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There are over 10,000 single grape varieties in the world and Italy is home to a whopping 2,000 of those. Safe to say we are spoilt for choice when it comes to Italian wine, but this vast variety can also be a little daunting when it comes to making a selection. So, we are here to guide you through the abyss! Our team have been promoting and working with native Italian grapes for many years now. Each variety with its own idiosyncrasies and delicious qualities!
We want to introduce you to some of our favourite native Italian grapes, to help you explore the obscure and the lesser known, which we are proud to represent through Sociovino. First up – Ribolla Gialla, one of the grapes featured in our Autumn Case of the Seasonal Subscription!
Rebula, Rebolla, Rabola, Rabiola, Ribolla Bianca, Ribuèle
Once nearly on the brink of extinction, Ribolla Gialla is an ancient white grape variety from Friuli Venezia-Giulia in the North-East of Italy, and the bordering regions of Slovenia. It happens to be one of our favourites, with its delicate floral tone, zingy acidity, fresh and mineral palate. Offering unbeatable value in its youth and unquestionable aging capability, Dora is here to talk to us about this delicious Friulian gem.
Ribolla Gialla in English translates to “boils yellow”. It doesn’t sound particularly appealing does it! But here’s why:
Before the days of temperature-controlled tanks and due to the massive amounts of malic acid which forms naturally within the grape, the wines used to appear as if they were boiling during fermentation, “Ribolla” means “boils”. And "Gialla” means “yellow”, which relates to the distinctly bright yellow, almost golden colour of the grape.
Originating from Friuli Venezia-Giulia, where it is most widely planted, Ribolla Gialla is also grown in certain regions of Slovenia, where is it called Rebula. Most prevalently planted in Friuli’s Colli Orientali and Collio DOC’s and Slovenia’s Brda Valley, which is no surprise as these sub-regions sit across from each other on the border, and up until the 1940’s were actually one single region. Rarely is it found elsewhere, in any substantial quantity that is, but there are small plantings said to be on the Greek island of Kefalonia, and in Croatia.
What makes it so unique to these areas is that it is particularly fussy and very select in its needs. Colli/Collio and Brda all translate as meaning “hills”, and this is where Ribolla Gialla thrives. It needs well-drained soils, that are high in minerals, it requires stress and extensive pruning. The soils here are very unique, in Friuli they call them Ponca, and in Slovenia they call them Opoka, a mineral-rich composition of layered sandstone, marl, and fossilized seashells, which have formed over millions of years, giving the wines their signature minerality. The climate too is particularly well suited to this slow ripening variety, with the cool Alpine air, and warm Mediterranean sun providing the diurnal range it needs to reach optimal ripening.
There are many historical mentions of “Vino Ribolla” in all its forms throughout history. From as early as the 13th century, it is documented to have been used as part of treaties, gifts, declarations of dedication. Often found on the tables of Italy’s aristocracy, and even declared as a sign of gluttony by the great Italian poet Boccaccio! Ribolla Gialla was the flagship wine and pride of Friuli, considered one of Italy’s most reputable and sought-after drops. Up until the 19th century that is, when Ribolla Gialla fell victim to Phylloxera (a tiny root attacking louse which in the mid to late 1800’s came close to destroying almost all the worlds' vineyards!) and the rising popularity of commercial international varieties such as your Sauvignon Blanc’s and your Chardonnay’s. Only recently has Ribolla Gialla seen a revival in plantings, thanks to a select number of producers who embrace its unique qualities and have brought it back from near extinction.
Ribolla Gialla wines are characteristically floral, high in acidity, mineral, often with these aromatic herbal tones and lovely stone and citrus fruit flavours. Never too high in alcohol and light in body, so it makes for a delicious easy-drinking wine in its youth. But Ribolla Gialla has also shown itself to respond really well to age, developing a deep yellow colour, an almost a golden glow, rich and concentrated yellow fruit, and a distinct nutty character. Tom, Clem, and I celebrated Sociovino’s launch with a bottle of Cialla Bianco 2000, a predominantly Ribolla Gialla based blend from Ronchi di Cialla. Wow! It was absolutely stunning. If you can get your hands on one with a little age or you have the patience to lay a bottle down in the cellar for a few years then I highly recommend you do.
In the heart of the Colli Orientali DOC, lies a small village called Cialla. Here, the Rapuzzi family of Ronchi di Cialla have dedicated their life's work to the revival of Friuli’s native grape varieties. Hands down one of the most picturesque areas of Italy; rolling hillside vineyards, surrounded by forests of chestnut, oak, and wild cherry trees. Preservation, restoration and nurture is their goal and philosophy. Working super sustainably, with minimal intervention, to make wines which express this terroir and showcase serious character. Ribolla Gialla is just one of the native grapes that Ronchi di Cialla have helped bring back from near extinction, and in doing so, they have single-handedly put the village of Cialla on the map. They have become a reference point producer of Ribolla Gialla, true masters of this magical grape. We have worked with them for many years and are huge fans of their wines. But we are not the only ones; Italian wine expert Ian D’Agata, who wrote THE book on Native Wine Grapes of Italy, featured Ronchi di Cialla’s Ribolla Gialla in his Best in Italian Wines of 2020:
"There are fewer more talented people making wine in Italy than the Rapuzzi clan, and this lovely Ribolla Gialla, that costs next to nothing given the quality it offers in every glass, is an outstanding example of what the family can do even with entry-level wines. Fresh, zingy, saline, lip-smacking aromas and flavours of lemons and green apple and pear with a hint of white pepper to liven things up make this for one irresistible drink. Well done!" Ian D'Agata, Terroir Sense (January 2021)
Ribolla Gialla is a great food wine. Layers of flavour and high acidity means you can go for dishes that really pack a punch. The saline minerality and punchy acidity match super well with salty foods, so antipasti dishes like salty Prosciutto ham, capers, olives, salted nuts, and hard cheeses, make for a great pairing to start. In terms of main dishes, Ribolla Gialla pairs deliciously with seafood, fish and chicken-based dishes. With sauces and seasonings that can stand up to that zippy acidity and zesty flavours, so citrus, salty, garlic, a little chilli maybe. You can also really lift those lovely herbal tones from the glass by adding some fresh herbs to your sauce/dish. Here’s some pairing suggestions that’ll really bring both wine and dish to that next level:
We think the most interesting wines are those that tell a story, that are unique to their area, individuals that are distinct in flavour and character. Ribolla Gialla is just that. A must have wine on your radar, if you haven't had the pleasure of trying Ribolla Gialla wines before, I highly recommend you do.
Ribolla Gialla is the grape variety that makes up one of the highlight bottles in our Autumn Case. We paired our Ronchi di Cialla, Cialla Bianco with Chef George William's Saffron & Roast Squash Risotto, one of the two recipes that accompanies your seasonal wines. Explore the subscription now.
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