After the winners of the 2014 International Pinot Grigio Challenger were announced, I visited several winemakers near Cormons. Giorgio Badin, owner of Ronco Del Gelso, picked me up. Fortunately, a translator joined us — a good thing because Giorgio spoke rapid Italian. While driving Giorgio said that his wines are to be drunk with food, they are mealtime wines and therefore he seeks to enhance the finest character of the grape. He ferments the juice using non-invasive vineyard techniques that do not detract from the characteristics of the grape.
Giorgio continued to answer questions. He said that his estate is in the Isonza Del Friuli DOC zone and this, along with the sub-zone Rive Alte, where permitted, appears on the label. The vineyards are all guyot pruned and vertical- trellis trained, with a high vine density to promote root competition and canopy restriction. Care is taken in the selection of clones and rootstock, which must be suited to the soils of Isonzo. He uses cultured yeast, and malolactic fermentation does not take place in any of the white wines.
One of the other producers remarked that Giorgio makes “old style” wines and added to what Giorgio had said about his wines, I could not wait to taste them. After tasting them, I could have not been more pleased with them.
Friulano “Toc Bas” 2012 DOC Riva Alte Isonzo Del Friulano 100% Friulano. The grapes come from vineyards in the lower area of Cormons. Giorgio said that this wine has flavor far removed from the so-called international tastes. There are 4,500 vines per hectare. Soft pressing of the grapes takes place and fermentation is at controlled temperature. The wine is stored on the fine lees until it is bottled. This is a wine with hints of apples, peaches apricots and a touch of hazelnuts and bitter almonds. The wine has hints of liquorice and ripe fruit with a very nice bitter almond aftertaste. There was also a 2006 Tocai Friulano that was drinking very well and showing no sing of age. It was still called Tocai because the law was not changed until 2007 because of the dispute with Hungary over the name Tocai.
Sauvignon “Sottomonta” 2012 DOC Riva Alte Isonzo Del Friulano 100% Sauvignon Blanc. The vineyards are located in Cormons at the foot of a hill where the soil is deeper, siltier and retains good moisture. There are 5,700 vines per hectare. The grapes are cold crushed and maceration lasts for 12/18 hours. The wine is aged on the lees in oval oak barrels of 2,500 liters for 12 months. Giorgio said that Sauvignon Blanc is a difficult grape variety to grow and to make into wine but worth the effort. This is a soft, full and balanced wine with good acidity and the aromatic notes typical of the variety.
Malvasia “Vigna della Permuta” Isonzo Del Friuli DOC 2006 & 2008 100% Malvasia. Giorgio said that the climate and gravelly soil of the Isonzo plain are ideal for this grape variety, which prefers warm dry soil not too far from the sea. There are 5,700 p/h and the training system is guyot. Grapes are destemmed and cold crushed and maceration lasts for 12-18 hours. It is fermented in steel. Both wines have hints of ripe fruit, anis and a touch of spice. A Malvasia that can age!
Chardonnay “Siet Vigni” Isonzo Del Friuli Rive Alte 2012 The wine is made from grapes from seven vineyards, covering a total area of less than three hectares. Giorgio pointed out that Chardonnay has been present in the area for over 150 years and has adjusted to the climate and soil. Chardonnay is an international grape that has allowed itself to be shaped by the local terroir taking on its personality. There are 6,000 vines per hectare. Temperature controlled fermentation with cold crushing and maceration for 12-18 hours.
It was more than interesting to taste Chardonnay produced in this way. The wine has hints of golden apple and a touch of tropical fruit. This is a chardonnay to drink with food.
Aur Traminer Passito In answer to one of my questions about his dessert wine this was Giorgio’s response: “On an estate like mine, it is certainly not the product of market research, but more likely the fruit of an intuition or belief. To be honest, I must admit that I didn’t ever think that I would make a dessert wine, but that is what’s happening.
This is the story of Aur: a few years ago a plot of land adjoining our estate came up for sale. It was a tempting opportunity, so I took out a mortgage and bought it.
So far so good, but I still had to tackle the main problem, namely that the 18,000-square-metre plot was planted to Traminer, and if there’s one wine that I don’t like it’s precisely dry Traminer. The conflict between its sweet, aromatic nose and dry, salty palate is the exact opposite of the character that I try to give my wines. At the time I tasted a great many Traminers from all over the world, but none of them served to change my mind. Only those with a sweet aftertaste convinced me, and the dried-grape wines most of all.
My tastings resulted in a project for a dessert wine that I called Aur, which means “gold” in Friulian. I built a drying room and tried to understand how to make a high-quality sweet wine using first-rate grapes. There are 4,000 vines per hectare, the grapes are dried, and the wine is aged in small oak barrels for one year. This is a very subtle dessert wine which goes very well with soft cheese and foie gras”.