2018 Schioppettino from Ronchi di Cialla
'A wine of impeccable poise'
2018 Schioppettino di Cialla, Ronchi di Cialla - £175 per 6 bottle case in bond
This grape variety fascinates me, and I have become a regular buyer of it for myself. It seems that it has caught on with a number of you as well – those who have been brave enough to get to grips with a relatively unknown varietal!
Ronchi di Cialla’s Schioppettino is a highly individual style of wine and relative to the small amount of Schioppettino that is cultivated, Ronchi di Cialla’s example is arguably as good as it gets. Schioppettino is a tricky variety to cultivate, it is a big berry with thin skins, therefore low in tannins and colour. It prefers cooler vintages and can struggle in hotter years, but, when conditions are favourable, it can really deliver great quality and a truly unique style.
Vintages can lead to markedly different styles in this part of the world with a sensitive varietal like Schioppettino, so it isn’t a regular offer for us each year. I can confirm that the 2018 is special – it is impeccably balanced; silky, refined, with slightly peppery, juicy dark cherry fruit and all at just 12.5 degrees of alcohol. Intrigued? You should be. This is one of those examples that keeps me buzzing about the near endless list of indigenous varieties in Italy.
About Ronchi di Cialla
Ian d’Agata once commented that ‘Friuli Venezia Giulia’s Schioppettino is one of the world’s most interesting and potentially great red grape varieties.’ High praise indeed for an obscure grape variety, though 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 50 kilometres northeast of Venice. It is still grown here today, 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.
Ronchi di Cialla's first official vintage of Schioppettino was the 1977, after a lengthy period of lobbying to get it recognised. 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. This period of lobbying included founding an awards ceremony to champion the uniqueness of Friuli, in which the Rapuzzis won favour, and Schioppettino was finally authorised. 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 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 levels of Schioppettino are made, and the Schioppettino di Cialla offered here represents their top bottling and most ageworthy wine. Indeed, the Rapuzzis hold back stock to mature it in their own cellars for later release, so the estate has extensive library stock by Italian standards. The fruit for this top bottling sees around 20 to 25 days of skin contact maceration 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 overpower the fruit. It is aged for 14-18 months in barriques before bottling, depending on the vintage, and is then aged for a further 30-36 months in bottle before release – there is a close attention to detail. As mentioned above, 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 demanding nature, and harvest is invariably in the latter half of October.
No critic has reviewed the 2018 yet, so please see my note below.
2018 Schioppettino di Cialla, Ronchi di Cialla
£175 per 6 bottle case in bond
Pale in hue as Schioppettino should be, the nose offers a complex set of aromas capturing dark cherry, spiced raspberry, all with a floral, violet-like overlay. The palate impresses greatly, silky- textured, flowing, juicy. The characters of wild hedgerow fruit, brambly, blackberry and loganberry remain fresh and not all sweet and jammy. There is a lively acidity that carries these gentle waves of fruit as well as an earthy, smoky, mineral quality that leads to a subtle saline finish. Those tell-tale spicy green peppercorn notes come in at the finish adding further complexity, but the overriding impression is of a wine of impeccable poise. Superb. (SL) Drink 2024-2035+.
This wine is so appealing now, and you might think from reading the note or the comments on vinification, that it isn’t destined to age, but I am reliably informed that in good vintages like this, it can age for 10-15 years with ease, but frankly it is so appealing right now, it might prove a test of patience to hold off.
Please let us know of your interest.