Friuli can be home to some of the most fascinating and adventurous wines in the world. Skin macerated whites (orange wines) have gained world wide loyalists, with producers like Gravner and Radikon reaching rock star status among them. Occasionally lost in all this is the brilliant whites of the region that march to the beat of a different drum. The clean and precise wines coming from Ferdinando Zanusso's I Clivi estate in the Collio region is just about the perfect representation of this other side of the coin. The first time tasting Ferdinando's wines it became clear these are destined for stardom, especially for those who favor more detailed, crystalline, and finely-etched whites.
I Clivi has a wide range of wines, but it's his Friulano (formerly known as Tocai Friulano) coming from 70-year-old vines in the Brazan vineyard that stole the show for me. The variety can be a tricky one, often succumbing to fatty and overly glossy characteristics as acidity can naturally fall out of these grapes rapidly on the vine. Ferdinando has fought against this by his meticulous work in sampling grapes regularly before harvest to ensure picking concludes well before sufficient acidity is lost. He also began to block malolactic fermentation to retain a taut and disciplined structure.
All the winemaking specifics aside, this bottling was an epiphany moment. As a more regular drinker of white Burgundy, dry Riesling, and focused Chenin Blanc I've found a certain criteria for whites that really reverberate with me - where fruit is shown through a prism of a well defined frame. Where plush and ripe characteristics are allowed, but held in check with an element of salinity and a mineral backbone for support.
The Brazan vineyard is ideal for these principles, planted on marl soils known in Collio as Ponca. Ferdinando goes out of his way to drive home the point that all his wines are a natural representation of his sites. Farming is organic, fermentation is native, and everything is handled in the cellar with the least amount of intervention possible. The Friulano from Brazan's 70-year-old vines are aged 18 months on their lees before bottling. This process allows the wines to regularly take a couple years in bottle to fully reveal themselves. The 2014 and 2013 vintages produced gorgeous wines here, but the 2012 Brazan Friulano stole the show.
The rich texture of Friulano is one that provides a never ending sense of fascination. I Clivi's example just happens to be one that balances that inherent weight with a fleet-footed touch that's unlike any I've come across.
2012 I Clivi Brazan Collio Goriziano Friulano
$35 per bottle.