Culturally, Italy is a country with a long history of family-owned businesses, large and small. One of the effects of this phenomenon is the sense of history and continuity it creates. This has a particular resonance in Italy which is a relatively new country, politically speaking, and especially in the north-eastern part that was governed by Austria until 1866. In uncertain times the past is remembered and cherished and, when appropriate, it is used to enhance the present.
Vinnie and I were visiting one such small family cantina and as we were driving through the countryside he commented on the signposts that seemed to be in two very similar yet different languages. One was, of course, Italian but the other was something unknown to us, namely Friulian. With around 600,000 speakers it is one of several languages officially supported in this region that has seen so many border changes over the years.
Our destination was Azienda Jacuss, a small estate of 11 hectares where the Iacuzzi brothers produce around 50,000 bottles of wine per annum. Situated northeast of Udine, in the tiny hamlet of Montina, they produce DOC wines known as Friuli Colli Orientali. Originally this was a mixed farm whose products, including wine, were sold locally. In1990 the two brothers, Sandro and Andrea, decided to focus solely on wine production. Today, Marta has joined her father and uncle in the business and she showed us around.
The main part of the cantina is full of the cement vessels used for fermenting both the red and white wines. The white wines are also matured here whereas the red wines find their way to a tiny room off the main area full of oak tonneaux and barriques where they rest. Above this room is an old office and here is a treasure trove of wine-related memorabilia. Hanging from an old beam is a collection of bulbous old glass pipettes, used for taking samples from the barrels in days gone by. Marta explained that they are called ladri, or thieves. On the walls were two shallow glass-fronted cabinets containing a vast collection of old corkscrews that Vinnie immediately decided were long lost relatives. Also on one side, backlit with natural light so that their very real beauty can be appreciated, is a small collection of old wine glasses. Here we are between two historically great areas for the production of the finest glassware, Austria and the island of Murano on the Venetian lagoon.
After admiring these treasures we made our way to the tasting room to sample some of the wines the family produces. It was my intention to sample a red wine made with a rare red grape variety called Tazzelenghe, which roughly translates as tongue cutter – a reference to the high tannin content. However, I was to be disappointed as the annual production is only around 1,200 bottles a year and there were none left. This is a wine that spends two years in oak before being bottled and so I have made a note to return when the next vintage becomes available.
Fortunately, I was able to sample other wines made from local indigenous varieties. Friulano is a variety of white grape; it was previously known as Tocai Friulano but when Tokai became a protected name under EU law the name had to be changed to prevent confusion. Genetically the same as Sauvignon Vert it does, of course, take much from the environment in which it is cultivated. In this case the underlying limestone is called Pietra Piasentina and this lends a certain salinity to the wine. The Jacuss version is 100% Friulano fermented in cement tanks and matured on the lees although there is an additional 5% fermented in wood to provide a little extra flavour. The colour is a pale straw and on the nose the bouquet is a beautiful aroma of pears. On the palate there is the characteristic taste of almonds together with sweetness balanced with slight salinity and a touch of white pepper. Marta recommends this as an aperitivo or otherwise with fresh cheese or prosciutto crudo.
Refosco dal Peduncolo is a grape indigenous to north-east Italy that was in danger of dying out. Luckily, the recent trend away from the ubiquitous international grape varieties led to a resurgence of interest in local ones and Refosco was resurrected by producers around Udine. Refosco is derived from the Latin for dark king and refers to the deep black bunches of grapes that hang from the stalk or peduncolo. Sandro and Andrea’s version from 2018 has a light ruby colour after spending a year in a mixture of tonneau and barrique. On the nose there are cherries and on the palate it is dry with well-balanced acidity and the characteristic tannins associated with this grape. It will pair well with pasta with ragu or roast red meat.
Azienda Jacuss is a fine example of a small artisan winery and I look forward to the opportunity to return to sample the Tazzelenghe.