We visited Alessio and Cristina Dorigo one week after they had moved operations to a new base near Povoletto, his father having retired and sold the old winery at Buttrio. It is only 15 minutes away but it felt like a very new start. As there were as yet no chairs in the the new tasting room the only two spare office chairs were pressed into service so that we could sit down – but the welcome could not have been warmer. This area is the Collio Orientali del Friuli ( = COF), just north of, and in many ways a continuation of, the Collio DOC. But I particularly wanted to come here as they have a reputation for red wines as well as whites, including those from local varieties. In fact they have a comprehensive selection of wines, many of which we tasted in a very generous tasting.
This visit was during Easter 2012 and our main theme of a NE Italy tour had been on sparkling wines: Franciacorta, Trentino, Prosecco Superiore. So it was a bonus to find that Dorigo is a committed spumantista in the bottle fermented camp. Two wines are made. Dorigo Brut NV which was among the first of the commercialised sparkling wines in Friuli, a classic 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Dorigo Blanc de Noir Dosage Zero (disgorged June 2011) which is a much more serious wine, 100% Pinot Noir and no dosage. The Brut is fermented in old barriques and given 24 months in its bottles: it is rounded and inviting, fragrant with fresh fruit, a classical aperitif or wine for range of lighter dishes. The latter gets a full 60 months in its bottles and opened with fine nutty notes, blossom and fruit. On the palate it is seriously structured, fruit and chestnut notes, a good core of fruit but complex and demanding.
We then proceeded to a series of whites, Ribolla Gialla, Traminer and three examples of Sauvignon.
The Ribolla Gialla is of course a native in these parts and makes fragrant, light and delicate wines with relatively low alocohol. Ribolla Gialla COF 2010 has floral notes and green fruit. By contrast Traminer COF 2010 is typically fragrant on the nose, if with some restraint, and a beautifully fresh palate, withe rose water or rose petal theme continuing, along with a wine of some structure but not overly oily like some Gewurz. The Sauvignon COF examples were from 2011 and 2010 alongside single vineyard Vigneto Ronc’ di Juri 2009, from a tiny production of 2,000 bottles. The 2011 is what you would expect of a quality young Sauvignon, aromatic and expressive, not overly ‘green’. 2010, which was a cooler year, has not moved on from vivid infancy to more elegant, mineral notes, alongside the herbaceous. The 2009 cru is a different wine altogether, having been fermented and aged in barriques and is intended for ageing. Toffee and vanilla notes, good neutral fruit, very good length and good acidity make up a fine wine.
During the tasting we discuss the wine scene in Friuli. The first half of the century saw one disaster after another, whether oenological (phylloxera) or even more seriously two world wars – Friuli had been at the centre of the old Austrian empire which was passing away and was caught in the thick of the action. After the war the first priority was quantity and so there was a lot of planting on the plain. It was only in the 1970s with a tiny group of pioneers – which included Girolamo Dorigo – that the new path to quality and contemporary, fresh and expressive wines was set. Alessio’s own philosophy is absolutely clear: he will only bottle wines that he himself wants to drink.
As you can see from the labels, Dorigo do produce a great range of red wines from local varieties – Schioppettino, Refosco at two quality levels, Tazzelenghe and Pignolo. Of course they are not precious about it and also have a very rich and fresh Cabernet Franc 2010. Their top wine has been a Cabernet Sauvignon/ Franc and Merlot blend named Montsclapade, from an ancient Friulian name – Alessio did say right at the beginning that his father was a Bordeaux lover, while he confesses his own love for Burgundy. But I always want to taste the local varieties and see what they can do.
Schiopettino, the grape variety, is like Ribolla Gialla but red; apparently it is physically the same with long bunches and large grapes, good acidity and can lack structure. Here, Schiopettino COF 2010, which has spent six months in old oak, is a pleasant red wine with cherry, plum and black pepper notes, moderate tannins (some of the other grape varieties can make up for that!) and good acidity. (Bressan’s version which we tried elsewhere struck me as a combination of dried and fresh fruit.) The Refosco dal peduncolo rosso (dpr) comes in two very different styles. Refosco COF 2010 is the normale, has farmyard and berry aromas, medium light in the mouth, fresh and racy. By contrast, Refosco dpr COF 2007, with the helpful barrel outline around the year on the label, has spent three years in barriques of the classic one-third new, one-third second year, one-third third year formula. Deep ruby red still despite its five years of age, it had excellent dark mulberry fruit, medium plus tannins and great depth of flavour on the palate.
The second pair are what we might politely call impegnativi, demanding wines. Just 1,000 bottle of Tazzelenghe and only 600 of Pignolo tells its own story but these are wines for those, like me, who love the local and the distinctive. Tazzelenghe had almost dissappeard before it was treasured here as it is not easy to grow and has high acidity and tannins. The word means ‘tongue-cutter’! A naturally low alcohol wine, here Tazzelenghe 2007 is tamed by 30 months in mixed barriques which results in a wine of some elegance, some red and black fruit and the aforementioned acidity and tannin. There is lots of game in Friuli and this would be a good companion for it. However, it is quite shy and retiring by contrast with the Pignolo variety which has very small bunches like Pinot Grigio but being a black grape, lots of tannins and colour in the skins. Pignolo di Buttrio COF 2007 has done time, 30 months, in 100% new barriques – but you don’t notice the oak due to the depth of the fruit and the acidity and tannins. Powerful with developing complexity. Best drunk after a further 5-10 years but a very impressive and winner of a ‘tre bicchieri’ award for 2002 and 2003 vintages.
And there are sweet wines too of which we tasted one, made from the Verduzzo grape variety (also known as Ramandolo which has a DOCG attached to it). Verduzzo COF 2009 was dried on the plant for a couple of weeks and a part of it off the plant too. It has quite neutral nose but then is sweet and delicious on the palate with good balancing acidity.
The Dorigo family has been a pioneer in modern Friulian viticulture and I have no doubt that the next generation will now take it forward from their new estate – ten hectares of vines in Buttrio and ten in Povoletto. The company has shown the potential for good to excellent red wines in a region mostly known for its whites. With its very good whites, excellent sparkling wines and sweet wines too, it has a great base to build on in the future. We wish you well.
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