Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tasting of selected wines of Pierpaolo Pecorari (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy)

I visited Friuli-Venezia Giulia a number of years ago as part of a European Wine Bloggers Post-Conference Press Trip and, thenceforth, have been an avid fan of the region's wines. When West Palm Wines -- A Tampa-based purveyor of an eclectic mix of wine-related products and services -- announced that they would have the son (Alessandro Pecorari) of the Friuli winemaker Pierpaolo Pecorari in for a winemaker's visit, I was quick to sign up for the event.

The event was planned as a seated tasting with the winemaker guiding attendees through the wines. Prior to being seated, attendees mingled in the bar area, fortified by the winery's Rosé offering, Rosalba. During this meet and greet I was introduced to Alessandro by an old friend Maurilio Purpura, owner of wine importer CV Tuscany, and the person distributing the Pecorari wines in the US.

Pierpaolo Pecorari is a small, family-owned winery located in San Lorenzo Isontino in the DOC Isonzo subzone of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and sourcing grapes from vineyards in both the Collio and Isonzo subzones. The sources of those grapes are shown in the figure below and descriptions of the subzones follow immediately after.

DOC Collio
Colli Goriziano, simply called Collio (hillsides), is a crescent-shaped collar of land located in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and bounded to the west and south by the Judrio and Isonzo Rivers and to the east by the Slovenian border. The area has a mild temperate climate with cool winds from Central Europe and warm air currents from the Adriatic Sea combining to keep the grapes dry and healthy. The Julian pre-Alps protect from the biting north winds while the Adriatic, in addition to its warm air currents, reflects solar radiation and, in so doing, aids grape ripening. Diurnal temperature variation allows ripening in the daytime with acidity retention in the cool nighttime air. Heavy rainfall (1000-1600 mm on average) provides a reservoir that plant roots can tap into even in the hottest of times.

The soil in the region is called "ponca" and its marl and sandstone strata are rich in calcium carbonate and alkalinity.

A total of 1500 hectares of vine are planted at elevations ranging between 100 and 430 meters and these produce 7,000,000 bottles of aromatic, crisp red and white wines. Twelve white and five red varietals are permitted and they may be bottled as blends or single varietals. The primary white grapes are international (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, and Chardonnay included) but indigenous cultivars (Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Malvasia) comprise 20% of the plantings. Red wines are primarily made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.  Most of the wines are fermented and aged in stainless steel and are made to be drunk young.

DOC Isonzo
Isonzo is a small DOC (classified in 1974) lying in the southeastern portion of Friulia-Venezia Giulia. The climate is maritime with the DOC experiencing more rainfall than any of the other regional zones. The Julian Alps serve as a natural barrier against north winds and there is a constant circulation of warm winds coming off the Adriatic and through the passage associated with the Isonzo River.

The soil on the left bank of the river is rich with clay and red gravel while the soil on the right bank is chalky and layered with white gravel. The river bed is susceptible to periodic shifting and the resulting floods serve to re-invigorate the soil with minerals from upstream sources.

Pierpaolo Pecorari and its Wines
After all of the attendees had arrived, and had had an opportunity to taste the Rosé, we were ushered into the tasting room and shown to our appointed seats. Mark Lasky of West Palm Wines opened the proceedings by welcoming us, talking about the intent of the tasting and how it would proceed, and, finally, formally introducing Alessandro.

Mark Lasky (West Palm Wines) and Alessandro Pecorari

As Alessandro describes it, this organic estate is farmed by a husband and wife team and their son. They grow a range of indigenous and international red and white cultivars (Refosco dal peduncolo rosso, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Bianco, Traminer Aromatico, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Malvasia) which are used as the source material for a range of varietal and blended wines.

The vineyards, as shown previously, are in the villages of San Lorenzo Insontino, Moraro, Mossa, Corona, and Capriva del Friuli and are planted on gravelly limestone soils at 60 meters above sea level. Vines are Guyot-trained at an average density of 5600 vines/ha. Yields are 40 - 50 hl/ha for traditional wines and 30 hl/ha for higher-end wines.

All of the grapes are hand-harvested and the picking decision is made on the basis of taste. The grapes are vinified in stainless steel using indigenous yeasts. Whites are invariably aged in stainless steel tanks on the lees with monthly batonnage to add richness to the wine. The reds are also vinified in stainless steel but are mostly aged in barriques.

Alessandro doubled back to describe the Rosalba 2016 that we had drunk at the bar. This wine was named after his mother who had purchased the vineyard that was the source of the Pinot Noir grapes used in the wine. The Rosalba was his project. He conceived of the idea of a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Refosco vinified as Blancs de Noir. These grapes were sourced from the villages of Capriva del Friuli and Mossa and had been subjected to a soft press and had had no skin contact. The grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks for two weeks at low temperature and were aged on the lees with 2 - 3 hours of stirring per week.

This wine was a mix of elegance and power. On the nose, fruit and earth, herbs, savoriness, mint. Elegant on the palate. Mineral. Crisp, lengthy finish. I was very impressed with this wine.

The first wine tasted in the sit-down session was the 2016 Ribolla Gialla, a wine normally drunk in the summertime in Italy. The grapes for this wine are cultivated in the hills of Collio and Isonzo. This wine exhibited white flowers and fresh fruit on the nose along with a stony minerality. Spiciness on the palate. Fresh, with a long finish. This was an excellent wine.

The next white was the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc. The grapes had been grown in Mossa and San Lorenzo Isontino. The initial impression on the nose was of fresh-cut basil followed by melon skin and a stony minerality. On the palate, broad-based with a hint of sweetness contrasting some green notes. Not as complex on the palate as suggested by the nose.

The Pinot Bianco 2015 was sourced from 40-year-old vines in a single vineyard in San Lorenzo Insontino. Only 300 cases of this wine are made annually. The grapes are fermenetd with indigenous yeast where a small maceration is done as a starter culture which is added to the must. This wine is vinified in stainless steel and aged for 1 year on the lees.

Aromatic on the nose with a slight yeastiness. Citrus, lemon, and spice on the palate. Lengthy finish.

The first of the two reds tasted was the 2014 Refosco. This wine had been vinified in stainless steel for 20 days with délestage (rack and return), aged for 18 months in barriques, and then further aged in bottle. Black, red, and blue fruit. Blueberries, strawberries, red flower and spice on the nose, Spicy, earthy flavors on the palate. Mid-palate gap and a shrinking finish.

The 2013 Tao Refosco was vinified in stainless steel for 24 days with délestage, aged for 24 months in barriques, and then aged in bottle for an additional 24 months. A ton of blue fruit on the nose along with herbs and a hint of phenols. A lot of effort went into the making of this wine but it is not yet rewarding the love.

Overall,  the whites outshone the reds. I was especially impressed by the Rosalba and the Ribolla Gialla but thought well enough of the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Bianco that I bought them also.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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