‘Friuli Venezia Giulia’s Schioppettino is one of the world’s most interesting and potentially great red grape varieties’, Ian d’Agata, vinous.com
A client and good friend once asked whether I ever became bored of tasting wines and writing up offers. My answer was simple, no, because there is always something else to find out, to learn, to taste. This neatly brings me to a grape variety I had never before tasted, namely Schioppettino – has there ever been a more Italian-sounding varietal? Italy is fascinating on many levels, but the enormous diversity of indigenous grape varieties, from the sun-drenched toe up to the snow-capped Alps and Dolomites, is unsurpassed. I remember reading a Jancis Robinson article that cited over 1,200 varieties, though not all are being employed in commercial production. Either way, perhaps I can be forgiven for not having chalked up Schioppettino until now!
Schioppettino’s roots stretch back to the 13th century, when it was associated with the communes of Prepotto and Albana to the east of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, some 50km northeast of Venice. Today it is still grown here and over the border it shares with Slovenia, but very little of it remains. By the 1970s, not one estate was making a varietal Schioppettino, until the Rapuzzi family of Ronchi di Cialla took up the challenge after being encouraged by Italian wine journalist Luigi Veronelli. Today, other producers exist, all encouraged by the success that they have witnessed at Ronchi di Cialla.
When the Rapuzzis founded Ronchi di Cialla (ronchi meaning cultivated hillside in Italian and cialla derived from the Slovenian word cela, meaning stream), Schioppettino was not even authorised for cultivation by the Ministry of Agriculture. After a lengthy period of lobbying to get Schioppettino recognised, including founding an awards ceremony to champion the uniqueness of Friuli, in which the Rapuzzis won favour, Schioppettino was finally authorised and Ronchi di Cialla’s first official vintage was the 1977. This is very much the abridged version and if you are interested in reading more, Ian d’Agata wrote a great article on this estate for vinous.com in June 2017 that is hugely informative. I won’t get into to an analysis of Italian Wine Law, but it is remarkable to think that planting and cultivating Schioppettino, an indigenous variety that had been cultivated here since the 13th century, was at any point illegal! When the Rapuzzis planted vines at Cialla they were effectively breaking the law. If you think the struggle with the authorities sounds like a nightmare, consider that Friuli was devastated by an earthquake in 1976, which destroyed the cellar at Ronchi di Cialla forcing the Rapuzzi family to pick themselves up and start over once more…
Today, all of these trials and tribulations are behind them – the estate is well-established and extends over 28 hectares, eight of which are planted with Schioppettino, largely on marl soils. In fact, Ronchi di Cialla is the reference point for the variety and is one of only two estates in Italy that are recognised as DOCs or appellations in their own right – the other being Sassicaia. Two different qualities of Schioppettino are made, with the Schioppettino di Cialla offered here representing their top bottling and most ageworthy wine. Indeed, the Rapuzzis hold back stock to mature it in their own cellars for later release, so this estate has extensive library stock by Italian standards. The fruit for the top bottling sees around 20 to 25 days of maceration (skins in contact with juice) and this is edged back for the entry level offering, labelled Ribolla Nera. Ageing for the ‘Cialla’ cuvee takes place in French oak barriques, with just 10% new oak in order not to overshadow the fruit. It is aged for 14-18 months in barrique before bottling, depending on the vintage, and is then aged for a further 30-36 months in bottle before release – nothing is hurried.
Schioppettino prefers cooler microclimates and can struggle in hot vintages as it has relatively thin skins – Pierpaolo Rapuzzi compares it to a white variety in terms of its demands and harvest is invariably in the latter half of October. The variety captures terrific scented blueberry and cherry fruit – that is what struck me when I tasted the 2015, and as it opens with air, it reveals a juicy, fresh fruit underscored yet not overawed by a fresh vein of acidity. I was really struck by the sleek, satiny texture of the wine – the structural components, tannins and acidity, that we tend to comment on with young wines, are small footnotes with neither making a dramatic stand. I liked the effortless nature of the wine and as I allowed it to open in the glass, I was struck by this spicy, peppercorn note that added a very distinctive complexity to the juicy damson and dark cherry notes. This isn’t a wine that boldly makes an initial statement, it gradually impresses you, but don’t be fooled – there is a depth and intensity of flavour here even at a mere 12.5% of alcohol. It is a very refined style – all about elegance and purity. I think Ian d’Agata says it best; ‘in the right hands Schioppettino is able to weave an uncanny amount of liquid magic’.
2015 Schioppettino, Ronchi di Cialla
£145 per 6 bottle case in bond
£160 per 3 magnum case in bond
93 points, Ian d’Agata, vinous.com
Bright, deep ruby-red. Captivating aromas of boysenberry, blueberry and balsamic reduction. Dense, sweet and savory, with exotic flavors of candied blackberry, wet stones and sandalwood. Sneakily concentrated, complex and enlivened by perfectly integrated acidity, this lovely example of Schioppettino finishes long with a refined mouthfeel but also palate-staining depth. Drink 2018-2029.
NB. We will be making our shipment as soon as we can, but the stock may not be available for delivery until after Christmas.
Please let us know of your interest. You might be able to tell that I was surprised and impressed in equal measure by this beautiful wine.
All the best,