Vino, Donne e Canto
“Se uno non ama il vino, la donna ed il canto, pazzo rimane per l’intera vita” Martin Luther
Tenuta di Blasig celebrated 220 years of activity today with an impressive fete with soloists from the Vienna Philarmonic, dance and jazz as well as lectures on the Ronchi dei Legionari area by an interesting group of professors. Elisabetta Bortolotto Sarcinelli kindly invited me to the festa but alas alack, I could not attend. Today therefore seems like a good day to publish a very long post on Elisabetta and her winery.
I met Elisabetta at Vinitaly in 2007. I was trying wines at a stand nearby and was pulled over to try her wines as well. She was gorgeous and very tall. I was immediately struck by her beauty and by her German-accented Italian. I actually thought she was from Austria or Germany and spoke Italian very well. It turned out that she is from Friuli Venezia Giulia, a region in the North Eastern part of Italy, on the border with Slovenia. Elisabetta was giving us barrel samples from her winery to try. A barrel sample is a wine in its early stages. Wineries bring bottle samples for potential customers at Vinitaly. Often it is too early to try the wines. In fact, there is a lot of talk about moving Vinitaly to a later date in order to give the wines a bit of time to settle before bringing them to the wine fair. After a wine is bottled, it often has something called bottle shock. It takes a bit of time for the shock to wear off and for the wine to calm down and begin to show its natural aromas and flavors. Wines are constantly evolving and what a wine tastes like in April will be very different from what it tastes like three, six months or years later. In any event, Elisabetta had brought her bottle samples to let us try her wines. I found her Malavisa Istriana very interesting while others in my group were more interested in the Pinot Grigio. The Malvasia is fermented in tonneau for at least 12 months. Friuli is famous for its white wines although they are also trying to make a name for themselves with red wines.
I was in Italy for work last summer and decided to see if I could arrange to see Elisabetta. Little did I know the odyssey that I had in store for me as I tried to reach her winery in Friuli Venezia Giulia. First of all there are no direct flights from Milan to Trieste. The train takes at least 5 hours and lets you off somewhere in the middle of Friuli. I decided to use my Alitalia frequent flyer miles to fly into the Trieste airport. What I didn’t know was that I would have to fly to Rome first. For those of you who don’t know Italian geography very well, it is akin to flying from NYC to Florida in order to reach Maine. I went in exactly the wrong direction in order to try to get to Trieste. In retrospect, I should definitely have taken the train or rented a car but my driving skills leave something to be desired in the US in an automatic car so Italian driving has never really appealed to me.
I had been to Trieste for a brief visit in the past after having gone to see the beautiful Roman cathedral in Aquileia and the Venetian city of Grado. If memory serves, Trieste was somewhat sad looking to me with numerous bullet pocked walls. Other people love Trieste so I confess that I was there for a short time, on a wet and windy day in November with the Bora blowing strongly.
Elisabetta’s winery is about five minutes from the airport. She was just as glamorous this summer as at our first meeting. She sat down with me and introduced me to her enologist, a young woman named Erica Orlandino.
Tenuta di Blasig
Domenico di Blasig, Elisabetta’s grandfather, started the winery in 1892. He was also the mayor of Ronchi dei Legionari in 1850.
Her mother, Helga Blasig, an Austrian, began running the winery in the 1950s. Elisabetta took over at the start of the 1990s. She had been working abroad and had studied Chinese as an undergraduate. When she began at the winery, Elisabetta and her mother still followed the ancient tradition from the area which was to offer your wines in demijohns to the local population. They did not bottle the wines but only used to serve them sfuso and with boiled eggs. Eventually, Elisabetta turned away from that tradition and began bottling and labeling her wine. It was hard for me to imagine this incredibly chic, cosmopolitan woman selling wine in demijohns to consumers but she was very lively when talking about that part of her life. The current winery has 16 hectares on which white and red grapes are grown. She has 35% of her vineyards planted to the white grape varieties typically seen in this area: Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Istriana and Chardonnay. The red varieties include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Refosco. Elisabetta’s winery is located in an area called Friuli Isonzo or Isonzo Friuli.
New Label: Affreschi
Elisabetta has been working hard on trying to renovate her brand. She has expanded her product line, added a new label and created a new cellar. The original cellar was from the 1840s. Tenuta di Blasig has two product lines, the Classic line with Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Malvasia Istriana, Tocai Friulano, and Cabernet and the Affreschi line. The new line offers a Merlot, a Cabernet (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 30% and Cabernet Franc 70%), a Bordeaux blend Rosso, a white blend Bianco and Malvasia Istriana. The new line, Affreschi is named for a beautiful Affresco in her family home which was done in the 1800s.
Climate & Soil Issues
The area where Elisabetta makes her wines has a fabulous microclimate. It is considered to be very blessed because it is close to the sea, three kilometers. This is helpful for a variety of reasons. The sea breezes provide air to the grapes when it is too hot and they mitigate the temperature when it is too cold. Additionally, the sea breezes prevent the grapes from absorbing too much humidity and have a drying effect. Her vineyards are on a plateau and are protected from the Bora by the Carso mountain range.
The soil is another important factor. The red earth found near the Carso mountain range provides considerable structure to the wines. The soil in Elisabetta’s area is known for its minerality. This makes the area particularly adapt for growing white varieties. Elisabetta is especially proud of her Malvasia Istriana. This wine goes very well with fish and is what is known as a slightly salty wine or a vino sapido. Other wines that are comparable for their sapidity are the Muscadet from Sevre et Mains and some Vermentino di Liguria. Americans never really discuss sapidity but Italians use it as one of their primary descriptors.This same Malvasia that grows in this area also grows in the Peloponese in Greece.
Bringing back Refosco
Elisabetta and others in her area are very interested in the rediscovery of the indigenous grape Refosco by the international market. She hopes there will be a renaissance for this grape. Elisabetta also grows Verduzzo which she uses for a very special sweet wine that is dedicated to her girls, it is called Le Lule. The grapes are picked in the first days of December and are dried on trellises for a number of months. The wine is then put into a barriques for aging. Only some 500 bottles are made.
Women in Wine
As a woman with three daughters (Ludovica, Letizia, and Antonia), Elisabetta is obviously sensitive to the difficulties that women in the wine business undergo. She laughed at my question about women in the business and said that woman in the wine business were similar to women in many other businesses, ambitious. Initially, she said she had trouble and that people would look at her with some amount of skepticism about whether or not she could actually do the job. She also mentioned that often she was always the only woman in the room. She also said that being a woman was sometimes often an asset or merely just a non- issue. Her enologist Erica and I also spoke about life as a female enologist but that will be for another post.
Elisabetta’s father was a Venetian and was born in a room above Harry’s bar. The family home in Venice was requisitioned by the allied forces during the World War I. The area is so close to the former Yugoslavia that it is no surprise there was so much conflict there. The winery is only five kilometers away from Slovenia. The Villa was also a favorite haunt of Gabriele d’Annunzio, the poet and soldier, who fell head over heels for Elisabetta’s grandmother.
Elisabetta’s wines can be found in a variety of wine stores in the U.S. For more information on Tenuta Di Blasig, check out their website at http://www.tenutadiblasig.it.