There would not be any reason to look beyond the (**** $29) 2008 Schiopetto Friulano that sat on Woodfire Grill’s wine list. I had finally made it to Kevin Gillespie’s (master of flavor intensity and popularized on the “Top Chef” TV show) Atlanta restaurant and all I could think about was getting my nose deep into a glass of Schiopetto wine. I heard the stories about Mario Schiopetto’s groundbreaking influence on Friuli’s winemaking culture, but never tasted these wines that are now made by his children at the Azienda Agricola Mario Schiopetto winery he founded in the 1960′s.
When I initially meet a wine as profoundly unique as this one, I shudder from remorse over lost time but eventually resurrect the moment with the thrill of discovery. I am more motivated than ever to taste through the entire Schiopetto portfolio, but for the moment I can only share and rely on the memories of a 2008 Friulano that revealed a contradiction of texture and freshness that held my attention throughout the meal.
It’s a product of Friuli’s fairly popular Tocai (no relation at all to Hungary’s Tokaji) Friulano grape. The winery and its source Friulano vineyards are located in Collio within northern Italy’s broader Lombardy region. Ancient soils and hills define the wine’s place of origin. Wine making leans toward natural featuring stainless over wood tanks, elimination of protective sulfur dioxide when possible, and natural yeasts introduced with the pied de cuve method (it’s a process that tickles my wine making fantasies involving the early harvest of small amounts of fruit and stimulation of natural yeasts and fermentation to form a culture used as a yeast inoculation for the soon to be harvested grapes).
Just like great Chenin Blancs are all about a mosaic of texture, freshness, and acidity…so is this wine. The comparison to Chenin Blanc stops here though. It is a wine to linger over, its aromas building power with time and oxygen, and its flavors undressing themselves as the wine warms. The intensity of freshness is a surprise wrapped inside a mouth coating layer of richness. It’s a texture you expect to be wrapped around honey, for example, but that only lasts for seconds as it thins out to consolidate raw crispness instead. It’s a surprise that I have experienced from dishes prepared by molecular gastronomists, like a formulated grape skin containing liquid bursting with one characteristic flavor. This combination of rich texture and austerity is utterly amazing. The wine smells from orchards, nuts, and lemon citrus. It tastes from the high tones of pear, with stone flavors and perfect acidity that offers an evaporative finish reminiscent of unsweetened pop rocks (unsweetened pop rocks? You will know what I mean if you try it.)
The wine paired perfectly with the strong flavors of grilled clams as well as the rich freshness of Woodfire Grill’s inventive tomato salad. It is a versatile food wine that also seems to have serious aging potential. But there is no need to wait, it’s just shy of perfect now. For less than $30 at discount it’s a steal. I have added it to my personal list of old world white wines that I will never forget and always chase after. When I ordered it, the sommelier gave me a wink and admitted it was her personal choice on the list as well. Schiopetto lives up to its hype, and then some. Oh, I almost forgot, Woodfire Grill is very much worth the visit if you like big true flavors and traditional foodstuffs.