Sossò: the birth of a wine, its land and its evolution
In 1986 we decided that the time had come to start making a superior quality red wine. Five years after the birth of Terre Alte, it was once again my brother Maurizio to feel this necessity. As it would be in any other viticultural estate, the first step was to identify the perfect vineyard. The choice wasn’t hard- the perfect spot was the top of the ponca (1) hill, not far from the Sossò stream, where all of the winery's oldest red grape vines were located. It didn’t surprise anyone that those vines, estimated to be about seventy years old (2), were Merlot vines (3) given that Merlot first arrived in Friuli towards the end of the 18th Century. Given its great adaptability, Merlot started spreading rapidly across the region in the early 20th Century; so much so, that it was replacing native varietals and that by the post-World War II era it was the most widely planted varietal in the region (4).
In 1989, after three years of experimentation, Sossò was born from highly selected Merlot grapes elevated by the use of barrique. It was an elegant and ethereal wine that represented the estate’s style. We were inspired by the Pomerol classics, but we were also looking towards some of the emerging wines of the time like L’Apparita and Masseto.
The vintages continued with good evolution to distinguish themselves (our library goes back ot 1991).
In 1995 we started collaborating with Stefano Chioccioli, the architect of the qualitative rebirth among the estate’s red grape vines. We started with meticulous improvements in our agricultural practices. This attention wasn’t focused only on the vineyard, meant as the population of vines growing together, but rather to each individual vine as its own entity.
During this time, Rosazzo (5) requested and received recognition as a specially suited area of production within the Colli Orientali del Friuli and in 1996 Sossò started being named by the “Rosazzo rosso” (7) designation, even though it continued to be made with Merlot grapes.
The results weren’t late in coming. The quality of our red wines were noticeably improving- not only with Merlot, but surprisingly also from the Refosco dal peduncolo rosso (8); so much so, that by the 1997 harvest Sossò and Refosco together were the estate’s top red wines.
It was during this time that we highlighted a few aspects that ended up proving themselves to be extremely important. The two varieties expressed themselves in very different ways. Merlot, always elegant and persuasive, tended towards higher alcohol when pushed towards full phenolic maturity (9). On its own, the Refosco dal peduncolo rosso didn’t present a high sugar concentration, but upon maturity it revealed itself with outstanding poliphenolic levels, especially anthocyanins (10).
The 1999 vintage was extremely favorable to Friuli’s red grapes. We made a beautiful Sossò and a wonderful Refosco. Our success and recognition continued to grow, but I felt a certain sense of insatisfaction. Sossò represented one of the best expressions of Friulan red wine, but it was still trapped in that category. Refosco had reached its pinnacle and was a shining jewel in its variety, but it still showed its rustic limits.
Our intuitions of 1997 and the experiments that followed still needed to be applied. We needed to make a difficult decision. We needed to resist the temptation of saying “here you go” to the growing and, at times, petty call for native varietals. With great difficulty we decided to unite all of our resources available to create one Great Red Wine during the last harvest of the Century. Refosco was sacrificed for the cause and the production of the “new” Sossò was born. It was a turning point.
Even while the objective of the estate’s important red wine was achieved, the final coronation occurred in the following vintage. I think it was the favorable climatic conditions, not the addition of a small percentage of Pignolo, that gave us a vibrant, intense and noble wine. With great humility, but also with a sense of pride and boasting, I heard myself say, “Sossò 2001 is a great wine!”
Too bad the following vintage was a difficult one. Our way had already been paved however and we needed to follow it with great seriousness and without compromise. We realized that the wine, intriguing and extremely pleasurable, lacked the finesse and depth that we wanted from Sossò. In addition, it appeared that it didn’t have the potential to evolve through a long aging process. Time will tell us if we were right, nonetheless the 2002 Sossò wasn’t released. We decided to bottle the wine as “Rosso” and it preceded its big brother in release.
And now we have the Sossò 2001! We could look back and reminisce to the fact that the context has changed and that the easy euphoria of the late ‘80s has gone. Those of us who live from the earth however, who love nature and its cycles, have no fear of waiting. And now we have the comfort of knowing, given that you had the patience and care to read to this point, that other people have grown to loving it... like I love it.
(1) Ponca is a Friulan term to identify the flysch (stratified deposits of marine sediment) of marl (calcitic clay) and aragonite (calcified sands) that make up the Colli Orientali del Friuli. These soils originated during the Eocene epoch in the Cenozoic era 50 million years ago. It is particularly well-suited to grape growing.
(2) Albino, an old farmer from Rosazzo, remembers the time they were planted.
(3) The main Bordeaux variety that characterizes the wines of Pomerol and Saint Emilion (rive droite). It became prominent in the post-phylloxera era replacing Carmenere.
(4) Sourced from a conversation between Livio Felluga and Orfeo Salvador.
(5) The Rosazzo Abbey “was first founded around 800 AS by the hermit Alemanno who lived in those woods and built an oratory and a cell... By the year 1100 Rosazzo monastery was built as a Benedictine abbey.” Michela Cadau. L’Abbazia di Rosazzo (Casamassima Libri, 1989).
(6) A wine’s “sottozona” , or sub-zone, can be used, as defined by Italian law L.164/92, art. 2 “in exceptional cases that demonstrate uniqueness of the environment and micro-climates, that give a high-quality product of national and international interest, can identify the wines with the name of the sub-zone and a locally decided production code that is more restrictive then the DOCs”
(7) Production code of the sottozona “Rosazzo”, art 2, comma 3: “The denomination ‘Colli orientali del Friuli’ followed by the specification ‘Rosazzo’ with the specification ‘bianco’ and ‘rosso’ is reserved to the wines coming from vineyards of one or more varietals among the vines mentioned in article 2 of the production code of the wines of the ‘Colli orientali del Friuli’ “
(8) Phenolic substances represent an important part of the grape’s composition. They are the base of the organoleptic composition of wine given that they play the determinative role in the definition of the color, the aromas and the tactile aspects of the wine. Given that these molecules are generally reactive, moreover the phenolic substances are important in determining the stability and longevity. (From Filippo Felluga “Strumenti tecnologici per la valorizzazione dei vini a denominazione d’origine del Friuli Venezia Giulia”)
(9) Anthocyanins, part of the family of poliphenols, determine the colors of red wine.
(10) Native Friulan varietal. DiManzano wrote in the 1390 “Annals of Friuli” of that “Roman ambassadors offered 20 igastariis (terra-cotta or glass vessels with a capacity of around one liter) of Refosco wine to the general of the Domincani.” More recently, in the “Report of the Commission on the Exhibition on Grapes and other Agricultural Products” of 1863, the “Rifòsc dal pecòl ròss” was called “the queen of the Friulan grapes”. AA.VV. “La vite e l’uomo- Dal rompaicapo delle origini al salvataggio delle reliquie” ed. E.R.S.A. 2004, p 811.
(11) Ancient Friulan varietal that survived on the slopes of Rosazzo.