Schioppettino rose up literally from the edge of extinction to become a beloved Friulian favorite in just 40 years. The love for Schioppettino, aka Ribolla Nera (no relation) aka Pocalza (in neighboring Slovenia) is written in the name, which probably comes from the Italian scoppiettare “to explode”. Whether that means crunchy grapes or explosive flavors, it definitely means the wine is bombastic. The variety is packed with a ton of the flavor compound called rotundone, which is the chemical responsible for the taste and smell of green peppercorns, so strap in aboard the rotundone rocket, we’ve got lift off.
Out in the Easternmost reaches of Colli Orientali del Friuli, in the cool foothills of the Alps, lies the little commune of Povoletto. Marco and Sandra Sara, and their two boys Pietro and Tobias, produce their microscopic seven hectares of organic vines here on soils that are locally renowned (also charmingly named) “ponca”. This is a flysch marl, which, when said 5 times fast, means: sandy clay sediment on limestone, and is notorious for imparting crazy acidity, so in these hills, it is THE flysch in all the top vineyard sites. The Schioppettino grows on just shy of four acres at the top of the Sara’s hills at about 1000 ft elevation – and also where the ponca is richest, which they believe gives their wine the most brilliant acidity and complexity.
There’s a sweet spot here that lands right between the Northern Rhône and Beaujolais, and yet we find ourselves way out in Northeasternmost Italy, where this Schioppettino manages to straddle the line between the luscious crunchy carbonic crushability of Beaujo and the deeper black pepper brambleberry of Syrah. With loads of purple flower perfume and peppercorns, the aromatics are a kaleidoscope of fruit and spice. The palate is like sinking into a velvet cushion, with the plump texture of black cherry and a snap of red currants, with sky high acidity and yet melting tannins. Would you like some freshly cracked rotundone on that? Answer: ‘Si. Bon pitic e prosit!’
Once an endangered outlaw in its homeland, Schioppetino was saved from near extinction in the 1970s by a few brave farmers who championed its ancient local ancestry (and deliciousness), even defying a very strange local Friulian law which made it illegal to cultivate extinct (and thereby unapproved) grape varieties.