On a rainy morning in Milan, Francesca Mecchia jumped on her moped and made the 10-minute drive to meet us at our hotel near Milano Centrale. The plush lobby had ample seating nooks to allow us space to set up for an interview.
We were grateful she was able to meet us here. Our trip through Northern Italy was full of short trips to many regions, and getting to the village of Albana, where her family winery, Vigna Petrussa, was located on the Slovenian border, was not in the cards for us.
We look forward to sharing our video interview with you soon. There was so much we chatted about. She also spoke at a very interesting session of the 2022 Wine Media Conference held in Desanzano del Garda on Italy’s Slow Food and Slow Wine Movements led by Gwendolyn Alley.
But for now, let us share with you a bit about the region, a bit about Vigna Petrussa, and two of their delicious wines.
History of Friuli-Venezia Guilia & the Colli Orientali
But let’s take a moment to get our bearings.
We find ourselves in the northeast corner of Italy, in the region of Fruili-Venezia Guilia (free-OO-lee Ven-NET-see-uh JOO-lee-uh), often now just referred to as Friuli. Bordered to the North by Austria, east by Slovenia, south to the Adriatic Sea, and West to the Veneto, this region is a cultural mash-up with influences from the neighboring countries as well as Croatia, which is less than 30 km as the crow flies, over the border in Slovenia.
This region is comprised of 4 Provinces:
- Pordenone sits to the west bordering the Veneto,
- Trieste, which tucks around the Adriatic, keeping Slovenia from the sea for some 40 kilometers of coastline,
- Gorizia, which picks up from Trieste, covers a bit of the Adriatic coast and creeps up the border to Slovenia, and the
- Udine, which covers the most significant portion of the region.
The Celts settled the area and planted vines. It is believed they came from the east, perhaps from Turkey, and occupied the area for several centuries.
In his history of Rome, Titus Livius first documents vines in the region with the colony near Aquileia in 180 BC. Around 49-53 BC, the Forum Julii was founded here, possibly by Julius Caesar. The name later became Cividale del Friuli. The Legionnaires settled the area and developed vineyards on the eastern hills, the “Colli Orientali.”
Viticulture spread in the region. In the middle ages, under Lombard rule, the Pactum Donationis of 762 shows “free farmers” promising 100 amphorae of wine yearly to the nuns at Salt di Poveletto. By the end of the middle ages, these wines were barreled and sent to northern Europe.
The region fell under the Serenissima Republic of Venice, then the Napoleonic Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire before being reunited with the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.
The city of Cividale del Friuli is a UNESCO World Heritage Medieval town.
The Wines of DOC Friuli Colli Orientali
This DOC sits within the large Udine Province, between the city of Udine and the Slovenian border. Friuli-Venezia Guilia contains 4 Denominations of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin (DOCGs), 3 of which are within the Colli Orientali.
- DOCG Ramandolo
- DOCG Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit
- DOCG Rosazzo
In addition, the DOC Friuli Colli Orientali contains 4 sub-zones
- Refosco di Faedis – this covers the North ½ of the DOC
- Cialla – a small zone west of Cividale that extends past the border of the DOC around Castelmonte
- Ribolla gialla and Pinolo di Rosazzo – sitting int he southern part of the region near Corno di Rosazzo
- Schioppettino di Prepotto – south of Cialla, stretching along the border of the DOC and a bit of the Slovenian border.
The tectonics of the area created rolling hills. The soil in these hills is called “ponka” (or ponca.) and is composed of marl and sandstone and dates to the Eocene era (That is a geological era from 56 to 33 million years ago.) You often find marine fossils in the soil, which originate from the bottom of the Adriatic Sea.
Vigna Petrussa & Prepotto
Located near Prepotto, one of the Municipalities that sits on the border with Slovenia, running 15 km along the line between the countries, Vigna Petrussa is within the Schioppettino di Prepotto sub-zone of DOC Friuli Colli Orientali. They also fall within the region for DOCG Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit.
The municipality of Prepotto takes its name from the Slovenian word Pràpot, which means “fern,” and indeed, ferns are common in the area.
This area is encircled by the Julian Pre-Alps, which shelter it from the cold north winds. The Adriatic is just 40 km away, and the winds from Trieste southeast of the region keep disease pressure down.
With gently rolling hills and the Judrio River flowing through, this beautiful region is crossed by 3 International trails :
- Welcome to the Via Alpina Trail – Spectacular Alps Hiking – Via Alpina
- Heavenly Way – Iter Aquileiense (camminoceleste.eu)
- Hiking in the Garden of Eden | Alpe-Adria-Trail
To promote the beauty of the area and the wine along these trails, the region has created “Enjoy-Prepotto,” where you can locate winery tours and tastings, cooking classes, yoga, meditation, guided hikes, e-bikes, and cultural events.
I promise to share our full interview with Francesca at another time but let me give you a brief history of Vigna Petrussa.
Francesca works with her mother, Hilde. Hilde took over the winemaking from her mother. So we have three generations of women in wine.
The property is near the village of Albana and was handed down by Francesca’s great-grandfather. The property was, at certain points, divided among heirs; she and her mother now manage the property, and her mother makes the wines.
Grape Varieties at Vigna Petrussa
Today they grow Friulano, Riesling Renano, Malvasia Istriana, Picolit, Refosco, Ribolla Gialla, Schioppettino, International varieties, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. Many of these international varieties came from a single hectare that they purchased from a cousin a few years ago.
Hilde loves the native varieties and has been a proponent of Schioppettino for many years, helping to establish the DOC and serving as the Association’s first President.
The word “Schioppettino” means “crackle.” I remember learning that the word meant “gunshot” or “Little crack” again from the popping corks. Perhaps this is because it was thick-skinned and would crackle and pop in your mouth, or because its high acid caused malolactic fermentation in the bottle, making it “pop” its cork.
This variety almost disappeared. After Phylloxera, the variety appeared to have been wiped out. When Paolo Rapuzzi established his winery in the region in 1970, he began hearing village elders speak of “Pacalaza” or “Schioppettino.” He searched for this mystery grape and found some growing in the Mayor’s Garden.
Collecting some vine material, he secretly had 100 vines grafted in 1972. Why in secret? At that time, Schioppettino was not an authorized variety. They thought it was wiped out, right? Fines could be imposed for working with unauthorized grapes. Paolo took the risk and planted these vines. They soon spread throughout the small region.
The Mayor went to bat for Schioppettino, campaigning to have the grape authorized, and it was approved in 1981. By 2000 there were 96 hectares in Italy.
In 1997 Schioppettino di Prepotto became a DOC as a sub-zone in Friuli Colli Orientali.
Hilde now creates 4 styles of Schioppettino di Prepotto
Schioppettino Rinera, is vinified in Stainless Steel. This style takes the rich Schioppettino and makes it lighter and easier to drink. The Rinera is a wine that can be served in the summer, slightly chilled.
Schioppettino Prepotto is aged 24 months in large wooden barrels with indigenous yeast.
Schioppettino Prepotto Riserva spends 36 months in Tonneau. Made only in exceptional years, this wine has a more elegant structure.
Perla Nera – The Black Pearl. Made in the sweet style of Schioppettino that Francesca’s grandfather made, the grapes are hand harvested in small wood baskets and dry for one to one and a half months, in the appassimento style, with natural ventilation. These were the wines her grandfather was drinking and gave as gifts. It was the sweet at the end of a meal. Hilde recreated this wine to honor her father.
Hilde created a white blend called Richenza made of Friulano, Malvasia Instriana (also known as Malvazija Istarska,) Riesling Renano (the Italian name for Riesling), and Picolit. She has been making this wine for almost 17 years, and the style has changed and refined.
They make a Friulano and a Picolit as well as a sweet Picolit, made from 50-year-old vines on the Santo Spirito hill in the Albana plain. One bottle is all that you will get from 1 to 2 vines.
As to the red wines, in addition to Schioppettino, they produce a Refosco and a Ribolla Gialla and are working on a blend with the International grapes.
Many of these wines can be found in the US through Vero Vino.
*These wines were recieved as samples from the Producer and from their distributor. No other compensation was recieved and all opinions are our own.
2017 Colli Orientali del Friuli DOCG Picolit
This wine was given to me as a gift from Francesca at our meeting. She shared with me two stories to think of as we sipped it.
The stories of the Sweet Picolit
Francesca brings two stories of this wine to hold in our memories when we taste it. The first takes her back to her childhood, running about the cellar with her friends and using the wine thief to sneak sips of the sweet Picolit wine.
The second story comes from when she was older. Her father is older than her mother and quite tall and slim. For Christmas, Francesca gave him a heating blanket to keep him warm. On returning to visit after the holiday, she asked how he liked the blanket. It seems there was an issue in the cellar and the blanket now warmed the tank of Picolit. LOL! We see where her mother’s affections are.
The sweet Picolit is made from 100% Picolit grapes grown on the Santo Spirito hill that overlooks the plain of Albana at about 250 meters above sea level.
Grapes are carefully selected and hand harvested in small wooden boxes. They dry for 1 to 1 1/2 months, and the wine is made in the appassimento style. There is a light cold maceration followed by soft pressing. Fermentation and aging occur in French Barrique, where it spends 18 months.
This is a beautiful warm gold in the bottle with rosy, coppery notes. We served it in dessert wine glasses. The glass wafted with notes of apricot and honey, a slight tang of apple cider and a sprinkling of floral notes. In my mouth I was surprised at the acidity! This wine, while sweet, is not cloying, and has great tartness to balance the sugar. There were notes of baked apple, and pear, apricot and honey.
$59.99 (for the 2016) at Vero
We paired the 2017 Colli Orientali de Friuli DOCG Picolit, with We paired this with Stilton (blue cheese), pecans, honeycomb, dried figs and duck mousse.
The wine enhanced the floral aromatics in the Stilton blue cheese. With both the cheese and the duck mousse it seemed to amplify and clarify the flavors. The sips were warming with a great balance between sweet and tart.
2019 Schioppettino di Prepotto DOC
The Schioppettio di Prepotto is their flagship wine. I recieved this bottle from Sheila at VeroVino. It is the recent release of this wine. The previously released vintage the 2018 had received 95 points from Decanter, so I was looking forward to tasting this wine.
100% Schioppettino, grown in ponka soils at 150 meters elevation. The vines are planted at 3500 vines per hectare and trellised in the Guyot method.
The grapes are hand harvested and macerated on the skins with pump-overs alternated with racking. It ages for 24 months in wood barrels.
This is a beautiful medium ruby in the glass. As I swirled it, I could smell black cherry, cranberry, currant, black pepper, and dried herbs. Forest floors and mushroom notes, like those you would get on a Pinot Noir, wafted to the forefront, as well as tobacco and spice. This was complex and bright and left my mouth tingling.
$37.99 for the 2018 at Vero
We paired the 2019 Schioppettino di Prepotto with venison medallions in a chocolate black currant balsamic glaze. (find the recipe below)
All these flavors, the chocolate, the black currant, the balsamic, the gaminess of the meat, were complimented and accentuated by this wine. The bright fruit notes, enhancing the black currant and balsamic, the pepper and forest floor notes amplifying the venison and chocolate.
Want to try these wines?
You can find these wines imported by VeroVino Craft Wines. They sell to consumers and ship nationwide.
They carry a wide range of delicious wines from small producers in Italy, Spain, California, Portugal, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Sheila Donahue, the owner of VeroVino, searches out these wines, these people. You are not just getting a wine off a shelf. You are discovering small family vineyards through these bottles—often bottles that are hard to find anywhere but their region.
Additional Sources and Resources
Venison medallions in a chocolate black currant balsamic sauce
Wild game like venison pairs beautifully with a Schioppettino from northeast Italy. Of course, wild dear are not fatty like cattle. These are lean hardworking animals, so tenderizing the meat is important. We salt our medallions of venison the night before to allow the salt to break down the proteins and make the meat more tender.
The sauce of balsamic, currants, and dark chocolate, add an additional richness to the dish and pair beautifully with the wine.
- 2 - 1/3 to ½ lb venison medallions
- 1 tbsp + ½ tsp salt (divided)
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 tbsp dried crushed rosemary
- ¼ tsp cracked black pepper
- 4 tbsp butter (divided)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp crushed black currants in juice
- ½ oz (1 square) dark chocolate 60% cocao - finely chopped
- The night before, rub the medallions with 1 tbsp of salt and place them on a plate uncovered in the refrigerator.
- 1 hr before cooking, remove the medallions from the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature.
- Crush the dried rosemary with a mortar and pestle. Mix it with the flour and ½ tsp of salt and place on a plate.
- Dry the medallions with a paper towel and coat them in the flour mixture
- Heat 2 tbsp of the butter and the olive oil in a rod iron skillet over med-high heat.
- Add the medallions and cook for 3 minutes per side (to 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Remove from the pan and let them rest covered for 10-15 minutes.
- Crush the currants and place them in the microwave in a dish covered with a paper towel for 30 seconds. This will soften them and break them down. (Alternately, you could substitute black currant jam).
- Reduce the heat on the pan to medium, add the balsamic and currants and
deglaze the pan, stirring constantly.
- Whisk in the remaining 2 tbsp of butter and when that is combined, add the chocolate and stir until it is combined. Remove from the heat.
- Slice the venison at an angle. Spread a bit of the sauce on the plate, lay the venison on top, and drizzle with more of the sauce.
Serve with sauteed sliced potatoes with mushrooms and green beans, which will pair nicely with the mushroom notes in the wine.
You can substitute red wine for the balsamic in the sauce, another berry for the currants, and the chocolate is optional.
Amount Per Serving Calories 488Total Fat 32gSaturated Fat 16gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 13gCholesterol 91mgSodium 868mgCarbohydrates 36gFiber 1gSugar 20gProtein 14g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
Check out our book series, “Tempting Spoonfuls” available through Amazon!
Inspired by the flavors and aromas in wines, these books create “tempting spoonfuls” of flavors to pair with wines.
“Tempting Spoonfuls – Pairing single bites with glorious wines” – Our first book paired wines from boutique wineries on the west coast, in California, Oregon, and Washington, with delicious spoonfuls.
This book is 60 pages, 18 recipes, lots of beautiful photos, and insights into some fantastic small wineries!
“Tempting Spoonfuls – small bites paired with wines from around the Globe” – This book takes us around the globe to explore 12 wine regions, a wine from the region, and then gives you a recipe for a pairing!
A slightly larger book at 104 pages, this time you learn about pairing with a type of wine from a region. Rather than a specific bottle, you can look for a style of wine from a region and feel confident that it will go well with the recipe pairing we provide. We give you 12 recipes, each to pair with a wine.
The goal is to make your mouth water and encourage you to create your own “Tempting Spoonfuls.”
Leave a Reply