The Ronchi di Cialla estate is credited with rescuing Friuli’s native Schioppettino variety from obscurity—if not extinction—and their wines from this distinctive grape are still the region’s standard-bearers.
This ’99 Schioppettino is a serious “deep cut” from this legendary estate: It’s in pristine condition and oozes authenticity, reminiscent of aged Northern Rhône Syrah crossed with Left Bank Bordeaux. Ronchi di Cialla isn’t merely a wine estate but a kind of Friulian wine museum, credited with rescuing not just Schioppettino but a wide assortment of other native varieties from oblivion. For those of you who, like me, are already in the Cialla cult, this one is a no-brainer; for everyone else, this is a landmark Northern Italian red in its golden years. It’s the best mature wine value I’ve seen in a long time.
Although it still boasts a relatively youthful garnet-red color, the wine is ready to enjoy right now, after a brief decant to separate it from sediment. It is concentrated and brackish, with a goodly amount of brick orange at the rim, while the aromas are clean but loaded with lots of “secondary” notes of cured wood, tobacco, roasted meat, and dried figs. The fruit component skews toward the darker end of the spectrum, with notes of blackcurrant and blackberry mixing with scents of lavender, violet, tar, turned earth, and a distinctive cracked pepper note that calls Côte-Rôtie Syrah to mind. The tannins have been sanded smooth, and even at this age the wine has enough acidity to feel lifted and energetic on the palate. It is medium- to medium-plus in body, and has gained a layer of meaty savor that again smacks of Côte-Rôtie—old-school, Patrick Jasmin-type Côte-Rôtie, pointed up with some Cabernet-like cassis notes and a little Mourvèdre-like lavender. Serve it in Bordeaux stems at 60-65 degrees after a brief decant and pair it with a hard-seared steak drizzled with pan sauce. Some wines are jazz, some are rock and roll, and some, like this one, are deep, thumping funk. Don’t miss it!