skin contact in the winemaking process. It was a fitting match for the small veal spheres with wild lemon balm.
Perhaps the most educational activity was described on our schedule as “Tasting and Focus Group.” We had two on Monday and Tuesday scheduled at 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. To be able to taste a group of wines with other wine professionals is perhaps one of the most educational experiences. Members of our group were from the U.K and the U.S. After we tasted each group, we shared our thoughts about the wines. The following are wines I have found available in the U.S.:
Strum, Collio DOC, Friulano 2022 ($16), imported by Classic Wine comes from vines that are 65 years old. It is a dry wine, with medium acidity and herbal aromas with hints of almonds and dusty mineral notes.
Tenuta Borgo Conventi, Collio DOC, Friulano 2021 ($21), imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners. Freshly harvested grapes, including small portion of grapes that have undergone cold maceration, are fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel for 10 days. When fermentation is completed, the wine remains on fine lees, the expired yeast cells, until spring when the wine is bottled. The color is a golden yellow with orange tints from skins and the wine is smooth as silk from lees contact and shows subtle citrus dusty mineral notes and hints of almond aromas with light citrus flavors to enjoy with grilled seafood or a simple pasta.
Ribolla Gialla was the featured grape with seven wines in the afternoon. Gradis’Ciutta, Collio DOC Ribolla Gialla 2022 ($21) is imported by Vineyard Brands. Grapes were crushed, quickly chilled for several days, a process called Cryo Maceration. The purpose is to extract aromas and flavors from the skins. It displays delicate aromas and flavors of peach and apple supported by lively acidity, great for sipping or paired with sushi or a seafood salad.
On day two, we tasted eleven Pinot Grigios and eleven Sauvignon Blancs.
Pighin, Collio DOC, Pinot Grigio 2022 ($16), imported by Kobrand. In 1963 The Pidgin brothers, Luigi, Ercole and Fernando acquired a 200 hectare estate. Over time they built their business and increased their vineyards. Fernando and his family bought the property in 2004. Grapes were handpicked for the 2022 harvest, fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks and bottled. Pure Pinot Grigio with citrus, peach, pear aromas and flavors, balanced with lively acidity.
Tenuta Borgo Conventi, Collio DOC, Pinot Grigio 2021 ($21), imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, has a pale golden color with green highlights, light, fresh and well balanced.
Strum, Collio DOC, Pinot Grigio 2022 ($19), imported by Classic Wines, it has a very light pink color, because the grape has a bit of color in the skins. It is crisp and refreshing with juicy pear, apple, citrus flavors. The grapes were macerated and fermented in a new type of fermentation tank called Ganimede, which is designed for white and rosé wines, and among other features it allows winemakers to exclude seeds, which can add a bit pf bitterness. If you like to check out new winemaking devices you can find it at https://www.ganimede.com/en/index.aspx.
The Collio Consortium provided a very well organized and in-depth view of this extraordinary wine region. I can’t wait to go back. In the meantime, I will continue to share and enjoy their extraordinary and delicious wines.