Enjoy Collio Experience 2019

A walk in the Collio vineyards plus Collio Bianco, Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Malvasia, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon

by Michael Godel

Enjoy Collio Experience 2019

Collio is in fact one of Europe’s most fascinating wine regions, a white wine specialist located in the Gorizia Hills of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. The amphitheatre of Collio vineyards follow a line along the western border of Slovenia in the northeastern corner of Italy. It is here where centuries of a mélange of multicultural histories meet in a venn diagram of multifarious Italian, Slovenian and Austro-Hungarian mythology.

My trip to Collio in the last days of May was indeed an experience of territory, vineyard, cellar and people. Though the varietal quintet of ribolla gialla, friulano, malvasia, pinot bianco and sauvignon are representative of the heart, head, mind, body and soul of the producers, it is the Collio Bianco that has emerged as a front runner for spokes-wine of the place. The appellative white blend unites and really ties the territorial room together.

A scenic drive north from Venice brings Collio slowly into view and truth be told, nowhere else in northern Italy looks, feels or smells like this place. When the sun goes down over the Cormons hills time finds a way to pause, suspend and stand still. When you stand on the terrace at Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore you can’t help but forget about the me and the I, but instead melt into the we and the here. At San Floriano del Collio your insignificance becomes magnified and you travel back in time, to arts, letters, painting and sculpture, to Nazis occupying a cave that is now the cellar and to a luxurious banquet set in a romantic time. It’s all very uplifting, disturbing and completely fascinating. Finally, when you walk in the Collio vineyards you get a sense of the what, why and how from these vines, the nature of the region and its wines.

San Floriano Del Cóllio, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Collio Bianco

Richard Baudains of the Wine Scholar Guild speaks to a group of foreign journalists during what is the culmination of the wettest month of May since 1973. He is THE master Collio educator.

Collio Bianco is both business card and calligram, a Field Blend that speaks to the idea of co-fermented grapes, working together, for complexity and the possibility of aging, like the music and the story of the area. “Go inside the area and the tradition and don’t worry so much about the grapes,” tells Richard Baudains. Cuvées or field blends can fall within the DOC, or not. There are a total of 1,500 ha planted, as opposed to 1,700 in Soave and 1,900 in Macon and a production of 6.5 million bottles, as opposed to 10 in Soave. This is an indication to lower yields and significantly so. In fact it represents 11 per cent of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and three per cent of total Italian production. There are 16 DOC mono-varietals and two DOC blends. More than 95 per cent are white wines, made by 350 growers, 180 bottlers and one cooperative on an average 4.0 ha of planted space. The lead is pinot grigio at 26 per cent, followed by sauvignon (19) and friulano (15). The latter endemic grape declined dramatically and was in fact at 50 per cent just a couple of decades ago. The rest include ribolla gialla (7.5), chardonnay (9), pinot bianco (4) and malvasia (2.5).

In 1966 the English author and journalist Cyril Ray remarked upon the pre-DOC “white wine made from a mixture of Tocai Friulano, German and Italian Rieslings, and a number of other varieties grown in the hills that encircle Gorizia.” The DOC was then created in 1968 with the suggestion to “drink young when it has a fresh taste and floral bouquet.” A vino contadino. In 1968 the numbers were more like ribolla gialla (45-55 per cent), malvasia istriana (20-30) and tocai friulano (25). Wines of “pale straw, neutral aroma, lightly sparkling, not for ageing, alcohol around 11 per cent.” Whereas all the mono-varietals came in at 12-13 per cent. So the concentration at the time was on indeed on mono-varietals, eventually leading to the evolution of the Bianco in the 1990s.

A proposal was made by then Consorzio President Marco Felluga, the idea being that Collio Bianco shouldn’t be the second or even last wine but rather the flagship of the estate. The most representative wine, top of the quality pyramid and to condense the total number of wines made in the area. He had to liberalize the blend, by taking away all restrictions. A carte blanche stylistic. Your best grapes go into the Bianco.

Wine villages in Collio form a half-moon shape around Slovenia though with not a lot of variety in the soils. Climate is highly variable however and if a line is drawn from east to west you go from warmer to cooler. Chardonnay and sauvignon are grown to the west, ribolla gialla to the east. The overall territory encourages for a connectivity that allows for producing blends. Aromatic grapes defined; icluding traminer and muller thurgau, “The whole is more important than the sum of the parts,” is what Marco Felluga thought. “These are wines that will keep because they maintain their freshness and won’t oxidize. The question is this. Are they long aging whites worth keeping and will they develop interesting tertiary aromas?”

The following Collio Bianco DOC were tasted blind.

Renato Keber Collio Bianco Doc Beli Grici 2017, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

A blend of autochtonous plus international grape varieties that includes friulano, pinot bianco, pinot grigio, ribolla gialla and sauvignon. My how things have changed in this aromatic ham. Lemon in every respect, squeezed, preserved and baking with hocks. Both earthy and candle-waxy. Uncanny note of beeswax really points to extended skin contact mixed with wood-aged Riserva character. Then a gas note mixed with grasso and glück on the palate and high acidity. This might be construed as a train wreck to some and still an amazing revelation for others. A wine that separates camps and instigates prejudices. Depth to be sure though wood is just a bit intrusive with or without enough terroir to back up the ambition. In a way reminds me of some alvarinho in the Minho. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019.

Tenuta Di Angoris Collio Bianco Riserva Doc Giulio Locatelli 2016, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

The blend is friulano, malvasia and sauvignon.A chewy, fleshy and broad shouldered Bianco with all the expected and necessary components present and then some. Highly focused and accomplished white blend, full of white flowers, mild seasonings, orchard and stone fruit, pectin, glycerin, grasso and acidity. It’s all here, clean, simple and straightforward. That said it’s certainly more on the perfectly understandable and less on the risk assessment, task-taking spectrum. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019.

Pascolo Collio Bianco Doc Studio Di Bianco 2016, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

A different mix, of friulano, riesling and sauvignon. One of the more curious and complex aromatic profiles thus far. Perfunctory herbs and citrus rolls into perfectly sweet and and savoury profits, from chou pastry to profiterole. Gastronomic Collio blend at its best, with florals and gasses, fruit and acidity. Proper, focused, flinty, salty and fine. Will age with the best of them. Jumpy, spicy, gassy and in the riesling vein. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019.

Ca’Ronesca Collio Bianco Doc Marnà 2015, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

Only pinot bianco and malvasia. Metallic in the way of aromatic grapes like riesling and yet there’s also an herbal quality. Quite verdant actually, a pesto, a green goddess dressing and a blanch of legumes. Really fine acidity keeps everything lit and elevated. Quite fresh for 2015 and with impressive length. Not overtly fleshy and the extract is dry, not unctuous. Might just develop some salted honey or caramel in a year or so. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019.

Primosic Collio Bianco Doc Klin 2013, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

Poured from magnum with friulano, sauvignon, chardonnay, and ribolla gialla. A metallic aromatic blend, namely friulano like, with glycerin, paraffin and now, a honeyed back half. Quite a special accumulation and a speciality of the whole Collio experience. Great spice on the tongue here, piqued and peppery, special in so many ways. Some botrytis like notation but the wood involved is either beautifully integrated or wasn’t that substantial in the first place. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019.

Conclusions? Basically it has been what Baudains calls “a liberal approach to blends. Since 1995.” Has it worked?” Does it express terroir? Does it represent the Collio producers’ wishes, hopes and intentions? The common denominator is certainly the quality. Is this diversity a resource or a limitation? Is that really a question? What about the paradox? Though you don’t necessarily make your best wine by putting all of your best grapes into one cuvée, you can find the magic. Sometimes.

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore

Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Malvasia, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon

Marco Felluga Pinot Bianco Russiz Superiore A Capriva Del Friuli Doc Collio 2016, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

A more spirited, saline and energetic pinot bianco and so very different than the textured, glycerin and frankly speaking, fatter 2017 and 2018. There is a flinty mineral aspect here that ’18 shows but not with the linear and higher acid way that this ’16 just does and with purpose. Palate wise there is still some flesh but less melon and more salty citrus. Could see this one going into honey without the peachy fruit on which to drizzle away. It’s all so counterintuitive considering the heat of the vintage. I would have expected ’17 to be more so, but this is Collio. A very specific place, climate and replete of its own set of circumstances. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019.

Marco Felluga Pinot Bianco Russiz Superiore A Capriva Del Friuli Doc Collio 2014, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

From a very rainy vintage with yields down 40 per cent, especially through July. Overall maturation and quality were challenged big time. The water was actually double the normal and so vineyard management and ultimately picking and sorting was key to making a clean wine. That said there is both an herbal-gariga character and also a small level of botrytis-affected notes; orange crème brûlée, lime sherbet and honey. Rich without unction, fleshiness without any creamy character. A white wine vintage to be sure. Reminds me of Tuscan trebbiano from 2014, with a bit more salinity and metal-mineral personality. A true example of every harvest having particular problems and with very specific solutions. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted May 2019.

The following Sauvignon were tasted blind.

Drius Mauro Sauvignon Cormòns 2017, Collio DOC, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

Back to complexity with this wide ranging aromatic layering from Cormòns. All is present on the nose; herbs, melon, pear, savour and the first true hints of gariga/brushy hillside plants. Continues with true richness and texture on the palate, high level sapidity and a Sancerre-ness that while comparisons are fruitless, it does give some quality context. Lemon verbena and lime with spirit go long and true. Lovely wine. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019.

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Riserva Sauvignon Blanc Capriva Del Friuli 2013, Collio DOC, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

Increased interest now with more mineral-salty-metallic pushes on the nose mixed with citrus spirit and a fineness not often noted. Taut and rich at the same time, their is focus, presence and length here, admirable and nearly exciting. Delicious sauvignon that should age quite well. Proves that it’s a wine that comes out in time. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2019.

Muzic Sauvignon Collio DOC Valeris San Floriano Del Collio 2018, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

Perhaps the most curious aromatics thus far, here from San Floriano del Collio and a smell that’s so much more floral than the previous 20+ examples. Rich to the point of luxurious as well, with more substance and flesh than most. Sweetness of fruit, spice and accumulation. This should find its way to age for a half decade or more. From really old vineyards (perhaps up to 80 years) and at the highest of elevations. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2019.

Primosic Ribolla Di Oslavia Riserva Collio DOC 2014, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

The name of the village graces the label because of the local ways in which a connection is forged to local skin-contact whites. Four weeks on skins but also two years in 70 hL Slavonian casks. This is special; free-form textured and very balanced. Like the friulano in that there is just a bit of naturalized stylistic and truth be told could risk more because both clarity and clean lines are heeded with great attention and care. When you consider the relationship with neighbours (like Gravner) it’s both akin and apart, yet here the floral perspicuity and hints at fennel, liquorice and wild herbs adds up to a very long and winding aromatic wine. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted May 2019.

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Tocai Friulano Collio DOC 1997, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

So remarkable, from the old messaging in the riesling/tocai bottle, stricken from the consorzio record. This is now a wine bottled in Bordeaux style but this look back 20-plus years shows freshness, spirit and only the beginnings of secondary character. Gassy and lemon intense, a near-perfect example of what was and could be, of how aged whites of Collio can keep freshness and the saltiness of place. All thjis and without crazy acidity. That is the conundrum and the magic of Collio. The persistence is romanticism incarnate with fruit oozing out of pores in great remain. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019.

Pascolo Malvasia Collio Doc 2017, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

Malvasia as you’ve not experienced before, from Alessandro Pascolo and a vintage that delivered more even ripening than what came before and after. Picking was done at the same time as ’17 and so the result is more, more fruit and the allowance for a flinty smoulder to waft in. This is malvasia giving thanks to steep hillside vineyard with roots that dig deep into the ponca strata, looking for water and trace elements below. They are here, the sandstone and the alloy, coming across like liquid allium, marly crusted and quite salty. A very particular type of salinity that is both invigorating and exciting. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted May 2019.

Colmello Di Grotta Ribolla Gialla 2017, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

Fermented part in stainless steel (70 per cent) and also (Umbrian) concrete amphora and then with a seven month élevage. In some vintages a portion is sent back into the amphora. This ’17 is blessed with high level freshness for the stylistic and a case certainly of judiciously and carefully coddling of fruit. Sits on a balancing knife’s edge of reduction and oxidation, with soil parcels making specific inroads and from vines with a specific personality. Orange all in, blossoms and juice, persistent and expressive. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted May 2019.

Bracco Malvasia La Mont Brach Collio Doc 2018, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

Eight months on lees in very old and large casks, stirred to a textured frenzy. So creamy, spicy and yet gentle and elegant. The blossoms and the metals are there. Beautiful and with plenty of persistence. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted May 2019.

Raccaro Friulano Collio DOC Rolat 2018, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

A single-vineyard/cru designated friulano and certainly one of the more seamlessly woven/textured examples of the week. Also structured and with delicate aromas and this chantilly creaminess but also very subtle in its expressive ways. Delicate, understated and promising. I would suggest following the path of this one. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted May 2019.

Collio sits one kilometre from both the Adriatic and also Slovenia so it’s no wonder that its white wine are both highly aromatic and also so very concentrated. They stand alone in character with soils of sand, clay and rock to give them their distinct personality. They are to be paid great attention. I for one have made new space for them.

Stay tuned for more observations and reviews from Enjoy Collio Experience 2019 coming soon. Thanks for reading.

Good to go!