According to Paolo Rodaro, there are only four kinds of wine: red, white, good, or bad. If you taste a wine and think, “Hmmm...might be off.” and you taste again, and maybe a third time, Paolo thinks you are wasting time. You were right the first time, send the wine back. He uses real corks, dismissed screw tops as an abomination, politely listened to the virtues of glass caps and then changed the subject to sex. If you do not look a person in the eye when you clink glasses you will be condemned to seven years of bad sex! And so the conversation meandered during a lovely evening at the Enoteca Wine Club in Umbertide as we ate Antonella’s delicious food and tasted the wines from the Rodaro cantina.
The Rodaro Winery has been producing wine in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy since 1846. Unlike their famous brethren in Tuscany and Piedmonte, the Friulian wines fly a bit under the radar and are an excellent value for the price.
Nearly eighty percent of the wine produced in Friuli is white, the rest are reds and a little desert wine. Although it produces very good international varietals like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, for my money, I find the indigenous grapes like Friulano, Ribolla gialla, Malvasia, Schioppettino or Refosco far more interesting.
Maybe it’s the snobbish thrill of tasting a wine that can only come from the dirt, sun and rain in Friuli, or maybe because I was tasting something new, but we were having fun! Like meeting an intriguing person: will you be my new best friend, or is this just a moment of flirtation? As we were sipping the Refosco, I kept sticking my glass under poor Jeff’s nose and pestering him, “Do you think this would work with grilled steak? Would it be better with lamb?” The unique flavor of the Refosco had my cook’s mind clicking away, wondering what would be the best way to showcase this bold wine.
So why aren’t they planting these luscious grapes everywhere, you might ask. The simple answer is because these vines have a lot of trouble growing anywhere else. Some California vineyards made a gallant try at planting Umbria’s Sagranatino grape, but it hasn’t been successful, mostly due to viruses like leaf roll. Apparently Sagranatino needs to stay in Umbria to be happy.
These smaller varietals take a lot of extra TLC, like the thin skinned Malvasia, or the late to harvest Ribolla gialla. They don’t lend themselves to mass production or consistent flavors like the hardier Sauvignon or Chardonnay grapes.
We started the evening sipping a Ribolla gialla. Gialla means yellow, and this wine is a honeyed golden yellow, light but silky on the tongue; it makes an excellent aperitivo sipping wine, or for lighter antipasto dishes.
For the antipasto course of ‘frico’ (a typical Friuliani dish of melted cheese and potato), Rodaro paired this with a light, fresh Friulano. His white wines are never oaked, so the acidity in the wine played very nicely with the rich frico.
Our fish based ravioli course was paired with a Sauvignon. Others at our table enjoyed the Sauvignon more than the Friulano, but not me. I preferred the lighter touch of the Friulano.
Now it was time to move into the reds. This wine dinner was not for the faint hearted. If you want to discuss wine...you must drink wine!
We started with the Schioppettino, a light bodied wine, very fresh tasting with floral hints. It reminded me of a young pinot noir, but a bit rougher, sexier, more playful.
Then we moved into the Refosco 2007 which is a much more substantial wine, with a more disciplined structure. Tannic but not over bearing, like a strict but good hearted headmaster.
Of course, the conversations were getting louder and a bit sillier, when Paolo got up, grabbed one of his wines off the shelf and opened his Refosco 2006. It was shockingly different...light on the pallet, but full, round, silky. Instead of a headmaster, we had a ballet dancer in our mouth. Paolo was pleased, he had made his point...the beauty of wine is this difference from year to year. Who needs consistency? This is why we all love wine, why he makes the wine he does. It’s a living souvenir of the summer of 2006.
Then came the sweet Picolit, accompanied by tiny morsels of gorgonzola. And finally, when we thought we couldn’t possibly drink anymore...he brought out the refreshingly light, sweet Verduzzo with plates of biscotti for dunking.
Thank you Patrick for being the eternal charming host, thank you Antonella for your delicious cooking, thank you Alex for being such an attentive waiter and thank you, thank you Paolo and Laura for sharing your knowledge and your wines!