Places on the edge, places in transition, places of change. These are where the potential lies for interesting things to happen, but not necessarily what you may anticipate. By their very nature, these are places where the unexpected is to be expected. Geographically, such a place is Nimis where the flat alluvial plains that run north from the Adriatic collide with the foothills of the Alps. The Alps are the tiara that topographically crowns Italy, an arc of snowy diamond shimmering like jewels in the stuttering spring sunshine.
As always, my poetic musings were brusquely interrupted by my faithful – and more prosaic – corkscrew, Vinnie, who enquired where we were going and why. Our destination was a small area around Nimis where they produce a DOCG dessert wine called Ramandolo and to understand more of this unusual and rare pleasure we headed for a small winery, Agricola Gori.
The approach to the estate is through rusty gates. I know this will evoke in many of you visions of a decrepit piece of homemade ironwork clinging with arthritic hinges to a gatepost, standing at an out-of-true angle like an old servant of the estate bowed by many years of hard toil. But the reality is so very, very different. The gates are modern accurately machined sheet steel that have been intentionally allowed to rust and this is a theme that continues throughout the winery. For this is all of recent construction and the use of the deliberately degraded steel juxtaposes unashamed modernity with the agricultural traditions of the area in a satisfying blend that sits easily in the landscape. A very thoughtful piece of design indeed with stunning views over the surrounding countryside…
We were greeted by Celeste who told us something of the history of this relatively new winery. The business is owned by her father, Gianpiero Gori, who was a successful businessman, but he had an itch that he wanted to scratch and the result is now there for all to see, or rather not see. For this winery has been built into a hill to minimise its environmental impact. Constructed on three levels between 2009 and 2014, not only does it have solar panels to provide power but also geothermal heating, using pipes that delve 80 metres underground into the very foundations of the countryside. But again, in the midst of all this innovative technology, emerges an idea both new and old at the same time. By using the three levels, they are able to minimise the use of pumps. The grapes enter at the top level where they are pressed and then the must flows through gravity to the middle level for fermentation before flowing again to the bottom level where the wine matures. I have seen something similar on the slopes of Etna in Sicily in the ancient palmenti built into the slopes of the volcano.
This really is a fascinating place but ultimately it has to be about the wine. For what is the point of all the artistic input, environmental care and enological innovation if the end product disappoints? With a small production of around 50.000 bottles per year, organically certified, I am pleased to report that the wine is just fine, thank you. I sampled two wines made with the very local white grape variety, Verduzzo. The first has a rich, bright gold colour that is achieved by leaving the must on the skins for just a few short hours. The bouquet is full with oranges and a hint of lemon and in the mouth it is full and slightly sweet. Celeste suggests pairing it with Gorgonzola or foie gras.
The second was the DOCG Ramandolo. This is a passito wine, a process which requires the grapes to be allowed to dry before pressing. In this case the harvest is late, in November, and the grapes are then left on shelves for two months to dry with plenty of ventilation to prevent the development of Botrytis. After pressing, the wine is fermented and matured for around 12 months in barriques of French oak. The results are profoundly pleasing. The colour is a deep burnt gold and on the nose there are raisins and apricots with a honey sweetness skillfully balanced with a hint of sharpness. On the palate it is rich and full with a touch of acidity that tingles around the tongue.
For the record, it must be said that Agricola Gori produces a range of red and white wines but for me these two, using the Verduzzo grape, represent the best of Nimis and its particular topography. We didn’t try their other wines but if they’re as good as the Ramandolo then they will be very fine indeed.
Leaving the winery, if you turn to the right, pause after a 100 metres or so and look at the top of the hill. There you will see Gianpiero’s house, built above his winery, looking out over the small patch of countryside where the wines are permitted to be called Ramandolo. If you look carefully you can admire not only the huge panoramic windows, the very modern architecture, but also his trademark rusted steel.