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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Gourmet Secrets: A wine worth discovering

In Italy you will find white wines you can bank on, for a fraction of the price of something similar in France

brunch Updated: Aug 20, 2018 16:23 IST
Karen Anand
Karen Anand
Hindustan Times
The Russiz Superiore winery
The Russiz Superiore winery

I am a wine drinker, as opposed to straight spirits and cocktails. Although much has been said and written about the pairing of wines with food, I still find that most people drink the wine they like, even love, irrespective of what they are eating and they continue to drink that during the whole meal. Wine has also evolved into a party drink, an aperitif and an ‘anytime, anywhere’ glass of something to unwind with.

Having said that, for me seasonality, mood and temperature also play an important part in deciding what I drink. I was at Ananda in the Himalayas a few years ago doing a wine dinner, pairing heavenly French white wines with Indian food for those who were not on the straight and narrow path to recovery. The subliminal Pouilly Fume from the Loire and even more special white Burgundy Puligny Montrachet went really well with all the dishes in the cool hills of the Himalayan foothills. Bliss. There were a couple of bottles left over and so I took these to share with friends in hot humid Delhi. Disaster. The same wines we had enjoyed a couple of days earlier just weren’t the same in another climate and in another mood.

Beyond France

France has been considered the king of whites with their Pouilly Fume, Pouilly Fuisse, the golden nectar of Chablis and the iron minerality of a Muscadet, especially when it’s accompanied by a plate of fresh briny oysters. Then they have all their delicious champagnes, which are essentially white wines. I always considered Italy and Spain to be the kings of Big Reds. Yes, France has wonderful elegant Bordeaux and Burgundy – but Amarone, Barolo and Brunello are as big as they get; powerful and complex.

I really didn’t pay much attention to Italian whites till I visited Friuli Venezia Giulia in north east Italy a few years ago. Their Pinot Grigio, which is simply full of fruit and flowers is now known the world over. So is their well structured peachy Sauvignon Blanc. But on a recent trip I discovered the now stylish Ribolla Gialla, a local grape with a local soul, which produces a down to earth wine with a slight salinity which goes well with local sweet San Daniele prosciutto (cured ham) and the slightly smoky cured ham Osvaldo, also from a local village of the same name. This is a niche product which completes the panorama of the region’s great ‘prosciutti’.

Collio Ribolla Gialla
Collio Ribolla Gialla

A name to trust

The name I choose to trust after experimenting with wines from this region is Marco Felluga. Now 90 years old, he is considered the father of the area known as “the Collio” and his career and life in the vineyards have spanned over 60 years or “sixty harvests” as they say in wine speak. Their wines are also sold in 40 countries around the globe. Marco has distributed his vineyards among his children and his son Roberto now owns the prestigious Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore wineries. The whites here are noble and elegant beyond words and what sets them apart from other Italian whites is their potential to age. Vinification and ageing in stainless steel give these Marco Felluga single grape varieties body, fruit, balance and elegance, attributes that distinguish these wines with their light coloured label. The black label reserved for the Collio BIanco “Molamatta” (a blend of Pinot Bianco, Friulano and Ribolla) and Collio Pinot Grigio “Mongris” Reserve identifies the distinctive vineyards and different type of ageing characterised by the wines being matured in wood.

We run through a tasting of what is referred to as “the two souls of Collio”, the brands Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore… delicious Collio Pinot Grigio Montgris, Friulano, their cuvee or blend called Molamatta and the ever so crisp Sauvignon Blanc. But this time Ribolla Gialla is what grabs me. Last time I tried it I found it too vernacular, a bit rough on the edges and even salty. This time around, I feel the style has changed and fallen in love with its other highly refined sisters. It is much more fresh and elegant, retaining that slight saltiness which is so characteristic of this wine.

Karen with Roberto Felluga who now owns the prestigious Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore wineries
Karen with Roberto Felluga who now owns the prestigious Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore wineries

Return of Ribolla

Ribolla, despite being a grape variety that dates back to the 13th century in this region, has had some bad press in recent times. From the early 15th century to the 18th, Ribolla was considered one of the finest whites in Friuli. The phylloxera epidemic of the 19th century took a hard toll on Ribolla and many Friuli vineyards chose to replant with French varieties like Sauvignon Blanc. The result was a decline in both the interest in the grape and subsequently predictably the quality. It is only in the last 15 years or so that the grape has been replanted due to an international interest in wines of this region.

From the early 15th century to the 18th, Ribolla was considered one of the finest whites in Friuli
From the early 15th century to the 18th, Ribolla was considered one of the finest whites in Friuli

The grape and the wine are evolving with new floral notes and high acidity making it a perfect pair with fish and local ham and even as an aperitif. I also tested some sparkling Ribolla Gialla, which was quite delicious, easy to drink and very reasonably priced.

Roberto Felluga produces wines you can bank on at a fraction of the price you would pay for something similar in France. Do try the Ribolla Gialla. It’s a wine worth discovering.

Author Bio: Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.

This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on September 2.

From HT Brunch, August 19, 2018

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First Published: Aug 18, 2018 20:11 IST

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