Finding old, almost extinct wine varieties and revitalizing them is a global trend with the basic intent of discovering the new, often astonishing flavors that bring disturbance to taste buds accustomed to more uniform, almost boring smells and flavors of the wines offered on the market. Fear of possible rejection and even greater fear of potential financial loss are the two main reasons we should take into consideration, but those are exactly the reasons to appreciate the courage of those winemakers who are ready to accept the risk and go into a wine adventure they never really know how is going to finish – unless they are walking the well-pitched path!
Dina and Paolo Rapuzzi and their sons Ivan and Pierpaolo are definitely in the group of enological adventurers: in the early ’70s parents left the job at Olivetti and moved to Furlania, a province with a long tradition of grape growing and founded the family estate Ronchi di Cialla located in the D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) in the vineyards of the Colli Orientali del Friuli, which borders the famous Hills of Gorišnica (Collio Goriziano D.O.C.) in the east.
The reason: Paolo really, really loved wine!
There are records that describe the cultivation of vine in the 13th century on the slopes of the hills (ronchi can be translated as a vineyard cultivated hill from the Furlanic dialect) of the Cialla valley, surrounded by chestnut, oak and wild cherry woods. However, as it happened in the rest of Europe, wine diseases such as Plasmopara viticola and Phylloxera have destroyed plants so autochthonous varieties such as Schioppettino are almost extinct. On top of that, this area was the first front line in both world wars, so it is clear in what state not just a winemaking but also the economy as a whole was, because the majority of the population was either harmed by the wars or moved away.
Ronchi di Cialla’s philosophy has been – from the beginning – the breeding of exclusively autochthonous varieties such as Schioppettino, Picolit, Pignolo, Verduzzo, Ribolla Gialla, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso and Friulano, which perfectly utilized the microclimatic conditions of the Julian Alps and the Mediterranean’s warmth mix. The biggest problem was finding grape vines. Paolo only found 60 live vines of Schioppettino in two years while searching the whole area! He had similar problems looking for Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso. Departing from Milan with a desire to live in harmony with nature and tradition is another important postulate of the Ronchi di Cialla house: working on vineyards and dense natural forested environment is carried out in accordance with biodynamic and organic cultivation, and vinification is completely natural. Unlike most other winemakers, the Rapuzzis have not cut trees, trimmed grass or sow some strange seeds and that can be tasted in their wines…, oh, yes – after first taste even less experienced wine lovers and wine connoisseurs realize that they have a special flavored wine in their glasses!
The result: this wine area is officially recognized by the competent ministry as Grand Cru of 1995, for verduzzo, picolit and ribolla gialla white varieties and refosco dal peduncolo rosso and schioppettino red varieties. The wine house Ronchi di Cialla has gained reputation on the world market as one of the most prominent wine producers that are suitable for very long ripening – even for several decades.
Respecting the traditional, natural vinification that did not force wine on rapid transformation and accelerated aging, Rapuzzis were the first to start production of white wine in barrique barrels (1977) of French oak (only the Antinori used barrique barrels for red wines before them) and toasted oak sticks , one of the oldest natural wine stabilization methods. After resting in barrels, wines have been meditating for a long time in bottles that are serially numbered until they are fully matured.
Wines for those who dare
This Saturday, along with many guests of the Wine Bar Bastion No. 19 in Masarykova Street, we had the opportunity to taste four of the eight labels of Ronchi di Cialla, two white and two red wines arranged by the distributor Roto Dinamic. And for three of the four wines denominator is the same: exciting, uncompromising, fresh and something completely different from the wines we meet at the Zagreb wine bars and restaurants.
Ribola Gialla 2017
The wine we started the evening with is one of those that are best to drink young. Ribola Gialla is a dry white wine macerated for at least one day, then fermented in stainless steel barrels at a strictly controlled temperature and then left for 3 months on its yeast with a mild stirring, so it was – not surprisingly – rich in flavor and aroma. It is pale yellow colored with green, glossy look, elegant bouquet with notes of apple and pear. Balanced acids and minerals, with pronounced saltness, are consistent, fresh and drinkable. It can also be served as an aperitif, and is recommended for fish, shellfish, charcuteries and vegetable appetizers.
The blend of tree sorts: 60% Ribolla Gialla, 30% Verduzzo friulano and 10% Picolit is a complex and balanced wine with a stingy yellow color that rewards patient tasters with incredible changes in the glass; with time it becomes intriguingly oily and the smell of acacia finally gets to the foreground. Ciallabianco ferments in oak barrels and drains slightly less than a year, after which it ages in old bottles for 6-12 months – pure elegance, unobtrusive, yet rounded and with character. It definitely has the potential of aging, if you can refrain from opening it as soon as you reach it from the shelf.
You can start your dinner with this wine – it goes well with the seafood, but can also choose freshwater fish, white meats and prosciutto di Parma.
Ribolla Nera 2016
It is the only wine that did not impress us. The first smell was of the sour cabbage, and although it disappeared completely and was replaced by the scent of old leather, there was no redemption for it, at least not in our little gray cells that still functioned as a short-term memory. Glossy ruby colors (thanks to maceration without tearing the skin), the fifth of it ripens in barrels for up to year and a half, the rest ripens in stainless steel, and then in the bottle for at least another year.
This schioppettino is from the same area above the Cialla Valley, only from younger vineyards, so – in order to distinguish it from the older brother – it was named Ribola Nera, which is actually another name for schioppettino.
Light tannins, looks drinkable, but stumbled at our noses.
It matches grilled meat dishes, but it goes with tuna as well.
We left the lead of the winery for the last: a rich and elegant red wine of striking taste, full and rounded. It is a well tested recipe: it ripens in the barrels for up to 18 months, then in the bottles (up to three years), so the long-living native of the Cialla valley slopes can stay unopened for 15 to 20 years, and with special harvesting much more. When we saw this, we drank it much toooooo early. Even after decanting, the bouquet did not disappear, the smell of spice, tobacco, grass and soft fruit constantly poured into the nose cells, and the specific taste of white pepper had long kept in the mouth.
The acidity of the wine is so well balanced that it makes you wanting to eat something: game, mushroom meals and roasted white and red meats are its ideal companions.