The name of the Ronco del Gelso wine estate in the Friuli region of north-east Italy translates as “hill of the mulberry tree” and echoes the rural nature of the region.
The estate’s first wine was bottled in 1988. Owner George Badin said that year marked the beginning of a gradual change from farming to winemaking. The company started small but currently produces 150,000 bottles a year.
Badin described his wines as “secular” in style, intending them as “mealtime wines, designed to accompany food and good company”.
The soil on the estate retains the heat of the sun. The subsoil promotes full ripening of grapes and enhances the flavours of the wines, he said.
A tasting in Hong Kong showed a wide spectrum of quality. The 2010 Latimis is primarily a blend of gewurtztraminer, riesling and pinot blanc fermented in steel tanks. I found the flavours clashed. The Latimis comes across as a leftover – a wine made with whatever was left from other bottlings. Sadly, not my cup of tea though I love the individual grape varieties.
By contrast, the 2010 Sot Lis Rivis made from pinot grigio proved a delight. The harvest is postponed as long as possible to take advantage of a characteristic of this grape variety. If left to ripen on the vine, pinot grigio loses water, which concentrates fruit flavours.
This wine had a creamy mouthfeel, with low acidity and intense flavours of sweet pears plus aromas of lemon and lime. Wine Enthusiast magazine gave the 2009 edition 90 points, and the 2010 should receive at least that mark. My tasting companion rated this wine as one of the most elegant pinot grigios she had ever experienced.
The 2008 cabernet franc came across as a simple wine, despite being aged on lees for a year in large barrels. The aim here, the winemaker said, was to “smooth the rough edges of its impetuous nature”. I found it still young and a bit stalky, with a slight green taste that clashed with the strong tannins.
The 2008 Sintesi del Capitoli was a delightful blend of merlot and pignolo. The latter is a red grape variety mostly grown in the Friuli region of northeast Italy. In Italian the name means “fussy” to indicate the fact it often produces low and uneven yields.
The pignolo grape gave this wine a black cherry colour and a robust character with a range of tannins – some astringent and others sweet. I detected an assortment of spices on the nose. It tasted creamy, with a lovely concentration of dark fruit flavours. The winemaker described it as an “ambitious [and] aristocratic wine” and I would agree.
Highlight of the tasting for me was the 2010 Ronco del Gelso Passito made from gewurtztraminer grapes, and available in 375ml bottles. As a child in Australia I enjoyed eating a candy known as a musk stick. It was a long, thin, pink sweet that smelled and tasted of lychees and sweet musk. This wine reminded me of my childhood as I enjoyed its intense sweetness.
The word passito describes the winemaking technique. It comes from the term “appassimento” meaning to shrink like a raisin. Grapes are dried – traditionally on straw mats – prior to crushing and fermentation. The dehydration concentrates the grape sugars.
The practice is used to make amarone-style red wines and also for sweet wines like this one. Up to two thirds of the liquid in the grape is lost before it is crushed, and the resulting flavours are intense.
This passito would be ideal at the end of a meal. It should be paired with soft cheeses or perhaps goat’s cheese and would also be very good with foie gras, if one likes that kind of food.
Published in China Post, 26 July 2012, page 10, under the headline “Winegrowing estate in Italy improves flavor via dehydration”. Find a link here.