It’s the first weekend of the month, and that means it’s time to explore Italian wine with the Italian Food Wine & Travel group. In August we’re switching things up a little, turning our focus to native Italian grapes grown in other places. Both California and Oregon produce wines from grapes typically associated with the hallowed grounds of Tuscany and Piemonte, and Australia is no slouch in that department either.
If you’re curious about these wines (I know I am!) and would like to know more, please join us on Twitter this Saturday, August 4 at 11 am ET. Each of the participating bloggers will share what they’ve learned, tasted, and experienced while researching Italian grapes grown all over the world. To participate in the conversation, follow #ItalianFWT and make sure to add the hashtag to any of your tweets so we can welcome you!
Here’s a preview of what we’ll be talking about on Saturday:
Camilla of The Culinary Adventures of Camilla features “Italian Grapes
in Paso Robles: Aglianico, Malvasia Bianca and Some Pairings“
Jeff from Food Wine Click shares “Eating Pizza / NotPizza with Italian / NotItalian Wines”
Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares “This Italian Wine Grape Fooled You”
Susannah from Avvinare shares “Noteworthy New York State Wines Made with Italian Grapes“
Jen from Vino Travels will be sharing “Italian Grapes in Lodi with Harney Lane’s Primitivo“
Gwendolyn from the Wine Predator features “An Italian in AUS? Meet a 2006 Montepulciano from Tscharke“
And here at The Swirling Dervish we’re featuring “Ryme Cellars Ribolla Gialla: A Taste of Friuli in Napa Valley”.
Ribolla Gialla, Where to Begin?
This white grape is native to northeastern Italy, specifically the region of Friuli Venezia-Giulia. It is a vigorous variety and, when allowed to grow unchecked, produces average wines without complexity. However, when grown on the well-drained slopes of DOC Collio or DOC Colli Orientali del Friuli, Ribolla Gialla comes into its own, producing tangy, refreshing wines with a citrus and mineral character. It was a favorite of the Venetian nobility back in the 13th century, and was much-favored by the dukes of the Hapsburg empire.
Its naturally high acidity has led some farmers to experiment with sparkling wine production, while others have led the charge to treat Ribolla Gialla as a red grape: macerating it on its skins for an extended period, perhaps in clay amphorae, as was done centuries ago. And other winemakers have subjected the rather delicate wines to barrel fermentation and aging.
Where you stand on the “true” character of Ribolla Gialla probably depends on which styles of wine you prefer and how experimental your palate is. My experience with the grape has been limited: I’ve had traditional dry wines exposed to no oak treatment and found them wonderful partners with grilled fish and vegetable dishes. So far I’ve tasted only one skin-fermented version (aka an “orange” wine) and it’s the one I’ve written about today.
Ryme Cellars: A Wine Love Story
Ryan and Megan Glaab met while working at Torbreck Winery in Australia, bonding over their love for wines that expressed true character and individuality. They fell in love, got married, and continued exploring wine grapes and vinification. By 2007 they had married and endeavored to start Ryme Cellars (the name is a combo of each of their first names.)
In what seemed at the time like a wild leap of faith, Ryan and Megan bought one ton of Aglianico grapes and crafted their first vintage. Since then, they’ve expanded their offerings to include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Vermentino. That last wine presented quite a challenge to the Glaabs!
Note to anyone who has worked alongside his/her spouse: Ryan and Megan had different ideas about how to make the most of their Vermentino. Very different approaches that were fundamentally at odds with each other. In Ryan’s words, here’s what happened:
Megan and I make a great pair. Our tastes in wine rarely diverge. We agree 99% of the time. This Vermentino represents a fundamental disagreement of the most endearing qualities this grape has to offer. Inspired by some of our favorite producers in Italy like Dettori and Massa Vecchia, and being an orange wine fanatic in general, I knew we had to make Vermentino as a compliment to the Ribolla Gialla when I came across the Las Brisas Vineyard in Carneros. Megan thought it was a superb idea, but had her sights fixed on the bright, clean, aromatic examples from places like the Ligurian coast or Gallura in Sardegna. The only compromise was to have separate projects, “His” and “Hers”. “Hers” with a green label harvested for freshness and energy. It is whole cluster pressed and bottled early. “His”, orange label, is fermented on the skins, and requires more time in barrel. This aromatic late-ripening variety comes from the cool foggy Las Brisas Vineyard on the Sonoma side of Carneros AVA. Situated on sandy silt and gravel at the end of the Petaluma Wind Gap and just off San Pablo Bay, it is a beautiful site for white wines.
I think their solution was genius! Instead of one wine finessed into representing two different visions, we’ve got two brilliant versions to taste, compare, contrast, and enjoy.
Valuing a Wine’s Idiosyncrasies
On a trip to Friuli Venezia-Giulia, the Glaabs were enchanted by the Ribolla Gialla wines made by Sasha Radikon, a white wine-making pioneer from Gorizia, a small town situated in the Alpine foothills on Italy’s border with Slovenia. Determined to make similar wine in California, they searched for a source of grapes. Turns out there was only one: George Vare, who farmed just 2.5 acres of Ribolla Gialla at the base of Mount Veeder in Napa Valley. Just as they did with their first vintage of Aglianico, the Glaabs kick-started their Ribolla Gialla efforts with a single ton of grapes from Vare. (The Vare Vineyard was sold after George’s death; it is now known as the Bengier Vineyard, after the new owners.)
Grapes for the current release, the 2015 Ryme Cellars Ribolla Gialla, were destemmed and fermented on the skins, for the first time in amphorae, with a maceration that lasted six months. The wine was then pressed to barrel and aged for an additional 18 months. It was aged in bottle a year before release.
Having tasted the 2015 Ribolla Gialla several weeks ago, I appreciate Megan’s words as she summed up the couple’s winemaking philosophy:
We love wines with distinctive character. They should taste great on their own, but really shine alongside good food. We love wines with ample tannin and acidity, especially if they are expected to age. We always value a great wine’s idiosyncrasies over a polished supple sameness that is so common in the wine world.
I couldn’t agree more.
Dovetailing with their focus on varietal character and integrity is their commitment to conscientiously farmed organic or sustainable vineyards. No cultured yeasts or enzymes are used, and temperature control is left to Mother Nature. The wines are not fined or filtered.
Tasting Notes 2015 Ryme Cellars Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla ($42 from the winery)
Color: Deep gold; the color of a ripe Bartlett pear or summer peach.
Nose: Medium-intensity aromas of candied citrus peel, bruised ripe apple, and baked pears with a hint of slate. Really intriguing!
Palate: Not as much ripe fruit as on the nose, more of a citrus and almond profile, especially on the long finish. Complementing the fruit is a faintly yeasty quality. There’s also a little bite of tannin that is perfectly balanced by the almost-sweet citrus. Acidity is moderate, as is the body.
Food pairing: A really nice match with a simple veal stew with potatoes and carrots. I think it would be amazing with a roast pork dish, one that includes apples, fennel, and cabbage. Maybe in a few months, when the weather turns chilly!
Verdict: The Glaabs are onto something with this skin-fermented Ribolla Gialla. My curiosity has been piqued and I look forward to trying it again. Unfortunately that won’t be until the next vintage, as this wine is completely sold out.
If you’re interested in reading my take on the Ryme Cellars Aglianico, click here to see how it stacked up against a version from Campania, Italy.
Native Wine Grapes of Italy by Ian D’Agata.