This past weekend, I was lucky enough to spend time with five established winemakers in northeastern Italy. My summary: WOW!
Nestled in Italy’s upper right hand corner is a small wine production zone called Collio. It is a crescent shaped area blessed with great terrain and near perfect weather conditions for making wonderful white wines.
Protected from cold northern air by the Julian Alps, and fed warm breezes during the day and cooler air at night from the nearby Adriatic sea, Collio temperatures are exactly what grapes crave. The soil is described as stratified marl and sandstone. I am no geologist, but I can tell you the wines have a balanced mineral content and strong notes of citrus. These are characteristics I like in a white wine.
The weekend, which was set up for me by the Enoteca di Cormons comprised tasting a single wine from five local producers. It included one out of this world dinner, two nice buffet-style picnics, and entertainment that ranged from funny to deeply moving.
But the star of the visit was the wine, so that’s what I am going to talk about.
By the way, all five of these producers import their wines to Europe and North America, so my advice is if you see one of these bottles in your local wine shop, buy it.
The wine is a white blend called either Collio Bianco or simply Collio. This quiet corner of Italy is the only place it is made, and these five producers make it better than anyone. It is a wine not controlled by regulation, meaning each winemaker is free to be creative with the type and percentage of grapes. He can also decide his vinification process based on the conditions each year.
The grapes used are all locally grown and hand picked. The wine can include a combination of Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Pinot Grigio. Four of the five producers use three grapes in varying percentages, the fifth uses four of the grapes at 25% each. Some of the producers age a portion of the grapes in wood for short periods of up to six months. One uses only aluminum throughout the process.
The result is five wines with a common heritage and name, but each with its own characteristics and personality.
Dario Raccaro uses three grape varieties and only aluminum. His Collio has a light straw color, a crisp, refreshing nose, and offers wonderful lemon and pear tastes.
The effervescent Edi Keber ages a small portion of his grapes in oak for three months before assembling the mix with the remaining aluminum aged grapes. Slightly darker in color, his Collio has apples and pears on the nose while the pleasant passion fruit taste is very refreshing.
Roberto Picech uses the same grape blend as Edi Keber, but in different percentages, based each year on the quality of the harvest. His Collio “Jelka” (named after his mother) is crisp and clean on the nose with terrific citrus flavors.
Damian Princic carries his wine under the Colle Duga label. His blend uses four grape varietals each at 25%. Two of the grapes are aged in wood for up to six months then reassembled with the remaining grapes which have aged in aluminum. Slightly darker – almost golden in color, his Collio Bianco has green apple notes on the nose and a smooth, well balanced flavor.
Finally Damijan Podversic leaves his blend of three grapes to macerate on the skins for a while before placing them in aluminum first, then oak for a year, then left to age in the bottle another year. His Bianco Kaplja is a darker wine, a deep yellow that is past gold and nearly brown. The nose is full of banana and peach notes and the full, velvety taste is distinctive enough to pair with many dishes that some people would only serve with a red. If they skipped using this wine because it was white, it would be a mistake.
I enjoyed a stellar five-course meal (each course with a different wine) at Il Giardinetto restaurant in the village of Cormons. The meal ranged from polenta with chestnuts as the appetizer to a chilled Kaiser pear soup with figs for dessert. The simply amazing first course was a crispy egg yolk (flash fried or something but out of this world) with leeks and garlic flowers. I mean, come on! It was fabulous.
A wonderful weekend which leaves me with the following two important pieces of advice to you:
First, go find a bottle of Collio from one of these producers. Then take it home and drink it with friends.
Second, plan your trip to Italy soon. Plan to visit Collio. If you want to use my company, Wine Friends, that is great. Or you could contact the Enoteca di Cormons who can help you set up a great itinerary.