Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Clivi Wine Tasting: Mario Zanusso

We do not make these wines, they are made only by nature.

That is a paraphrase of the words of Mario Zanusso, the son of Ferdinando Zanusso, co-owner and winemaker for I Clivi, an Italian vineyard and winery. It is their wine making philosophy and has successfully led to the creation of some excellent wines.

Recently, Eileen Wright of Adonna Imports brought Mario Zanusso to Wine••Sense, Samanta's boutique wine store in Andover, to showcase some of their new wines and vintages. Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting his father, Ferdinando, and tasted some delicious and impressive wines. You can check that prior post for additional background information about I Clivi and to see my previous tasting notes.

In short, Mario and Ferdinando make organic wines, from old vines, in the Friuli region of Italy. They are a very small producer, making only about 2000 cases each year. Mario was very out-going, personable and obviously passionate. Though his father possesses that same passion, he is more introverted, seemingly almost shy at times.

Mario stated that great wine is made from three elements: soil, grape and climate. He excludes the wine maker from that equation, believing in minimal intervention in wine making. These are intended to be wines of purity and character and I think they succeed. They use little oak for their wines, generally only for their reds, preferring to let the fruit shine forth. Part of the reason for this is that they are trying to establish a standard for their terroir. They lack a lengthy history like France so they must work at gathering evidence for the nature of their terroir, to determine the type of wines they best come forth from that terroir. The use of oak could mask the flavor of the wine, concealing the effects of the terroir.

The first wine of the tasting was the 2004 Clivi Brazan Bianco. I had previously tasted the 2002 vintage and Mario mentioned that 2004 was a cold, but interesting, vintage. This 2004 Brazan was made of all Tocai Friuliano. Previous vintages had small portions of Malvasia Istrianna but the winery is moving more toward single varietal wines. This wine surprised me as it seemed fairly different from the older vintage. The 2004 actually reminded me of a Manzanilla Sherry because it had a strong, salty flavor. It had plenty of acidity and was a very elegant and intriguing wine. This would make a great food wine and certainly is more unique.

Next up was the 2004 I Clivi Galea Bianco. I have previously tasted the 2003, 2002, 1999 and 1997 vintages so it was fun to taste another vintage, to see how vintage can matter to the taste of a wine. This 2004 Galea was made of 100% Tocai Friuliano though previous vintages had small portions of Verduzzo. This was an earthier wine but with delicious tropical fruit, spice and honey flavors. It was a full bodied wine, fat in your mouth. Compared to previous vintages, I think this was a bigger wine with more fruit flavors than spice or honey. Another excellent wine for food.

The 1999 I Clivi Galea Bianco was also at the tasting. This was my favorite wine of the previous tasting and it was still superb. I even bought more of this wine as it was just so delicious, a complex wine with plenty of character. What really fascinated me was that Mario recommended this wine with both duck and lamb. I thought this wine would pair great with foie gras but had not considered duck or lamb. A white wine might not be your first choice either for those dishes, but it may be worth a try.

Next up was a new wine they were now producing, the 2004 Bianco Degli Arzillari Venezia Giulia I.G.T. This is a field blend, mostly old vine Verduzzo Friulano, an indigenous grape that is most well known in sweet wines. This was made to be dry wine though. It had a dark yellow, almost orange, color and smelled most like apricots but will a tinge of floral notes. It is an almost austere wine but with interesting exotic spice, peach and lemon flavors. It had a long finish and certainly had a more unique flavor profile. It was a wine that made me think, trying to discern all the flavors within it, savoring how different it was from many other whites wines.

The red wines were next, starting with the 2000 I Clivi Galea Rosso, which I previously tasted and enjoyed. This was followed by the 1999 I Clivi Galea Rosso, which was said to be a younger wine than the 2000 vintage. Younger? Well, 1999 was very hot so this wine, only recently released, seems like a younger wine than the 2000. It did seem a brighter wine, more fruit forward with delicious cherry and raspberry flavors. Yet you can see the potential of this wine, that there are depths to it that have yet to develop. There are hints of spice and it already has a fairly long finish. I am very interested how this will evolve over time.

The wines of I Clivi are well worth seeking out. They give you the opportunity to taste wines that have minimal intervention, which are indicative of terroir. The wine makers are very passionate and truly seem to care about producing quality wine. These are the type of wines that really ignite my own passion and I hope you take a chance and try these wines.

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