As you will have read on the home page of this blog, Vinnie and I are travelling the length and breadth of Italy looking for great wines and interesting places and we were now within 200 metres of the Slovenian border. We had come to the small village of Prepotto, and it is small, really small… the population is 870.
We were up in the eastern hills of Friuli Venezia Giulia and whilst the plains were looking parched under the hot summer sun, here the countryside was lush and verdant. More than that, it had a manicured look about it which made Vinnie mutter darkly about a whole village with OCD. But we were here with a particular purpose in mind which was to track down a local grape called Schioppettino – and this was the place to find it. Just to make sure that you know this, the local commune has very kindly put a notice up to tell passing travellers that this is the home of the Schioppettino. On a more down to earth level, Mattia will tell you wryly that the only reason anyone comes to Prepotto is this grape. That is a shame for these hills, right on the easten edge of Italy, are beautiful and deserving of a wider appreciation.
Mattia’s grandfather was a country boy but to make good he moved to Rome to study and he qualified as a dentist. And, as they say, you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy and, in time, Sergio wanted his own patch of land where he could make wine to enjoy with his closest friends. He started out with just a hectare of land but these were the roots of the winery Grillo Iole that, over the course of more than 40 years, grew to 9 hectares and an annual production of around 40,000 bottles.
Sergio’s daughter, Anna, gave up a career as a biologist in Ferrara to run the winery which she now manages with the help of her son, Mattia. The first thing you will notice on arrival are the fabulous old buildings dating back to the beginning of the 18th century that house the winery; they were originally the country residence of the local aristocracy from Udine. At that time the area was part of the Republic of Venice and later fell under Austrian control before becoming part of the united Italy in 1866.
Anna and Mattia produce a range of wines but we were here to taste the red wines made using the local grapes. The first we tried was Refosco dal Peduncolo. This is made from a grape noted for its red stems – its origins go so far back that nobody is really certain, but possibly to Roman times. Grillo Iole only produces 4,000 bottles a year. It spends two years in tonneau of French oak before being bottled. It is a wine with a long and pleasant finish. The colour is an intense purple and the bouquet is of blackberries and violets with a hint of citrus. On the palate there is good acidity with a taste of wild strawberry; try pairing it with game.
We then sampled the Schioppettino. Like the Refosco, this wine spends two years in 500 litre tonneau before bottling but production is higher, at around 8,000 bottles per year. The colour is an intense ruby with violets, spices, pepper and blackcurrant on the nose. In the mouth there is bitter cherry. It is dry with good acidity and very soft tannins. It should pair well with roasted red meats.
We came a long way to find these wines but the journey was well worthwhile. These local wines made from local grapes have an individuality that really sets them apart from a world dominated by the bland, slightly sweet and ubiquitous international style that frankly brings little but boredom to both the nose and palate.
Before you leave Grillo Iole, take a moment to look at the little church to your right. It is a typically rustic country chapel but look more closely at the lintel above the door and you will see bunches of grapes carved in the stone and hidden within the swirling fruit you will see the letters MDCCVIII, 1708, indicating that wine production has always been important here.More about this vineyard