Vail Wine Ink column: A visit with winemaker Colutta of Friuli in Italy
IF YOU GO ...
It’s easy to get to the Colli Orientali del Friuli wine region, which sits on the border of Italy and Slovenia between the Dolomites and the Adriatic Sea. Simply fly to the Venice Marco Polo airport, rent a car, and turn the other way from the tourists. In 45 minutes, you will be in the rolling hills and charming villages of the Friuli wine region.
If you wish to stay in country-luxe, check out La Subida in Cormans (www.lasubida.it). It features a destination restaurant and design-savvy rooms that open to the Italian countryside. For a stay at a winery, go see Giorgio at http://www.colutta.it. He is a gracious host, and his wines are outstanding.
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
2014 Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio — Elegant, fresh and with a perfect balance of crisp acidity and savory flavors. But most importantly, it is made by one of the great producers of the Friuli region. This is a wine that will take you on a trip to the hills of Italy and invite you to relax and find the time to drink in life. A perfect introduction to Friuli.
In the 48 hours I spent with Giorgio Colutta at his winery in the Friulian town of Manzano, he entertained a journalist — quite well, I might add, was honored by the town of Udine for his work as the chairman of The Conservatory of Music Jacopo Tomadini, dealt with shipping issues of his wines to Russia, surveyed the acres of grapes he is replanting to the red varieties of the region and then set off to attend a function in Rome, where he serves on the board of a bank.
And you thought you were busy.
“We wear many hats here,” he shrugged, as I marveled at the diversity of his day while enjoying a fresh-from-the-Adriatic-Sea polipo, or octopus, at a restaurant high in the hills overlooking the full vines of Friuli. Such is the life of a gentleman winemaker who is the third generation in his family to make wines in the town of Manzano, in an amazing wine region called the Colli Orientali del Friuli.
Varied, valuable region
If you drink Italian wines on a regular basis, you may be familiar with the Friuli region. A restaurant in Boulder, Frasca Food & Wine, has built a stellar reputation importing both the foods and the wines of the region to America. Their wine program, under Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, has received a James Beard Award as the nation’s best. But for most American wine drinkers, Friuli remains a place of mystery.
The ever-smiling and handsome Colutta is an important player in the world of Friulian wines. He, along with a cadre of other winemakers, was responsible for the designation of the region as the source of Prosecco, the sparkling wine that can only legally be produced in nine provinces spanning the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia regions of northeastern Italy.
But it was the still wines that Colutta produces that captured my attention during our visit to his winery and our stay at the holiday farm he runs in Manzano. There, he produces still wines using the grapes of the region, including the white grape friulano and the red grapes refosco and schioppetinno and the dark and tannic pignolo. Very little of these regional wines flow to our shores in America, but when one is sitting on the terraces of the restaurants in the region or in the gardens of the wineries, surrounded by the vines that sourced the wines, there is nothing — nothing — that tastes better.
I had an opportunity to sit with Colutta’s winemaker, Phillipo Pelligrini, and taste through the red wines of the lineup and was most impressed by the diversity in the flavor profiles of the grapes. The 2012 Schioppetinno was ruby red and had aromas of blackberry and raspberry, along with hits of tobacco and leather. It was somewhat reminiscent of a great Syrah. The 2009 Pignolo, which had spent three years in a barrique, a small barrel, was massive and changed from overly tannic to smooth and round in the two hours it remained uncorked.
But the joy of a trip to Friuli is the unique nature of the place and the infectious passion of the people there for the products of the region. Many of the wines, particularly the white wines, are fresh, crisp and made to be consumed young and with great food. Wine is a part of every meal as if it were an ingredient in that meal. Cheeses and meats are off-the-charts delicious with the local wines.
A special treat is the thinly sliced, cured ham, or prosciutto, that is a specialty of the region. You may be familiar with the prosciutto produced in San Daniele, which is imported and served in Italian restaurants here, but we found a specialty maker in the food capital of the region, Cormans. There, the D’Osvaldo family produces, from the local Duroc Italiana hogs, the finest hams I have ever tasted. The ham undergoes a slow, gentle smoking process that is fired by the herbs of the region. The result is a buttery, sweet, smoky ham that is a perfect accompaniment to the Friulian wines.
It is this artisanal and local focus that makes the Friuli region so appealing. Our stay at the Colutta Holiday Farm was punctuated by the daily stroll through the crush pad of the winery itself as we went back and forth to our rooms. It was an example of just how closely related the wines are to the lives of those who live in the region.
There are many great wines from Italy, of course, but if you wish to focus on a region that is fresh and flavorful, I suggest the wines of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab, Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.