The village of Corno di Rosazzo is in the province of Friuli Venezia Giulia, one of the 20 regions which make up Italy and perhaps one of the least well known to non-Italians. Somewhat separate from the rest of the peninsula, it sits high to the northeast, bordering on both Austria and modern-day Slovenia. Here you will see hints of a very different history, very different architecture, place names which end in consonants rather than vowels, and supermarkets that are bilingual in Italian and German, with the German first!
There is, of course, a reason for this and it goes back to the First World War when Italy was part of the alliance that took on Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The carnage that was the Western Front has been well publicised but little has been written, outside of Italy, of the sacrifices made by so many young Italians. 300,000 young men died on the Italian side alone in the area along the Isonzo River. At the end of it all, with the dissolution of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, a large tract of land was ceded to Italy and that is where Vinnie and I found ourselves, hunting down some less familiar wines.
Friuli Venezia Giulia is not one of the biggest wine producing regions in Italy but it certainly produces some of the most interesting, with three-quarters of its production being white wine. To track down a rare DOCG wine called Rosazzo, Vinnie and I visited Ronco delle Betulle. It is a small family-run winery with an annual production of around 50,000 bottles per year from 12 hectares of vines.
In the same family for three generations, we were shown round the property by Simone who runs the winery with his mother, Ivana. One of the first things that strikes you is the large sundial on the wall above the winery door and above that the words ‘cunctis optima bibendi hora’ which translates as ‘a good hour for everyone to drink’. Vinnie clearly approved the sentiments saying, “Seems like a sensible place to me.” Simone took us out into the vineyards and described the land and its microclimate. It is hot and dry and looking south there are no hills between the winery and the Adriatic which is a mere 30 kilometres away. The predominant wind is the Bora which blows from the northeast and keeps mould at bay so it is good land for vines.
Inside, we settled down to sample three wines. The first was a 2018 Friulano. Friulano, as the name suggests, is a local grape variety grown almost exclusively here and in the Veneto. The colour is lemon and, again, there is lemon citrus on the nose. In the mouth there is pink grapefruit with light acidity and a good finish. I would pair this with asparagus and perhaps a strong fish like swordfish.
The second tasting was another local grape variety Ribolla Gialla, this one from 2019. Again, this is a very local variety. 70% of the Ribolla Gialla grape production is from this region and this is a grape with a lot of history behind it. Giovanni Bocaccio, the famous 14th century writer and author of The Decameron, wrote about the quality of the wine. The harvest, towards the end of September, is late for a white grape. This is a grape which does not produce wines with a strong bouquet and here there is a light perfume of green apple. In the mouth there is quite high acidity with some salinity and hints of raisins. It pairs well with dishes with herbs and vegetables and has a good aging potential.
Finally, we were privileged to taste the Rosazzo, famous wine of this region. This is a blend of 50% Friulano, 25% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Chardonnay. The blending process for this is quite complex. The colour is a rich gold with a bouquet of clementine. On the palate it is full-bodied, well-structured. There is a touch of acidity with clean mineral and floral notes. Simone assures me that it has an aging potential of 20 years which is very unusual for an Italian white wine.
When you leave the winery, turn to the left and drive a few minutes just down the road to the Abbey of Rosazzo. So many Italian churches display the excesses of the Baroque but here the church, which dates back to the 11th century, displays the restrained severity of the Romanesque. The abbey is an oasis of calm in the middle of an already tranquil countryside – it is truly serene – and a visit is a fitting finale to a day spent in this beautiful part of Italy.