Hailing from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeastern Italy, Ribolla Gialla is like drinking sunshine in a glass. This rare variety produces bright wines with floral and citrus-driven aromas reminiscent of summer in the Italian countryside. In Italy, Friuli is the only region that produces Ribolla Gialla. This is an ancient, indigenous variety of the region.
Tre Venezie is a zone in northeastern Italy that encompasses Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, and the Veneto. According to Karen McNeil’s The Wine Bible, this zone accounts for 30 percent of all Italian D.O.C. wine production. Yet the region makes just 15% of Italy’s total wine production. In other words, Tre Venezie produces a significant portion of premium Italian wine.
Austria, Slovenia, and Germany neighbor the regions of Tre Venezie. While Friuli-Venezia Giulia borders Slovenia in the far northeastern corner of Italy. These countries influenced the culture, cuisine, dialects, and wines of Tre Venezie. Friuli is a world-renowned region known for producing strikingly precise, focused white wines. Their wines have distinctive character, unmarred by heavy-handed modern winemaking techniques. In the 1970s and 1980s, the rest of the world was making round, buttery Chardonnay heavy on the oak influence and malolactic fermentation. Friuli was doing the exact opposite. Friulian winemakers were putting out pure wines that highlighted the natural fruit flavors and bright acidity of their white varieties. This philosophy helped Friuli establish its long-lasting reputation for quality white wine production. The region makes fabulous reds as well.
Climate & Vineyards
Friuli’s geography is especially suited for viticulture. The region is located northeast of the Veneto and southeast of Trentino-Alto Adige. The Alps border the region from the north and the Adriatic Sea borders Friuli from the south. The northern half of Friuli is much too mountainous to successfully plant vineyards. Most vineyards are planted in the plains of the southern half of the region and the hilly Alpine foothills. The hills are beneficial for optimizing sunlight, airflow, and drainage for the vineyards.
Friuli has a somewhat similar climate to northwestern Italy with hot, dry summers and cold, harsh winters. However, Friuli gets more hail instead of the foggy weather that is common in northwestern Italy. The region’s location between mountains and sea creates ideal grape growing conditions, especially in the hot summer months. The sun warms the vineyards during the day, ripening the grapes while developing aromas and flavors. Then, the Adriatic Sea influence and Alpine influences help the temperatures to drop at night. This temperature shift preserves the grape’s acidity and moderates the ripening process. These character-building conditions have helped Friuli’s white wines become so world-renowned.
Soils vary throughout the region. Flysch soils composed of sandstone and marl rich in calcium are typical of these terraced vineyards.. These soils drain particularly well. Gravel, sand, and clay make up most of the valley soils.
This ancient Friulian variety was first documented in 1299 by notary Ermanno di Gemona in a deed of sale. Ribolla Gialla is also grown in Slovenia, where it is called Rebola, and in Greece, where it is known as Robola. Ribolla Gialla is not to be confused with Ribolla Verde, a less common white variety of the region. There is also a Ribolla Nera (Schiopettino) in Friuli. However, this variety is not genetically related to Ribolla Gialla.
Ribolla Gialla does best when grown in well-drained soils high in mineral salts and relatively low in clay content. This is a vigorous variety that requires stress and extensive pruning to produce worthwhile fruit. A well-made Ribolla Gialla will have citrus aromas of lemon and tangerine, delicate floral notes, and brisk, peppery acidity. However, that peppery quality does not come through when the variety is over-yielded. Ribolla Gialla is a variety that loves the sun and as such, showcases a happy brightness on the palate. The wine can show Gala apple and peach aromas as well. There are dry, still, sparkling, off-dry and oxidized orange wine styles of Ribolla Gialla. Orange and sparkling examples are becoming increasingly popular as producers enjoy experimenting with this variety.
The Best of Ribolla Gialla
Ribolla Gialla is not adaptable to many climates. The Colli Orientali del Friuli D.O.C. and Collio Gorziano D.O.C. (or Collio D.O.C.) are the only geographic indications where you will find a single-varietal or Ribolla Gialla dominant wine. Both are located in the northeast of the region near Slovenia where Ribolla Gialla flourishes in the well-drained soils of hillside vineyards. Premium production zones for highly sought after Ribolla Gialla include Rosazzo in the Colli Orientali del Friuli D.O.C and Oslavia within the Collio D.O.C.. The higher elevations of Oslavia offer a cooler microclimate, producing Ribolla Gialla with higher acidity and enhanced mineral and lemon aromatics. Rosazzo is a warmer climate, generally producing a richer style of Ribolla Gialla. Both regions typically exhibit the subtle white pepper quality of the variety.
The Wine: Poderi di Carlo Ribolla Gialla, Venezia Giulia IGT 2018
This wine is 100 percent Ribolla Gialla from vineyards in Villanova di Farra, Oslavia, and San Floriano del Collio. Grapes were manually harvested, soft-pressed, and underwent a brief cold maceration followed by fermentation at low temperatures (18°C). The wine only saw stainless steel and there was no malolactic fermentation.
- In the glass, the wine is pale yellow with brilliant golden reflections and a clear appearance.
- The nose is clean and offers medium pronounced aromas of acacia flower, fresh lemon, juicy tangerine citrus, hay, Gala apples, and just a hint of minerals.
- The wine smells like a field in summer full of flowers, fresh citrus fruits, and a bit of hay.
- No malolactic, no oak. This is clean, dynamic white wine with zippy acidity, yet elegantly round.
- Medium-minus body and medium acidity. This is a dry wine with medium-minus alcohol (12.5%). The acidity is pleasant and in balance with the wine.
- Gala apple and lemon notes dominate the palate while the acidity keeps the flavors pleasantly lingering.
The brightness and high acidity of Ribolla Gialla make this a great wine to match with a variety of foods. For a simple aperitivo, pair with a salty Prosciutto and a dried, aged cheese of Friuli. Other delightful Ribolla Gialla pairings include seafood dishes like mussels steamed in white wine and herbs, along with fried or grilled calamari. Chicken piccata or shrimp scampi are also ideal pairings for this Friulian white wine.
Karen MacNeil. The Wine Bible. New York: Workman, 2015. Print.