Friuli is not renowned
for its RED wines.
Our gut tells us… it should be!

Perched on one of the many terraces above the townland of Ipplis, the 360 degree backdrop is striking. In each and every rotation, the panorama captures all the geographical & geological ingredients any winemaker could ever wish for.

It’s approaching the end of winter and 2018’s new growth is almost upon us. Gazing north, the snow capped peaks of the Julian Alps stand as they have done for millenia. Like a legionary guard, they shield Friuli’s precious hills and plains from the worst of Mother Nature’s northern forces. We’re overlooking the vineyards of ‘Vigne dal Leon’, originally planted in the 1970’s by Tullio Zamo’. A surprise invitation from Slow Food legend, Giulio Colomba, has brought us here.

Inside the long table is set.

And just like the open log fire, we’re stoked to be sitting down with the CENATORI A VITA for their annual “RED+10” tasting.

Loosely translated (by us), CENATORI A VITA means ‘DINERS FOR LIFE’. Representing an informal collective of Friuliani professionals, the CENATORI are made up of entrepeneurs, winemakers, tasters, general movers and market shakers. Hosted on this occasion by the engaging Pierluigi Zamo’, of the famed family estate Le Vigne di Zamo’, the RED+10 (as we’ve now christened it), is an opportunity to taste, discuss and chart the evolutionary path of a selection of Friuli’s reds.

What’s instantly lovable about their format is that it’s a Classic #B.Y.O.B (Bring Your Own Bottle) !!

Each CENATORE brings a bottle with the stipulation that the wine is minimum 10 years old. It’s 2018, so we’re considering vintages from 2008 and older. As Wine Talking shops go, this is a convivial, mind-opening store, choc-a-bloc with Back-to-the-Future vibes. To help put our discovery in context, let’s add a dash of economic history to the pot.

The post war 1960’s commercial revolution saw the birth and advancement of ‘MADmen’ Marketing and their ‘market led’ forces. In Friuli, the FADmen (Friuli’s AD men) assisted the then decision-makers to plot an oenological course that would ultimately bring the region success and acclaim for its white wines. In theory & practice it was a simple plan to make quick returns. With technological advances, including steel tanks, refrigeration systems & bottling lines, clean fresh & crisp white wines could easily be turned around within a year of harvest. Hitting the open market with rapid fire, you grab attention and immediate sales. Quick turnover baby.

Leaving the likes of rapid fire Beaujolais style reds to one side, the time frame for producing more age-worthy styles is significantly longer.

By their nature, evolutionary red wines require additional cellar time to acquire structure & balance. In the hazy shade of those 60’s, 70’s and 80’s winters, TIME was a luxury, which many believed they could not afford. In summary “FRIULI = WHITE WINE” was the promoted vision.

When you imagine the market crying for quick releases, it’s totally understandable why FRIULI saw WHITE instead of RED. HOWEVER, by ONLY seeing WHITE, we contend the regional heads of the day skipped a critical beat. By adopting the ‘short run strategy’, the FADmen left a host of their greatest players on the metaphorical ‘benches’. Pretty much all their REDS. But hang on, FRIULI is a paradise for RED winemakers too. 100+ years of luscious Merlot easily testifies to that. You know it’s the red variety most commonly found in the regions oldest planted blocks. Let’s make no real mention of Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc, or dare we say Carmenere. And let’s not even delve into the ‘ancient’ bounty of native red grapes like Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, Pignolo, Schioppettino, Tazzelenghe, Refosco di Faedis, Fumat and Piculti Neri. The list of bench warmers is endless.

Don’t get us wrong. Of course Friuli continued to produce reds during these reformative years. The Friulani love their reds. It’s just that most weren’t designed or destined to see the international FOOTLIGHTS. Sold as easy drinking ‘vino sfuso’ in local Osterie, they were created to satisfy local tastes and thirst. Nothing wrong with that ‘per se’. Just not a program to harness their full potential.

Over the intervening 50+ years, one begins to see how and when key winemakers in the Collio and Colli Orientali began to expand their red horizons. Late 80’s and 90’s plantings are now turning up some classic results. Yet, today the majority of producers still prefer to bang the WHITE DRUM. Regional production figures for 2014 show a 78% : 22% split in favour of whites. The short run policy clearly still prevails, even though these days everyone is feeling the pinch with pressure on white wine price points. In the face of increasing global competition, the clamor for shelf space is more frenetic and less fruitful than ever.

Time for the FADmen to widen the spread ? Time to spring some subs from the bench ?

Fast forward…
So what are we talking about?

Our senses tell us the CENATORI a VITA are touching a nerve.
Intrigued, we’re eager to learn what extra light their 2018 RED+10 B.Y.O.B might shed on our path ahead?

Here’s the official line-up:

  • Il Carpino Merlot 2000 Collio Vino da Tavola (Magnum)
  • Castello di Spessa Torriani Merlot 2000 Collio (Magnum)
  • Villa Russiz Graf de la Tour Merlot 2004 Collio
  • Ronco Severo Artiul Merlot 2005 Colli Orientali (Magnum)
  • Ronco del Gnemiz Rosso 2008 Colli Orientali
  • Le Vigne di Zamo’ Schioppettino 2008 Colli Orientali (Magnum)
  • Le Vigne di Zamo’ Ronco dei Rossetti Rosso 2008 Colli Orientali (Magnum)
  • Petrucco Ronco del Balbo Pignolo 2008 Colli Orientali

Discussion developed with the later addition of:

  • Ca’Tullio Sdricca Pignolo 2005 Colli Orientali
  • Jermann Vigna Truss Pignolo 2004 IGT
  • Visintini Torion Riserva Merlot (vintage tbc)
  • Ronchi di Cialla Schioppettino 1990 Colli Orientali
  • Vigne del Leon Tazzelenghe 1990 Colli Orientali (Magnum)
  • Abbazia di Rosazzo Pignolo 1988 Vino da Tavola Friuli Venezia Giulia (Rarissimo is the word!!)

Suffice to say this fascinating lunch, cooked & presented by headchef Dario, extended well into overtime.

As red waves roll, this one washed over us with ease. Friuli’s Merlot again ‘proves itself’ to be outstanding in the vintages V00, V04 and V05. Indeed these 3 vintages are considered among the best from the previous decade. For those of you who haven’t yet heard, Friuli is a Merlot ‘centre of excellence’. Lovers of Bordeaux should seriously take note.

On the vintage flip side, 2008 itself wasn’t one to set the record books alight. It suffered higher than average rainfall during the critical April to July period. And while August did recover with warmer, drier conditions, it seems to have been insufficient to assist most red varieties to achieve optimal ripening and balance. Hence the V08’s don’t tend to rank high. Yes, we’re always looking for an exception to break the rule, as indeed we found, with a recent satisfying tasting of Conte D’Attimis Maniago PIGNOLO 2008. But on this occasion, no surprises when three of the V08 nominees presented with a rather nervy acidic and tannic disposition. The fourth, Petrucco’s Ronco del Balbo PIGNOLO, was sadly corked and therefore naturally not considered. What can one say. This was a real time reflection of what we’ve come to learn about 2008.

When the 2nd battery of reinforcements hit the table, the debate began touching new horizons. Thanks to Pierluigi Zamo’, we had the unique opportunity to taste two very rare PIGNOLO’s – Silvio Jermann’s VIGNA TRUSS PIGNOLO Reserve 2004 IGT and an historic, infact let’s raise it to an iconic 30 year old ABBAZIA DI ROSAZZO PIGNOLO 1988 VdT.

At 30 years of age, the ABBAZIA DI ROSAZZO PIGNOLO V88 is still remarkably fresh, linear and structured, its evolutionary, almost holy scent, evoking the peace and tranquillity that goes hand-in-hand with a wonderful life, lived to complete fulfillment. And we sing, oh happy day….

At 14 years of age, VIGNA TRUSS is beautifully illustrative of PIGNOLO, as it makes its passage from youthful innocence to experience and complexity. Filed under the history of oenological art, both wines are now firmly etched into our LP tasting records.

In all of the discourse, one feature caught our minds eye. There’s a need to join the historical dots. Old vintage notes are the very references that will help guide both insiders and outsiders toward recognizing Friuli’s RED potential. It was dawning on us that someone has to do something about this. With hindsight, the CENATORI A VITA gatherings are indeed the precursor, a vital movement in the right direction. Informal though they may be, they are building a unique bank of data, the future value of which should not be underestimated.

Q: Will Friuli ever see its RED FLAG DAY?

Put it this way, taking on board our discovery, we now more than ever relish the prospect of tasting Friuli’s more highly regarded red vintages, like the recent 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016. Indeed together with the lesser championed 2010, 2013 & 2014, we’ve no hesitation in letting our gut continue to do the talking. Because, for us, as in the words of another legendary TALKING HEAD

“The future is certain, just give us time to work it out!”

For such an unforgettable, iNNOCENCE to eXPERIENCE, head-to-head…

…hats off to Giulio Colomba & Pierluigi Zamo’ and all the CENATORI A VITA for welcoming us into their fold.

Ragazzi, due parole… andiamo avanti !


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