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.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Ribolla Gialla (Robola) - Friuli-Venezia, Italy and Cephalonia, Greece
It is thought that Ribolla Gialla (so called to differentiate it from Ribolla Verde, an inferior mutation of the grape) originally came from Greece and arrived in northeastern Italy by way of Slovenia. It's not a coincidence then that the three bottles I was able to find were from Greece, Italy and Slovenia. Today it is most well established in the Friuli-Venezia region of northeastern Italy and the recorded history of the grape really begins at some point after its introduction to this region. In 1289 the grape is mentioned for the first time in a vineyard land contract and in 1402, the city of Udine passed a law making it illegal to adulterate wine made from the Ribolla grape. In the 14th Century, the grape makes its literary debut as Giovanni Boccaccio lists indulgence of Ribolla wines as a sin of gluttony in one of his works, and, several centuries later, Italian writer Antonio Musnig lists Ribolla as the finest wine made in Friuli.
Life was good for the grape up until the 19th Century when phylloxera hit. Like so many regions across Europe, Friuli-Venezia was hit hard by phylloxera and the vineyards were decimated by the louse. And as in so many other regions, after phylloxera was contained, when the locals decided to replant their vineyards, many of them opted to plant grapes other than the ones that had such historical success in the region. Friuli in particular looked to France for their grape varieties and much of the land was replanted to Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris (subsequently Italianized to Pinot Grigio). By the 1990's, fewer than one percent of DOC level wines in Friuli contained any Ribolla at all.
The grape has rebounded somewhat in the past decade or so, though it still is not widely planted. Bastianich and Lynch lump the grape in the "others" section of the "Key Grapes" part of their profile of Friuli in Vino Italiano. In Slovenia, where it is known as Rebula, the grape is limited mostly to the Goriška Brda region of Primorska which is essentially the eastern extension of the Collio region of Italy into Slovenian land. In Greece, where the grape is called Robola, it is grown almost exclusively on the island of Cephalonia off the western coast of the country. Interestingly, most resources on Greek wine don't indicate that their Robola is the same as Italy's Ribolla, though they are almost certainly one and the same.
After doing a little more research on Greek Robola, it turns out that the case may be much less clear than Jancis Robinson & Co. indicate in The Oxford Companion to Wine. In his excellent book The Wines of Greece, Konstantinos Lazarakis mentions that Robola may be a catch-all term for many different white grapes that aren't necessarily related to one another, in much the same way as Vernacchia is used in Italy to represent a host of different grapes in different regions. One genetic study in California found that the Robola they tested was genetically identical to a grape called Thiako. A similar study in Athens found that the Robola they tested was actually the Goustolidi grape, which is completely different from and totally unrelated to the Thiaka grape. Further, there are distinctive amepelographical differences between Ribolla Gialla and the Robola found in Greek vineyards that would indicate that they are two (or three or four) different grapes. Without any definitive DNA testing, it's hard to say at this point, but hopefully future research will clarify the issue.
Wine Bottega for about $20. In the glass, the wine was a pale silvery lemon color with some green tints to it. The nose was fairly open with grapefruit and lemon peel aromas with a whiff of stone fruit lurking the backgroun. On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity. There was a lot of nice lemon-lime fruit with some citrus peel and a clean finish. This wasn't terrifically complicated, but it did what it did very nicely. The light lemony fruit was really carried by the snappy acidity and the minerally backbone. Of the three wines that I tried, this was the hands-down winner and was the only one of the three that I would consider buying again. This strikes me as a seafood kind of wine that wouldn't be too out of place with white-meat chicken dishes as well. It's subtle and acidic enough to also make a very nice aperitif or a wine to just enjoy on a hot day.