Fun Summer Food Pairings with Collio White Wines

Since traveling to Friuli wasn’t going to be possible this year, I decided to do the next best thing: bring it to me! The long, warm days of summer are perfect for enjoying this fantastic region’s varietal gems: from Friulano, Ribolla gialla, and Malvasia to Pinot bianco, Pinot grigio and of course, the charming Collio bianco blends. So come explore Collio white wines with some fun summer recipes, and I hope to spark some creativity for your end of summer menus!

Thinking about the typical flavors and aromas of Collio whites (vivid tropical and stone fruits offset by citrus zest and charming wildflower aromas) and the smooth to full body that would describe most, I decided to explore a different food pairing for each to illustrate how easy it is to integrate Collio white wines into your own summer menu. So, here we go! Andiamo!

First, a little background on Collio

The Collio region, an arc of rolling, verdant, sunny slopes, extends along the Friulian province of Gorizia between the Julian Alps and the Adriatic Sea, on the border with Slovenia in northeast Italy. Situated so close, and wrapping around the political border of Slovenia, once you are there, you won’t be able to tell where Italy stops and Slovenia begins! While the locals know, they don’t give the political lines much thought when thinking about the vineyards.

Eight of the 25 municipalities of the province of Gorizia belong to Collio: Capriva, Cormòns, Dolegna del Collio, Farra d’Isonzo, Gorizia, Mossa, San Floriano del Collio and San Lorenzo Isontino. Here there is prevalence of unique soil called, ponca in Friulian dialect. It is a sequence of sedimentary rocks that were deposited in deep marine rock units through a deformation of the earth’s lithosphere 50-65 million years ago in the Dolegna (north) area and 40-53 million years in the Cormons area (central). The poncasoil allows great drainage, encouraging the vines’ roots to dig deep and pick up all the mineral complexities we love in white wines. Collio’s climate, with a combination of warm currents from the Adriatic Sea, that dry the grapes, and a shield of mountains in the north protecting vineyards from cold winds, also make it ideal for white wine production.

Situated between the Judrio River in the west and the Isonzo River to the east, Collio covers about 7,000 hectares total but only 1,500 are cultivated to vine. To put that in perspective, the entire region of Friuli has almost 27,000 hectares under vine and the entire country claims 650,000 hectares of vineyards. All this together makes Collio is a truly remarkable place with a distinctive climate, soil, history and quilt work of cultures.

Collio wine and food pairings

Marco Felluga Mongris 2019. Collio DOC. Pinot grigio 100%. Medium intensity bouquet of yellow peach, acacia, green almond and yogurt. This pleasantly fruity wine has a medium to light body and is characterized by lemon, yellow apple, dried pineapple and a hint of clean, earthy hay on the palate.

Mongris, in Friulian, or ‘mono variety’, stands to represent the two names for the same grape: Pinot gris and grigio. Did you know it isn’t indigenous to Friuli? However, Pinot grigio arrived in the area over 150 years ago and today is one of the most widely planted varieties in the area. The Pinot grigio grapes in this wine come from Villages of Farra d’Isonzo (265 ft elevation), San Floriano (825 ft elevation) and Cormòns (265 ft elevation). Harvest is manual and the grapes macerate on their skins for a short time, followed by fermentation in stainless steel and six months on the lees before bottling. Because if its pleasant and fruity nature, I paired this one with coconut-marinated grilled chicken kabobs and a green salad. The wine’s forward fruit offset with a little secondary floral and earthy aromas made it perfect with flavors of coconut and grilling!

Sturm Ribolla gialla. Collio DOC. Ribolla gialla 100%. On the nose, this wine has a medium intensity of pear, apple, vanilla and wildflower stems. The alcohol is relatively low and the acidity and body are about medium. On the palate the wine makes me think of creamy lemon curd, apple, star fruit, raw walnuts and nutmeg.

The grapes, all from Cormòns, are de-stemmed and go through cold maceration on skins for one day. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel and the wine spends six months on the lees before bottling. Lately I’ve been loving a little twist I take on traditional coleslaw. Adding horseradish to the basic dressing recipe and a little extra lemon (Meyer lemon if you’ve got one) makes it taste especially fresh and vibrant. Adding a little apple helps to balance all the flavors. For a food pairing, I wanted to play off the qualities of fresh apple, nuttiness and spice of this Ribolla gialla. So, I paired a horseradish, kale-apple and sunflower seed slaw and it worked out perfectly!

Blazic Malvasia 2019. Collio DOC. Malvasia 100%. Pronounced aromas reminiscent of dandelion, hay, honey and pineapple rind. On the palate this wine is dry with a medium acidity and body. The palate is fun, showing flavors of pineapple, peach skin, acacia, chamomile, bitter nut and clove. 

Harvested from Cormòns, the Malvasia grapes undergo a short maceration on skins; fermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts and the wine ages in concrete for 7 months before bottling. A Malvasia, while medium to smooth on the palate, as well as dry and refreshing, the flavors are not super complex, but the bouquet is. So, it can be a fun food-pairing wine. Thinking about the peach and clove qualities in this Malvasia, I chose to pair it with a salad composed of grilled peaches, fennel and preserved Meyer lemon, mixed with arugula and pea shoots, topped with toasted walnuts. Delicious!

Livon Manditocai. Collio DOC. Friulano 100%. True to its character, this wine is fairly aromatic, showing scents of wildflowers, yellow peach and apricot. It has a medium to full body offset by a pleasingly bright acidity. The palate is bursting with tropical fruit as well as peach, clove and lime zest. Long and refreshing on the finish, it leaves you wanting another sip. 

This wine comes from a single vineyard in Dolegna del Collio where the vines are about 40 years old. After manual harvest, and gentle pressing, the must is split equally into stainless steel and Hungarian oak barrels for alcoholic fermentation. The resulting wine is bottled after 8 months refinement in oak. I love having Friulano with a delicate and finely spliced, cooked ham or cooked prosciutto. My favorite dish to make is a bruschetta of sorts: spread a thin layer of creamy horseradish on French bread and top with thin slices of ham and a few sprigs of arugula. Easy and delicious! I had a version of this a few times while visiting Collio in the past. In fact, a lot of Collio dishes include or are accompanied by horseradish, which I find to be lovely with the region’s whites. Needless to say, I have used it a lot here.

Toros Pinot bianco 2019. Collio DOC. Pinot bianco 100%. This wine shows off a gorgeous bouquet of lemon curd, lime blossom, baking bread and a faint hint of ash. The palate is full with qualities of pear, lemon, beeswax and refreshing tangerine zest. A delightful Pinot bianco with a long, citrusy finish.

The Pinot bianco grapes come from a 26 year old hillside vineyard of Eocene marl and sandstone in Cormòns. After a manual harvest, the grapes are softly crushed and fermented without skins at a controlled temperature. The wine rests in stainless steel until the following spring. Because of the striking lemon character throughout, I decided to stand this up to grilled turkey breasts marinated in my homemade preserved Meyer lemons and olive oil. I didn’t get a picture of the finished product but instead wanted to highlight using preserved lemons with Pinot bianco. You could easily make the same marinade for grilled chicken, pork or vegetables. I also like to add a small amount of preserved lemon to salad dressing or add a big helping to mixed vegetables before roasting—brussels sprouts, kale and potatoes are great with it!

Collavini Broy 2018. Collio DOC. Friulano 50%, Chardonnay 30% and Sauvignon blanc 20%. Since the international varieties have been in the region for so long, it’s become natural over time to blend them with the indigenous Friulano. The marriage works really well. Friulano’s floral qualities balance out the zesty Sauvignon and the full-bodied Chardonnay fleshes out the midpalate on the triage. Aromas of mango and banana peel jump out of the glass. Upon closer contemplation, there are floral aromas of acacia and earthy notes of fresh, raw root vegetable like turnip or radish. While this wine is full-bodied, a refreshing acidity carries it through a long and precise finish. On the palate it has plenty of character—fresh pineapple, banana, peach, orange peel and chamomile. 

The grapes come from San Floriano del Collio and Cormòns. Interestingly the Friulano and Chardonnay grapes are left to partially dry before pressing, while the Sauvignon undergoes a brief period of skin contact before pressing. The musts are blended and then fermented in a mixture of stainless and barrels. The wine matures on fine lees through the entire year after harvest and is bottled the following summer, giving the opportunity for full flavor integration on this complex blend. Like most Collio blends, I love the Broy; the complexities in the bouquet and on the palate warranted it to be enjoyed completely on its own, so I could focus on it as it evolved in my glass on a relaxing summer evening.

I hope this helps inspire you to integrate Collio whites to the end of your summer and into some cooler autumn days as well! Cin cin!

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