The Villa Russiz sounds exotic and indeed it is, but not because of its name which comes from the place. There is an area in the Collio called Russiz just north of Capriva del Friuli. But the estate is exotic in the sense that it was created by two ‘foreigners’. Frenchman Count Théodor la Tour in 1869 had the idea that the Collio would suit the then ‘exotic’ grape varieties, ie French ones, while his Austrian wife Elvine Ritter von Zahony brought the estate as a dowry. Her home was not in these parts but of course this area of what we now call Italy was a part of Austria in the nineteenth century. la Tour is buried here in a splendid mausoleum (below left), while Ritter’s successor at the estate, Adele Cerruti, went on to give this place a very special mission – to care for homeless children, a role it continues to this day. The picture, below right, is part of the charitable foundation.
We struck lucky on our visit to Villa Russiz. First, it was a really wonderful, sunny spring day. It is a beautiful place anyway with its park, immaculately kept vines and perfect hills. But in the spring sunshine it looked ravishing. Second we had an excellent tour with the general manager Giordano Figheli and a fine tasting, climaxing in some older bottles which the two young enologists we meet where preparing for a large tasting. So this was a great opportunity to see how the great white wines of Friuli develop – and can thus genuinely be called great.
As you can see from the photos above, they know about working the slopes on this typically crumbly soil, either going up and down moderate slopes or going in for a machine-workable form of terracing when it gets too steep. They have a great map of the mono varietal vineyards of their 40 hectares of vines on the 100ha estate. In the winery, the fruit of each plot is vinified vinification separately and then blended as required.
As I have said already, we had a great tasting here and I will concentrate on the highlights. They make textbook single variety Friulian whites here of which we tasted the very good Pinot Bianco Collio DOC 2010 and the Pinot Grigio Collio DOC 2010 which won the prize for best Pinot Grigio at the festival ‘Friuli and Friends’ – any contemporary Italian event must have an English title it seems! But they are are also innovating with Les Enfants 2010, a blend of 2/3rds Pinot Grigio/ Bianco and 1/3rd Ribolla Gialla and Sauvignon Blanc, which is well balanced, aromatic and elegant, while being easy to drink. We hope that ‘Les Enfants’ will be a great success to support the continuing good work with les enfants.
Our tasting continued with the premium and older wines:
Friulano Collio DOC Riserva del Presidente 2009 - rich floral and fruit nose, subtlety and excellent concentrated palate. We also enjoyed this with food later in Cormòns.
Sauvignon de la Tour Riserva 2010 – from a vineyard replanted in 1987, with two different training systems (arched cane and Guyot), restrained but classy nose, full and concentrated on the palate, salty finish, excellent length.
Sauvignon Collio DOC 2006 – the so-called basic line but now 6 years old. Bold caramel and exotic fruit on the nose, developed and integrated palate, very good length, well worth cellaring.
Sauvignon de la Tour 1992 – the third ever vintage of this wine, now not aromatic but rich and almost oily – brazil nuts come to mind. A rare Sauvignon which was worth keeping for 20 years.
And yes, they do make red wine too: Defí de la Tour 2007 – Cabernet Sauvignon 100% with low yields (750g per plant) which has spent two years in barriques: very rich blackcurrant and leafy notes, oak in a supporting role, still young acidity, fine tannins, palate not yet up to the impact of the nose. ‘Defí’ apparently means challenge and this red is rising to it!
With many thanks to all at the Villa Russiz – we wish you well in the continuing wine business and for all the good work that you do.