Hawk Wakawaka Wine Review: The Pinnacle and Depth of Joy: i Clivi Wines, and Meeting the Zanusso Men
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Ferdinando Zanusso grew up around wine—his father was an amateur winemaker who owned a tavern in Treviso—but it wasn’t until he’d moved to West Africa, occasioning him to travel often through (and dine in) Paris, that he actually learned to like the stuff. But once he’d been bitten by the bug, he was all in, purchasing a vineyard in Friuli in 1996, and returning to his home region to make wine.
His son Mario had a similar come-to-Jesus moment when he returned from Milan after studying economics. He found that working his father's land had a very powerful "grounding" effect that he loved. The two then became a pair, working the vines and honing in on what exactly i Clivi would become. Today, Mario is at the helm of i Clivi and producing exquisitely charismatic wines that capture the sunny slopes in northeastern Italy.
Each step Mario takes is to make a wine that honors the region. He owns two southern-facing vineyards totaling 12 hectares with 60-80 year-old vines, all dry farmed and certified organic. Only native varieties are planted: Ribolla, Friulano, Verduzzo, and Malvasia. There is a touch of Merlot, which has been in Friuli 100+ years.
i Clivi's two vineyards are only a few kilometers away from each other but fall into two different denomination of origin DOC and also in two separate provinces: one in the Collio DOC, province of Gorizia, and one in the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC, province of Udine. These two vineyards are named by their toponyms, respectively Brazan and Galea. Rooted on two pieces of land whose geological composition shows almost imperceptible differences, the different microclimates, mainly due to the winds coming from the sea hitting Mount Quarin in Brazzano Cormons and descending from the Julian Prealps lapping the hills of Gramogliano in Corno di Rosazzo, is the determining factor in the differences of personality perceivable in the wines.
Mario uses every good measure to not over intervene or manipulate anything, but to make clean, transparent and well-crafted wines. The yields are kept low and harvested by hand. He uses only the first pressing of the grapes. The fermentation is allowed to happen spontaneously. None of the whites are macerated with the skins (these are clean Fruili wines). The wine is raised in steel tank with extended time on the fine lees. The sum of all these parts is wine of delicacy and depth. Are the two things mutually exclusive? A resounding and delicious no! As Mario puts it: "Some would say that our wines are made by subtraction, and perhaps yes, we like to give a more light and crisp character to what we produce … 'Less is more.'"
"I Clivi tends to twelve hectares of mostly native varieties (Merlot being the only exception) within the Colli Orientali and Collio regions of Friuli. While spanning two separate growing zones, these old vines (between 60 to 90 years old) lay only a few kilometers from each other, with similar exposures and both locations averaging around 150 meters above sea level. The soils are also similar, a marl and sandstone mix of marine origin; and yet due to the small intricate differences found throughout, as well as the push and pull of cold winds from the north and warming currents from the sea, the expressions are quite different. However, proprietor Mario Zanusso, who looks to communicate each of these unique locations separately and to their fullest, wouldn’t want it any other way. His style is achieved through a purely natural, certified organic, yet truly hands-off approach in the vineyards, as well as a gentle and transparent vinification in the cellars. Only free-run juice is used in the production of the white wines, which undergo spontaneous fermentation prior to being refined in stainless steel, sur lie for anywhere between six to eighteen months, depending on the vintage. In the end, these are some of the purest expressions of varietal that I’ve encountered from the region, yet the truth is that it can take some time for the wines of I Clivi to really show the rocky, mineral-intense character that really makes them shine. This can be witnessed through my recent tasting of the 2015 Friulano Galea, a wine that is just coming into its own."
"Located in the western tip of Colli Orientali (province of Udine), the estate also farms vineyards in Collio (province of Gorizia). The property is characterized by a wealth of old vines, even up to ninety years of age. Owners Ferdinando and Mario Zanusso produce about 50,000 bottles a year from their 12 hectares of what are some of FVG’s purest, most age-worthy and mineral wines. Production here is made from mostly native wine grapes (Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, and Verduzzo Friulano), the only international variety farmed is Merlot, which is considered traditional to the region. As good as the Malvasia and Friulano cru wines are (and they are truly exceptional, ranking with Italy’s best white wines), don’t miss out on the also outstanding Verduzzo, for my money the best classically dry Verduzzo made in Italy."