Collio is an ancient Italian wine region, and one need look no further than the Attems family—documented Collio vignerons from as early as 1106, and growers of “modern-day” hipster grapes such as Ribolla Gialla and Refosco noted on the company’s general ledger in 1764. Still, Attems and Collio remain virtually unknown to all but a handful of learned wine drinkers who have come to embrace these magical wines.
The Collio Goriziano, or in broader wine speak, the DOC Collio is widely regarded as the home of Italy’s best white wines. It is by far the marquee sub-zone of Friuli Venezia Giulia, whose hillside vines are tucked into the northeast corner of both the region and Italy, up against the imposing Alps and the Slovenian border.
Modern Collio white wine is all about fresh, bright, vibrant aromas and flavours and, in the case of the very best, electric versions of friulano, ribolla gialla, malvasia istriana, chardonnay, pinot bianco, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc. Red wines are made—notably with refosco—but the main feature is white.
It was the prospect of making high-quality, atomic white wines that attracted the Frescobaldi family north from their Tuscan home. A friendship struck at university brought the families together in the early 1990s. It marked the first time in 700 years that the Frescobaldis would make wine outside of Tuscany—giving you an idea what Florentine wine royalty thought about the potential of the Collio.
Attems was restored and renovated by Paolo and Virginia Giasone Attems Petzenstein before the Frescobaldi partnership. After a decade-long involvement with the Attems family the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi purchased the property outright in 2000 when the heir to the original owners decided to sell her remaining shares. It was the end of the line for Attems family members, but the name remains on every bottle in deference to the late Count Sigismund Douglas von Attems, a Collio region leader and the founder of the Consorzio dei Vini del Collio in 1964, a group he led and inspired until 1999.
Today, the Attems estate vineyards are carefully tended by estate manager and technical director Gianni Napolitano and winemaker Daniele Vuerich. The pair know every square inch of the 45 hectares that lay to the west of Gorizia tucked into a scarf of hillsides protected from the cold biting northern winter winds of the Alps and the legendary fierce La Bora wind of Trieste. The site is heavily influenced by the Adriatic, only 16 kilometres as the crow flies. Napolitano credits the refractive light that bounces off the Gulf of Trieste as it invades the Collio hillsides supercharging the performance of photosynthesis in the vineyards and thus aiding the ripening of the fruit in a cool region. Standing amid the vines, you sense this tiny sub-region region is the definition of somewhereness.
As for the wines, there are some magical labels led by Attems 2017 Cicinis ($35)—a sauvignon blanc picked twice and fermented in concrete eggs. The constant movement of the must, propelled only by the natural oval shape of the eggs, adds texture and complexity to this fresh, mineral, Northern European version of the grape.
The regular Attems 2018 Pinot Grigio ($18.95) is effortlessly simple by nature, making it perfectly delicious. Like other Attems labels it is made for the simplicity and locality of Italian cuisine that fits in perfectly here on the west coast of Canada.
Ramato is a term the Friulans use to describe the copper colour of their pinot grigio when it is subjected to a few hours of skin contact. Wait until you taste the Attems 2018 Ramato Rosé ($20): this might be the rosé of the summer in Canada. The only thing better than the wine is its colourful label that shouts, “Buy me. Drink me.”
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