A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso - Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy

Last fall, I was enrolled in a wine certification program at Boston University and I remember well showing up for class the first day and being handed my study guide in a bright red BU binder.  I'm pathologically early to almost any event that has a timed start, so I had a pretty good amount of time to peruse the binder while waiting for the class to begin.  Right in the front was a practice exam which had as a question something like "Which of the following grapes is native to the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region."  I remember looking at that question and looking over the answers, none of which I had ever heard of before, and having a sinking feeling in my stomach.  I was certainly interested in Italian wines at the time, but my knowledge extended only through Barolo, Chianti, Valpolicella and Prosecco at the time.  Every aspect of the question baffled me and for a few moments, I felt like I was in way over my head. Since then, as you may have noticed if you've looked around the site a bit, I've learned an awful lot about wine in general, but Italian wine in particular.  What I've loved throughout this whole process, though, is that no matter how much you know (or think you know), there are still oceans of information out there waiting for you to explore.  Wine is a massive subject and if you ever feel as though you've exhausted it entirely, well, you're doing it wrong, I think.

To get back to the study question, the answer, as you may have guessed, was Refosco.  I flipped to the section on Italy to see what I could find out about this grape I'd never heard of, but the information there was essentially limited to the fact that Refosco is indeed grown in Friuli.  I'd been in my fair share of wine shops at that point and marveled that I'd never seen a bottle of wine made from that grape and wondered why that might be.  Over time, I realized that several of my usual haunts did actually have wines made from Refosco, but unless you're on a specific mission for something like that, it's very easy to miss, as most shops, if they carry it at all, rarely have more than one bottle on the shelves.  In the course of taking that class and finding out about the wide variety of grapes that are actually out there, the germ of an idea started to sprout and its realization is on these pages (if you're wondering, I ended up passing the class with distinction).

Well, that's certainly enough navel-gazing for now.  There will be much more of that kind of stuff on Fringe Wine's first birthday in September.  For today, though, we're considering Refosco, a red grape with a very long history in northeastern Italy.  There's a theory that Refosco formed the base of the legendary Roman wine, Puccinum, which was the favorite wine of Augustus' wife Livia.  Other scholars, though, believe that Puccinum was actually made from Prosecco, though some of the reasoning seems a little sexist (according to Wikipedia, which is not always the most reliable source, one scholar believes that since Refosco is bitter, Livia, being a woman, could not possibly like and must have liked a sweeter wine made from Prosecco).  Not being a scholar of the era, I'll withhold judgement on the matter.  Whatever the case happens to be, the first explicit written reference to Refosco dates to 1390 when it is mentioned that the wine is given as a gift by Roman Ambassadors.

The grape is thought to be native to the Friuli region, though it is grown to some extent in a few other regions of northern Italy and in Slovenia and Croatia.  For many years, it was thought that Refosco was the same grape as Mondeuse Noire, grown in southeastern France, but recent DNA testing has shown that the two grapes are actually not related at all.  The grape is related to Marzemino, but it's a little unclear to me precisely what the relationship is.  The Oxford Companion to Wine states that there is a parent-offspring relationship between the two grapes without specifying which grape is parent and which offspring.  The Wikipedia page for Refosco says Marzemino is the parent, while the page for Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso states that Marzemino is the offspring.  Both pages cite the same OCW entry to back their claim and I can't seem to find the original article, so in the meantime, I'll just leave the uncertainty hanging and say that they have a parent-offspring relationship but I don't know which is which.

It turns out that Marzemino is the parent to Refosco.  Check out my Marzemino post for more info.

I should take a moment here to note that as is the case for many Italian grape varieties, there is not just one Refosco.  The name Refosco is used to denote a family of grapes which are all very closely related genetically and which share many ampelographical characteristics.  I'll be honest, I'm not totally sure whether the different Refoscos are related by virtue of the fact that they all represent clonal mutations (like the way that the different Pinot Noirs are related) or whether they're distinct grape varieties that are closely related by virtue of having the same kind of parentage (like how all the different Muscats are related).  The terminology gets kind of tricky and people aren't always consistent in the way that they talk about these things.  Sub-variety and clone are both thrown about with equal frequency and some writers claim there's a difference while others use the terms interchangeably. 

Whatever the case is, the general consensus is that of all the different Refoscos, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso is the one that makes the best wine.  The name means "Refosco with the red stem" because, as you may have guessed, the stems for this particular sub-variety or clone or whatever happens to have red stems.  I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2006 Cantarutti Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso from the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC for about $18.  In the glass, the wine had a medium ruby color and was nicely aromatic with blackberry, dark cherry and wild blueberry aromas.  There was a wild, brambly red fruit  quality to the nose as well.  On the palate, the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity and firm tannins.  There were flavors of wild blackberry, wild blueberry and black cherry fruit with an undertone of earthy, bitter baking chocolate.  According to Lynch and Bastianich in their Vino Italiano, styles for Refosco can be all over the place from juicy, grapey Beaujolais-like wines to firmer, more solid examples like this, so buying a Refosco can be a bit of  gamble.  I would guess that it's probably a bigger concern in the area itself, as I would imagine that most of the wines that are imported into the US represent the firmer, more extracted and serious-minded approach to the wine, but I don't have any data to back that up.  I enjoyed this wine quite a bit but the firm tannins and high, almost tart acidity really call out for food.  Think red meats and tomato sauces for something like this.

I was also able to pick up a bottle of the 2010 Bastianich rosato bottling of Refosco which is bottled under the Venezia Giulia IGT.  The wine cost about $15. I'm assuming that since the grape is listed just as "Refosco" that this is made from one or several of the lesser sub-varieties, which makes sense as they'd probably want to use the higher quality Peduncolo Rosso grapes for red table wines.  In the glass, the wine was a medium salmon pink color with a few orange tints to it.  The nose was fairly closed with a bit of strawberry and red cherry fruit, but not much.  On the palate the wine was surprisingly on the fuller side of medium with medium acidity.  It had a very oily mouthfeel and was oddly and disconcertingly viscous in the mouth.  There were nice flavors of fresh watermelon and strawberry fruit with a bit of pink bubblegum and bitter herb on the finish.  The flavors here were all very nice, but the texture was very off-putting for me.  It fared a little better with some food, but I often drink pink wines on their own just to relax and this is a wine that I don't really recommend for that purpose.  It probably has its uses at the table (I believe all wines do), but I'll probably stick other grapes for my pink wine fix in the future.

1 comment:

Mister DJD said...

i have tried a Refosco dpr at an amateur wine show near me home and for me it was absolutely wonderful. Very rare and recent variety/addition to this country. Only one vineyard growns it at this stage. check chalmers nurseries website for more info as they brought this variety into the country (Aust). i believe it was grown harvested in a warmish climate but Friuli is certainly not warm, rather being from the cooler more elevated end of Italy. thanks for yr tasting notes & information. dave dickens Australia