ZIRALDO BIANCO DI FAGAGNA
(PICOLIT)
 


TASTING NOTES

Honeycomb, praline, peanut brittle, dried apricot, dried mango and camomile tea, and that's just the nose! Sweet, satisfying, layered and complex, with a finish that is gorgeous, sweet, fruity, and loooong. This may cause you to change your after-dinner plans too! Enjoy with roasted nuts, biscotti, blue cheese, or conversation, or any combination thereof.

  • VINTAGES 318915
  • Price $41.95 / 375 mL bottle
  • Made in: Friuli, Italy
  • By: Azienda Agricola Ziraldo
  • Style: Lusciously Sweet Wine, Dessert Wine
  • 13.0% Alcohol/Vol.
  • Varietal: Picolit
  • Sugar Content: 2 g/L
  • Sweetness Descriptor: S - Sweet

STORY OF ZIRALDO PICOLIT

The story of my encounter with Picolit starts officially in 2004 when I was given a ‘Citidenza Honorario’ ( Honorary Citizenship) in Friuli , in the town of Fagagna where my mom and dad were both born in the Friuli region north east of Venice. I actually remember my uncle Batista pouring me some Picolit when I was a young boy visiting Friuli and making quite a fuss about it. Little did I know that later in life this would bring me back to Fagagna to plant a vineyard. 

At the ceremony, there were numerous dignitaries amongst them the President of the region Tesini who said "Donald, this is all very nice. However, you know that over 1200 men from this small community travelled abroad and helped build the great country of Canada. I think it would be appropriate if you came back to Friuli and did something here for your people." 

Following the ceremony I was invited to dinner in the restaurant in The Castello. Which is owned by Count Fabio Asquini. At the dinner, the Count came by to congratulate me and began to tell me about the history of his family and Picolit. He invited me to visit the archives in his family home the next day Picolit, a native, autocton variety was cultivated by the Romans. It became Friuli’s own variety and a symbol of the region. Its original name Picolitto, actually means 'very little' which illustrates the fact that due to genetic sterility of the flower cluster few berries actually pollinate. The low yield per vine is due to the tendency of the berries to ‘shatter’ during flowering, due to pollen sterility, often only yielding 10 to 20 berries per cluster. It requires the perfect site, with nutrient poor soils, south facing exposition to the sun and good ventilation.

The first official document that shows the name Picolit dates back to 1682. The first Picolit vineyard appears to have been planted by a woman, Pantasilia Capiferro, in Rocca Bernardo, (where I tasted a Picolit in 2000 made by Mario Zuliani that had won the coveted 'tre bicieri' Award.) Count Fabio Asquini di Fagagna is credited with meticulously cultivating Picolit in the mid 1700’s. He selected ideal sites , developed training systems and bottled the Picolit in delicate hand blown glass bottles made in Murano. The delicate wine were transported by donkey to Venice and then on to the Royal Courts of Austria, the Czars of Russia, Kings and Queens of Spain and England and to the Pope. All of this is documented in the book IL Picolit by Valerio Ros.

Author Burton Anderson wrote "by the mid-19th century, Picolit was undoubtedly Italy's most prestigious wine." It's praises were sung by celebrated Venetian playwright, Carlo Goldoni, who called it 'the delight of popes, cardinals and emperors.' 

Currently it can only be produced in the DOCG in the Colli Orientali del Friuli area of Friuli-Venezia-Julia. The DOCG limits yield to 40 quintals (22hl of wine) per hectare. There are only about 60 hectares planted. The berry is small, oval with a firm resistant skin and large pips. Budbreak is early while ripening is late which lends itself to good hang time. The grapes are picked, then left to dry in racks, a process known as "appassimento" which again reduces the production of wine, thus its name Picolit.

Luigi Veronelli stated that "Picolit was to Italy what Chateau d’Yquem is to France." It was Veronelli who suggested to me that I request a D.O.C. Communale designation for Fagagna because under current DOC regulations, the name Picolit cannot be used on the bottle of wine made in Fagagna. Fagagna happens to be where my parents both were born and where Picolit was born.

Picolit should be drunk alone in order to best savor its freshness and richness of flavor, typical of northern wines, as well as its sweetness and concentration, and the dried fruit aromas.

So after meeting with Count Asquini and chatting with my cousin Valdi and remembering President Tessini's words, I decided that I should plant Picolit in Fagagna to honour the memory of my mother and father and their birthplace. Valdi also shared with me that there is a road behind my family’s Azienda Agricola called Viniuol (small wine road) where Picolit was grown as a hedgerow supported by 'chiocks' along a south facing stone wall. So we decided to plant some Picolit vines in Fagagna.

We signed an agreement with the Count Fabio Asquini, oener of the lands around the Castello who is the great grandson of the Count who lives in the restored family home adjacent to the Castello. We planted 1000 vines on the hillside of the Castello for which the rent paid would be twelve bottles of the precious wine produced from the vineyard.

I did that because it harkened back to when my family were peasants in Fagagna and they paid their rent or stipend by giving a portion of the crop to the landlord.Another vineyard was planted on an adjacent hillside. We also planted some of the vines below the Castello in the original training system ( vignette tradizionale in photos ) illustrated in the photo, with me holding one of the cross arms, that was used by Count Asquini back in the 1700’s.

One small problem... due to the DOC regulations we are not allowed by law to call the wine Picolit because Fagagna is not in the official DOC region that lists Picolit as an authorized variety, which is in the Colli Orientali. Fagagna is in the Grave region which does not list Picolit as an authorized variety So following Veronelli’s advice I have researched the problem and with the assistance of the Mayor of Fagagna, I started the long process of requesting a declaration of a DOC Communale for Fagagna which would then allow me to put Picolit di Fagagna on the label. The current vintage will be a Vino da Tavola. The same nomenclature used by Peiro Antinori when he ran into the similar problem with his Tignanello which he could only call Vino da Tavola because it also contained unauthorized grape variety for the DOC he was located in.

As coincidence would have it I met the Minster of Agriculture Ziai when I was at Vinitaly in April, 2009 to receive the Grand Premio at Vinitaly on behalf of Inniskillin. I told him of the dilemma and he indicated he would do what he could to assist.

Well, after many years I must admit that I finally conceded defeat. Not something I have done many times in my life. However after many arduous e-mails, meetings and inquiries I came to the conclusion that even after my years of learning there is a time when one must compromise. So, I thought that instead of calling the wine by its rightful name Picolit, I would call it Dolce Di Fagagna. I even consulted with my dear friend Larry McQuire, one of the owners of Far Niente, in Napa, who make Dolce wine (www.farniente.com) just to be sure he was Ok with my adding Dolce to make my point. But it was to no avail, That name was also refused. The authorities finally agreed to let me name the wine Bianco di Fagagna. Not very creative but it does speak to the origin of the wine and the birthplace of Picolit, my beloved Fagagna.

The first vintage of Picolit from the vineyard was vinified in 2008. The grapes were harvested and then dried "appassimento" in wooden boxes, then fermented in oak barrels at my friend Giorgio Colutta’s winery in Manzano.

My dear friend Manlio Tonutti , Graphice Tonutti, in Fagagna, one of the best label printers in Europe is assisted me with the label concept and design while Valdi continues to tend the vineyard. So after many years, numerous trials and tribulations I am able to present the Picolit which I made in hounour of my mom, Irma and father Fiorello from their beloved town of Fagagne, the birthplace of Picolit.

The wines are currently available in Italy. Others from anywhere in the world interested in purchasing it, please contact me at donald@ziraldo.ca

Donald Ziraldo, Furlan; with Canadian skin and Italian blood.
 

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Donald J. P. Ziraldo


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