by Simone Zarmati Diament

 
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 People in Collio, Italy, still  talk about the Austro-Hungarian Empire and World War I as if it only happened recently, instead of one century ago this year.  And these are young  winemakers, many in their late twenties or early thirties, like Robert Princic of Gradis'Ciutta,  an up-and-coming  passionate winemaker who, like his father before him,  makes fresh, vibrant white wines under the "Collio" designation from vineyards in The Collio Goriziano  (in Slovene: Goriška Brda).

dsc00930That’s because when these young people dig the dark “ponca” soil - a sandstone-clay-calcareous marl and flysch which is firm to the touch and rich in minerals and microelements - to plant a new vineyard,  it is not uncommon to unearth torpedoes from World War I, for which they have to call the “vigilli del fuoco” (the local firefighters) to diffuse them.  But what wines does it produce!  

The landscape of pristine rivers running through rolling hills rich with fields and vineyards, was the raging front during WWI, and only a generation ago flocks of cattle and geese mingled with cherry orchards and crops.

Today, these hills – a small strip of territory between the villages of San Floriano del Collio and Dolegna del Collio in  the province of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia  in Italy's north eastern corner – are still straddling the border with Slovenia –once Communist Yugoslavia and now a member of the European Union.

 Small crops of vegetables and fruit have given way to endless corn rows of vineyards planted mainly with Friuliano and Ribolla Gialla - the basic grape for the famed Collio Bianco wine -  as well as with  many other international varieties which acquire the special characteristics of the terroir.  The generally philosophy of Friuli winemakers (especially in regards to their white wines) is to emphasis the grape's pure fruitiness and acidity without the masking affects of oak.

img_0403The Collio has become a prestigious DOC and DOCG winemaking region producing some of Italy’s most prized wines in recognizable long-necked bottles, an  even more recognizable yellow cap, and labels that scream the name of the region, as per Consorzio's regulations.  

I first tasted  these versatile wines with great personality and surprising complexity  in Collio at the Gradis'Ciutta estate, where I understood the uniqueness of the terroir and the winemaker's passion to emphasize the grape's pure fruitiness and acidity without the masking affects of oak.  But I had trouble finding them anywhere in the US.  

We are now fortunate to find them in South Florida at reasonable prices ranging from $16 - $25. You can contact the importer ByWines, Miami, FL  for assistance in tracking them down. 

 

img_0404Gradis’Ciutta 2012 Collio Bianco Bràtinis  (DOC Collio Bianco).    According to the Consorzio’s rule established in 1968, Collio Bianco must be produced with Ribolla Gialla grape as its main base and blended with other grape varieties originating from the same region.   Robert Princic's  “Bratinis” – the name derives from the locality in which the grapes are grown and harvested at an altitude of 500 to 600 feet above sea level – is a blend of Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla and Sauvignon.  This wine has always been made in small quantities and until recently it was only consumed on special occasions by the family.  Fermented with natural yeasts in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks Bratinis is a full-bodied straw yellow wine,  clean, elegant and intense on the nose with aromas of green apple and ripe peach, hints of exotic fruit, melon and pineapple on the palate.  Silky, nicely structured with a lively acidity this is an elegant wine with a long aromatic finish. It is best served chilled at 47-50F, and  pairs well with a wide range of foods, from aperitifs to fish and stands up to heavier dishes like poultry or white meats. Great value.

 

img_0406Gradis’Ciutta 2012 Collio Friulano (DOC )  100%  (Tocai) Friulano, an indigenous grape, this is the most representative and well-known white wine of Collio. In 2007, the name Tocai was changed to Friulano to prevent confusion with Hungary’s Tokay.  This wine comes from vineyards in Zavogna, Ruttars and Dolgi Breg straggling the border with Slovenia at altitudes ranging from 400 to 600 feet above sea level.    This luminous straw yellow colored wine is brilliant and well-balanced. An intensely pleasant nose of spices and fresh hay coming from 24 to 48 hours of maceration evolves in the palate into a silky yet vibrant texture with hints of almonds, camomille and crisp ripe golden apples enhanced by a lively acidity and a long finish of fresh almonds. Serve chilled but not too cold to enable the complex flavors to develop in the glass. Pairs fabulously well with antipasti like prosciutto San Daniele, cheeses and baked fish.

 

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Gradis’Ciutta 2012 Pinot Grigio Collio (DOC)   100% Pinot Grigio planted on the descending slopes of Gradis’ciutta and the neighboring  hills since 1975. The copper berries are pressed and fermented in stainless steel, aged “sur lie” until the wine is bottled. This is a very well-crafted copper color Pinot Grigio with good structure, amazing aromas and loads of personality yet delicate and elegant. Downright addictive, I’d say.  Scents of green tomato leaf; peach, apples, citrus, flint and minerals, it has a bracing acidity and a long, clean finish that calls for a refill. It is fabulous with most foods, cheeses and seafood. A yummy wine!

 

 

img_0407Gradis’Ciutta 2012 Sauvignon Collio (DOC). 100% Sauvignon, a French vine cultivated in the region of Sauternes in Bordeaux, introduced into Gorizia in the mid-1800s, where it achieved superior results in the region’s fertile “ponca”  soils. Isidoro and Robert Princic  bought Sauvignon in 1978, and have kept the same typology; their most recent plantings date back to 1985. “Characteristics of our Sauvignon are the perfumes, not overly intense, but fine and elegant” says Robert Princic. The vineyards at 325 to 600 feet above sea level have small yields and the grapes are macerated for 24 – 48 hours to extract maximum flavors. Straw yellow with golden green hues, the wine is fresh, vibrant and lush yet delicate with hints of field flowers, pepper and sage and notes of exotic fruit – pineapple, passion fruit – on the palate and a good structure well balanced by a lively acidity. Have it chilled with antipasti, prosciutto, mushroom or saffron risotto, soufflés and fish.

 

 

 
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At a recent wine tasting held at the Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove, hosts Robert Princic and his 
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distributor Victor Passalacqua of ByWines Inc., paired each wine with an incomparable luncheon prepared by Executive Chef  Ramesh Kaduru. 

 

A Lemon-scented crab Tian set in a feathery potato leek vichyssoise and topped with salmon roe and truffle was paired with the Gradisciutta Pinot Grigio. The Sauvignon Blanc stood up to the second course: an aromatic chicken basil roulade with summer squash risotto and sautéed wild mushrooms.  The Friulano, the most representative and well-known white wine of Collio, held its own with the the spice of the andouille-wrapped snapper and the complexity of  the spinach timbale with asparagus and lobster froth. For Dessert, the Gradis’Ciutta 2012 Collio Bianco Bràtinis melded its complex and smooth flavors with a cheese dish of  crispy pancetta, prosciutto, Irish Porter, Stilton cheese and Humboldt Fog, set next to a beguiling honey comb.

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