Recently we spoke about I Clivi, a Friuli winery located in Corno di Rosazzo (Udine), that produces three wines using Friulano, two more using Ribolla Gialla, a Malvasia Istriana, a Verduzzo and a Merlot. Mario Zanusso is the winemaker and he has a passion for producing wines pointing more to the varietal characteristics of the grape and freshness rather than to the more distinctive soil characteristics and maturity.

Buongiorno, Mario, and thank you for your cooperation. Where does your passion for wine come from?

It comes from my father, who taught me to respect the wines and their makers many years before we even started thinking about becoming producers ourselves.

With your white wines, you only work with the Fiore, the first part of the freerun most.

Yes, the Fiore is the purest part of the must, the cleanest and most stable, requiring no stabilizing agent to be added afterwards.

You don’t use oak but do all the processes in steel. Why do you favor the steel?

Steel helps us to keep a lighter weight to the wines, and to keep the integrity of the raw material – the grapes – with no interference from the container.

You moved from field blends to single-varietal wines. What made you take this step?

We matured a different vision about indigenous varieties such as Friulano, Verduzzo and Malvasia (the Ribolla is a more recent implant). At the beginning we were blending Friulano with Verduzzo in the Colli Orientali vineyard, and Friulano with Malvasia in the Collio site; although, over the years we started thinking that both Malvasia and Verduzzo – even playing the minor part in their respective blend with Friulano – marked a bit too much the Friulano, which is aromatically more neutral. So we begun separating the varieties and released a new label: Rosaspina, which focuses on the primary characters of the different grapes, trying to give our best, philological reading of the variety and leaving the aim of a more terroir-driven expression to our Crus label, which is sold after a longer maturation.

You produce a Friulano wine from each vineyard. What’s the difference between them?

The difference is in the terroir: grape variety, age of the vines, tending technique and winemaking are all the same; what changes is the soil (higher ratio of limestone in the Collio site, Brazan; higher clay quota in the Colli Orientali vineyard, Galea), and the microclimate (more diurnal variations and humidity in Brazan, longer sun exposure of the vines and drier soil in Galea), leading to two very different outcomes.

Tell us about your Ribolla Gialla, please.

Ribolla Gialla is our favorite variety: it’s modern and avant-garde, yet traditional and historically deeply rooted. There are records of Ribolla being produced in the Colli Orientali back in the XII Century. It’s perfectly acclimatized: even in warmest season she keeps a great acidity and low ph, with a moderate sugar content (hence low alcohol). It’s aromatically subtle, extremely elegant provided you burn all the sugars, and on our flysch soil leads to a very pleasant mineral and clean aftertaste. You have here a picture of my ideal grape.

You also produce a spumante with the Ribolla.

Yes we do. The organoleptic profile of Ribolla is ideal for a sparkling wine (low sugars, low ph, high acidity, moderate aromas), the CO2 just highlighting the subtle perfumes and matching perfectly the sapid finish. We opted for a sparkling with single-fermentation, meaning the bubbles are produced by the primary, alcoholic fermentation and not by an induced secondary re-fermentation. There’s no addition of sugars nor yeasts, there’s no need for. We believe this method is the most suitable for Ribolla, since it does not add any yeasty flavors nor vinous density to a wine which is all about finesse, white flowers and lemon zest.

You don’t like to macerate your wines in contact with the skins.

We are producers of white wines: a prolonged contact with the skins brings Orange wines, which are a whole different world, expressing a different aesthetics and above all a totally different culture, primarily Slovenian (with all its belongings: cuisine, vision, history, etc). Personally I sense that skins do release rustic flavours which hardly match the aromas of the pulp, interfering with that “crispness” we aim to.

And you produce a Malvasia Istriana coming from 80-year-old vines.

Those are the oldest vines we have, and they do a marvellous job in bringing all different elements into perfect balance. I would sum up the main quality of these vines into a single word: balance. Nothing you can reproduce in the cellar. The wine coming from these old vines is the apex of elegance, delicacy and finesse.

Aren’t you tempted to pass this Malvasia through oak?

No, we are not. Oak would add up to an already dense and intense natural aroma of the variety, which could become overwhelming and wearisome.

We love Merlot wines and the ones coming from Friuli are very special. What this area has for making these good Merlots?

It’s the clay soil, and the climate.

What’s the wine you are more proud of?

Malvasia: I consider it almost a classic by now, meaning it defines an own classicism.

What kind of wine do you like to drink when you are not working?

Chenin Blancs from the Loire, Jura Savagnins and Mosel Rieslings.

Grazie mille, Mario!!

Thank you!

Photos © I Clivi