For a corkscrew Vinnie gets quite passionate about statistics, particularly when it comes to wine. So I explained to him that a hectare is equivalent to a square with sides 100 metres long and that there are 100 of them in a square kilometre. So 37 hectares is a little over a third of a square kilometre and that is a pretty small area. The Baths of Caracalla in Rome cover 25 hectares so it is roughly one and a half times that. I was explaining this because 37 hectares is the size of the area of vineyards in the tiny DOCG area called Ramandolo in north-east Italy. Obviously, total production is small – around a total of 10,000 cases of wine a year – and so Vinnie and I were off to find out what is so special about this wine.
The vineyards sit at the base of Monte Bernadia, a mountain that rises up to 850 metres above sea level and provides a unique microclimate. North of here you will find only mountains, for we are at the northern edge of the Friulian plain. This is where balmy winds blowing in from warm southern climes, laden with moist memories of the Mediterranean, meet the cold harsh reality of the Alps and the result is rain – lots of it. Not only rain but also breezes that result from the warm wind being reflected back from the mountain and its alpine jacket of cold air. Finally if you add into the mix the limestone rich glacial moraine that the locals call ponca then it is easy to understand that something special is possible here.
That special something is a dessert wine made from the local Verduzzo grape and to understand more we visited the Dario Coos winery where we were shown round by Matteo. The winery was founded in 1986 and is today run by a group of young, passionate enthusiasts who are also shareholders in the company. From 14 hectares of vines they produce a range of wines totalling around 80,000 bottles annually. Leaving the modern cantina behind we drove up the side of the mountain to an old building, around 200 years old, that is being converted into a tasting room together with guest rooms – and very stylish it is too. From there it was possible to look south over the entire area where Ramandolo is produced; north of here it is too mountainous to cultivate vines.
Returning to the cantina we settled down to try this very local delicacy. But first, before that, in 2019, the company rented a vineyard planted with Riesling vines and as this is not a variety that I immediately associate with Italy I was keen to give it a try. The colour was pale straw with a gentle bouquet of green apples. In the mouth the acidity was high with a pleasant salinity that would make it a good accompaniment to spaghetti alle vongole.
Dario Coos makes two versions of the Ramandolo dessert wine and the first I tried is called Longhino, named after the vineyard where the grapes are grown. After the harvest in October the grapes are dried by the wind without any botrytis being allowed to develop. After pressing, fermentation and maturing are both done in steel tanks. The colour is a delicate light but at the same time intense gold with a bouquet of mandarins and honey. On the palate it is honey sweet but with a background acidity and it is slightly drier than I would expect from a dessert wine. This makes an extremely pleasant combination and reflects the Italian tradition of never making their pasticceria too sweet. To an English eye, when you look in an Italian cake shop the first thing that you think is that the beautiful goods on display must be horrendously sweet but when you bite into them it is just not the case.
The second Ramandolo is a late harvest wine where the grapes are allowed to dry on the vine and there they develop the botrytis organism that helps to dry them while at the same time reducing acidity and concentrating sugars. The noble rot favours a damp climate and the weather here is ideal. After fermentation in steel the wine is then matured in oak barriques. This has a rich gold colour with a stronger bouquet of oranges, vanilla, and white pepper. It is sweeter with low acidity but it still has a certain sharpness.
Before we left Matteo insisted that we try the other dessert wine produced by the company and this is made with a different grape, Picolit, and is again a DOCG wine but the geographic area where this is produced is larger. Picolit is a variety with low yields and whilst it was very popular in the 18th century in the royal courts of Europe, its history since then has been one of survival rather than flourishing; however, it still has a cult following. The version that Dario Coos produces is made with air-dried grapes that are matured in oak barriques. The colour is a light gold with a bouquet of white flowers like meadowsweet. In the mouth it is rich and sweet without being cloying. A beautifully balanced wine, Matteo suggests pairing it with desserts, or tangy blue cheese or even with oysters – or just enjoy it by itself for the sheer indulgent pleasure.
Dario Coos produces a range of red and white wines but for me the stars of this particular show have to be their dessert wines. If you haven’t tried these wines before, they really do add something special to a pastry or cake enjoyed while relaxing in the shade on a hot Italian afternoon. Why not indulge?