David 5 February 2015
After the excesses of December and January, it’s not time to be buying expensive wines. So here’s a simple white that’s a great alternative to the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc and easy on the hip pocket.
Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio have become more popular in the past few years. They’re actually the same variety, originating in France where it’s known as Pinot Gris. The vast majority of plantings in France are found in Alsace, a region in the north-east that borders Germany. Here Pinot Gris is used both as a single varietal and in blends to produce mainly dry whites, which are usually rich, round, textured and spicy, with the ability to age. But we can thank Italy, (where the variety is known as Pinot Grigio) for the global recognition. Here you’ll find the world’s largest plantings, with the best examples found right up in the northeast in the regions of Friuli and Alto Adige. The downside of this increase in popularity is large volumes of bland wine, often from co-operatives in Veneto. But… when it’s good, Pinot Grigio produces a lighter-bodied, crisp, fresh white with vibrant stone fruit and floral aromas. Now that’s what you should be drinking.
Here’s an Italian Pinot Grigio that fits the bill perfectly - refreshing citrus and zesty with good acidity. Perfect summer drinking.
Azienda Agicola Fiegl
This family run estate is situated in Oslavia, a town of just 150 inhabitants, in the hills 150km north-east of Venice. With the Slovenian, border only 200m to the east of the Fiegl estate, signs in the town are in both Slovenian and Italian and the local food and culture is hearty ‘mitteleuropean’ rather than classic Italian.
The town is known for two things; wine and the imposing Sacrario di Oslavia, a monumental military shrine built by Mussolini in 1938 to commemorate 57,000 fallen Italian soldiers. Every evening the ‘chiara’ bell still tolls to honour the dead.
This beautiful countryside, home to vineyards for centuries, is clearly suited to growing of vines. The hillside plantings benefit from warm days moderated by cool breezes from the Adriatic and chilly nights, making for a long, cool growing season.
The Fiegl family has been in the wine game here since 1782. Though they were originally grape growers, in the last few generations they’ve moved into wine making. The current generation, Alessio, Giuseppe and Rinaldo have made big investments in both vineyards and the winery to ensure the quality of their wines. They now have about 26ha of vines, most of which are tended manually, using ‘eco-compatible’ methods.
Oslavia is in the wine subregion of Collio, a DOC (recognised appellation) within the region of Friuli and Friuli has a reputation throughout the world for some of the best white wines in Italy. They tend to be fragrant, lively and without much oak influence. Since the 1990s Pinot Grigio has been the dominant variety in Friuli, having overtaken Tocai Friulano.
Despite the long history of winemaking in the area, this fresh signature style is a recent innovation, introduced by winemaker Mario Schiopetto in the late 1960s. Since then winemaking in this region has been technologically advanced. Most cellars, including Fiegl, feature modern equipment such as pneumatic air bag presses, refrigeration, cold fermentation and sterile filtration, all of which are designed to maximise fresh fruit character.
Fiegl produces several wines, including their Villa Dugo range, which I reckon is incredible value. These wines come from another of the estate’s vineyards, 30km south of Oslavia, in the north of Isonzo, (the DOC directly to the south of Collio). Decanter Magazine (Feb 2015) notes, “The best zones for the variety (Pinot Grigio) in Friuli are Collio Orientali, Collio and the northern part of Isonzo.”
The reason I like the Villa Dugo wines is that they offer something a little different to the fruity conformity of most wines at this price. They’re modern and clean, but still interestingly and distinctly Italian.
Fiegl Villa Dugo Pinot Grigio Friuli Isonzo 2013
Crystal clear and pale gold in colour, this wine has everything you’re looking for in a simple summer quaffer. Dry, clean and fresh, with lemon and floral flavours, as it opens up you’ll find it gains a little weight, viscosity and some delicious honeysuckle notes. The Italian style manifests as a minerally, Chablis-like, Hunter Semillon character. I find this wine very versatile - easy to enjoy on its own or with many different foods.
It was fermented in stainless steel and then kept on lees (dead yeast cells) until bottling, which gives it that extra flavour and texture. A significant improvement is the use of screw caps, just for the Australian market - something I wish more European producers would do,as it does away with the dreaded cork taint.
I like that the wine is 12.5% alcohol, these days that’s considered low but it sure makes it easier to enjoy a few glasses. You really can tell the difference, especially as 14%-15% seems the norm these days.
Although not in wide circulation, it’s been on pour for several months at the very groovy Monopole in Potts Point (National Wine List of the Year - 2014 Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide) which is a big endorsement. You’ll find it there for $56 a bottle.
I can offer it for $19 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability