Expressive wines from north-east Italy
This scenic region is north of Venice and the Adriatic, tucked between the Dolomite mountains in the north and Slovenia to the east. The region benefits from ideal climatic conditions for vine growing, the Dolomites sheltering the area from the coldest winds and the Adriatic tempering the summer heat.
Wines produced in this region have great aromatic qualities, with subtle, elegant flavours which truly express the terroir. In my opinion, some of the best Pinot Grigio wines in the whole of Italy are produced in the Friuli region, with depth, elegance and varietal character. One of the foremost producers in this region, with an enviable reputation for quality on the home market, is Piera 1899, a family-owned winery based near the town of Padua.
Now run by the third generation, the company initially produced bulk wines for the domestic market, changing to bottling their own wines in 1951. With continued investment and the desire for perfection and pure expression of the grape varieties and terroir of their vineyards, Piera now produces some of the top wines from this region.
The winery produces two different expression of Pinot Grigio. The first is unoaked and fermented at low temperature in stainless steel tanks, producing a bright, fresh, crisp wine which is gently aromatic. The second, called ‘Altro’ or ‘the other’ is what the producer terms ‘true’ Pinot Grigio, giving a deeper coloured almost orange wine, with a nose which expresses the aromas of the vineyard. Grapefruit and pear aromas with aromatic herbs, great length on the palate and a kick of 14% alcohol. Yet the wine still remains fresh, elegant and extremely appealing, either as an aperitif or with a variety of fish or chicken dishes.
Two other highly prized wines from Piera are their Sauvignon Blanc and the local variety Ribolla Gialla. The Sauvignon Blanc is again very aromatic, with firm balancing acidity and excellent varietal typicity. A very elegant and finely tuned wine, more reminiscent of the Loire than New Zealand, but with a character of its own. The Ribolla Gialla has a deep straw colour, aromas of white spring flowers and flavours of white peach, William’s pear and gala apple. Deliciously satisfying.
Piera also produces some highly appealing red wines which combine lightness with medium body and deep, concentrated flavours.
The Pinot Nero is a delight, with raspberry and bramble jelly character, balanced acidity, light but by no means frivolous with depth and length on the palate. A great surprise was the Merlot, deep in colour yet with great elegance, subtlety and sophistication. Very different to St Emilion or Pomerol, with lighter body and tannins, but with supple, mellow flavours and considerable length on the palate. One of the most interesting Merlot wines I have tasted in a while.
Piera wines are not widely distributed in the UK, but can be found through specialist online merchants, with prices ranging from £14 to £20. Well worth seeking out for the pure flavours produced by a caring, passionate, family-run company.