A sign that says you are ageing well (like good wines) is when you stop salivating thinking of pizza and start salivating when reading about new wines. We are sure this happens to you as frequent as it happens to us. You start imagining how this wine must smell in your glass and taste in your mouth and you are simply taken away by your thoughts. You drift away thinking of that particular wine.

Recently we have discovered a new world of white wines. Jean Marcos used to be sure we didn’t like white wines (which is not true). We run away from those typical wines around that are high in acidity and they are, let’s say, rough and that’s the style of white wine we don’t like. We like smooth, rounded balanced wines. We love the French and German varietals. And we have discovered a place in this world where you can find white wines you instantly fall in love with. We have found Trebbiano di Lugana, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana, Verduzzo, Friulano and now we cannot think of drinking any other stuff.

We were studying wines for this article produced by I Clivi, a winery located in Corno di Rosazzo (Udine), Italia, and our tasting buds were going crazy. They have three different wines produces with Friulano, the local variety previously known as Tocai Friulano that had to have its name changed because of naming rights disputes with the Hungarian Tokaj grape. I Clivi is run by Ferdinando Zanusso and his son Mario. They produce around 50,000 bottles a year with four white varieties (Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla, Verduzzo and Friulano) and a red wine elaborated with Merlot. The Merlot is their only wine passing through oak as the white wines do all their processes in steel tanks.

Ferdinando bought an estate in Brazzano di Cormons in the mid the mid-90s, a small old vineyard of two hectares named Brazan. Later he added another vineyard named Galea in Corno di Rosazzo that included a ruined house. And so started the history of I Clivi. The Brazan vineyard is Collio DOC, province of Gorizia, with Southwest exposure and Galea is Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC, with Southeast exposure. The soil in both of them is marl and sandstone flysch (ponca) of Eocene origin.

1996 was their first vintage and they produced only two white wines, each one coming from these two vineyards: in the vineyard of the Colli Orientali they blended the Friulano with the other varieties in smaller quantities (particularly the Verduzzo), while in the Collio vineyard Friulano was blended with Malvasia Istriana.

For more than 10 years they have produced only these two white wines: Galea (80% Friulano and 20% Verduzzo) and Brazan (80% Friulano, 20% Malvasia), wines that were field blends, representing the varietal composition of the respective vineyards. Later they began to separate the Friulano from other varieties, which now are single-variety wines.

Nowadays they produce Galea and Brazan, which are now made of 100% Friulano. A third label identification, named Rosaspina, is for wines coming from the varieties that were once assembled with the Friulano: Verduzzo, Malvasia and more recently Ribolla.

In 2008 the vineyards suffered a Mildew attack that left them able to produce only 3,000 bottles of that vintage. It served as a turning point as they began to vinify the grape varieties separately, avoiding excessive extraction and focusing on the recovery of lightness, of weightlessness as a value, not as a sign of poverty for wines.

Shortly after they added the Ribolla Gialla, first experimenting with it in microvinifications for personal use until the day they finally added their own vineyard of Ribolla, a variety they believe will probably be the future for this wine-growing area. The Zanusso produce the Ribolla with no maceration, something that calls for your attention as in the Friuli region many producers are elaborating wines with long periods of skin contact with the must.

Ferdinando and Mario work with the Fiore, the freerun must you get from the first pressing of the grapes, the one coming from their heart. They stop the extraction of the must when the skins and pulp have not yet been thoroughly pressed. The Fiore is the finest part of the must; it drains naturally from the grapes. The skins are then returned to the vineyard as natural compost, closing the circle. The Fiore leads to extremely fine wines.

The vinification process is conducted strictly without contact between the skins and the must (maceration), except for the Merlot they produce. The fermentation is done using only indigenous yeasts. The use of stainless steel tanks and neutral materials like glass allows them to keep the integrity of the grapes from interference and interactions with their container. They aim for simplicity, neutrality, a cellar work reduced to essentials.

As we mentioned, they produce one red wine with Merlot: Clivi Galea Rosso, with ten months in used oak barrels. They have three Friulano wines, one coming from Brazan vineyard, Clivi Brazan, and the second from the Galea vineyard, Clivi Galea. In the 2014 vintage they produced 3,000 bottles of each wine (2,000 for the Merlot). Both Clivi Brazan and Clivi Galea stay in contact with their lees for 18 months. The exposition of the vineyards is the only difference between these two wines, as all the processes are done exactly the same.

Friulano San Pietro comes from the same name vineyard. They produce around 15,000 bottles per vintage of this wine. The period it stays with its lees is 6-10 months. This wine points more to the varietal characteristics of the grape and freshness rather than to the more distinctive soil characteristics and maturity.

The Verduzzo comes from the same area than the previous wine and it also stays with its lees for 6 months. Its production is 4,000 bottles per year.

Malvasia Vigna 80 Anni is a wine produced with the Malvasia Istriana vineyard in Brazzano. They produce 3,000 bottles per vintage of this wine. The period it stays with its lees is 12 months.

Finally they produce two wines with the Ribolla Gialla. The sparkling RBL Brut Nature is a wine that does not follow either the Champenoise or the Charmat Methods. The bubbles are made by retaining in the fermenting must the CO2 produced in the final stages of its fermentation. There is no secondary fermentation and therefore no addition of sugar and yeasts, which also ultimately means no addition of alcohol. They press the Ribolla grapes and place the resulting must in an open vat where it ferments as usual, releasing the CO2 into the air. Towards the end of the fermentation, when the residual sugar is around 25 grams per liter – just what it takes to produce the bubbles at a pressure of 5 or 6 bars – the vat is closed so that the CO2 released by the fermentation of the remaining sugar is retained in the resulting wine to form the bubbles. The wine is then left in the same vat to mature on its lees and subsequently bottled under pressure. 5,000 bottles per year.

Finally, Ribolla Gialla. 15,000 of this fantastic wine. The hand-picked grapes are pressed very gently to extract only the first and cleanest part of the must (mosto fiore), which is immediately pumped in a stainless steel vat. In the morning after the upper part of the must is separated from the bottom (feccia grossa – hard lees) and racked in to another stainless steel tank, where the natural grapes’ own yeasts start the fermentation of the sugars. At the end of this process, the wine stays on its own fermentation deposits (feccia fine – lees), which are kept floating in order to avoid reductive (asphyxia) effects and to gain the stabilization and anti-oxidative benefits that these natural components bring. This is called maturation on lees. The length of this maturation varies from wine to wine; this Ribolla Gialla matures 6 months on its own lees, always remaining in stainless steel vats. After this time, the wine is bottled with a light filtration, meant only to eliminate the cloudiness brought by the floating lees.

Soon we will talk to Mario about their philosophy and their wines.

Photos © I Clivi

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