If you’ve never heard of Schioppettino –we needn’t even discuss the possibility that you know of its Slovenian namesake Črna Rebula– you’re hardly alone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek it out at your earliest convenience.
The ruby red grape faced extinction in Italy’s northeastern Friuli-Venezia Giulia region by the mid 1960s and in Slovenia, where evidence suggests it originated, it did, for all intents and purposes disappear entirely from the rolling landscapes of the country’s western edge after the end of World War II.
In the early 1970s it was brought back to life on the Italian side of the frontier by winemaker Paolo Rapuzzi with, according to one account, vines he smuggled from Slovenia and illegally planted in his new winery in Friuli’s Cialla Valley; four decades later it was Aleksij Erzetič of the Erzetič Winery in the village of Višnjevik in the Goriška Brda district, who resuscitated it here when he planted 7,000 wines retrieved from the same forgotten vineyards in the village of Golo Brdo, a village that straddles the border with Italy along the Idrija River.
I’m very thankful to both gentlemen for their insistence and persistence in growing local. I’m starting the New Year as the grape’s biggest fan.
Schioppettino (pronounced Ski-oh-pet-tino), aka Ribolla Nero in Friuli, is also known as Pokalca in Slovenia, a name derived from the popping sound the grape makes when bitten into. I can’t speak to that; I don’t even recall ever tasting the wine before crossing paths with Erzetič’s Črna Rebula bottling a few weeks ago — which is saying something since I’m never reluctant to taste anything, especially an indigenous red.
Erzetič planted the vines in 2012, so they’re obviously young; the debut was harvested just two years later then aged in both large and small oak barrels for another 12 months prior to bottling.
It’s a deep violet red in color but medium-bodied; the first thing that struck me was the peppery quality rubbing up against the wildberry notes, pleasantly akin to some Rhone Syrahs. The cherry and plum notes were fresh, carrying well the 13.5% alc.
The tannins weren’t too heavy, but layered enough to allow this to age a bit more. Maybe another year, no more than two.
Its youth is obvious but not at all a turn-off; instead it made me excited to see how much better the next vintage and the one after that will be. For a wine that will soon begin demanding elegance, this is a splendid start. All things considered, it’s the wine I was most excited about in 2016.
We tasted it with little pomp or ceremony at a small gathering on the eve of New Year’s Eve; it’s a good match with gamey dishes, chorizo and pate, or pastas swimming in a zesty sauce.
“Since I was a kid I was dreaming about pokalca,” winemaker Aleksij Erzetič told RTV Slovenia during a tasting last May. “We really did want to turn towards old, local forgotten varietals. Why should we plant only foreign varietals in Brda?”