Ribolla Gialla – a True Speciality of the Collio DOC
Ribolla Gialla (RG) is a white grape variety grown in the Italian Collio DOC and Colli Orientali DOC and across the border in Brda, Slovenia, where it’s known as Rebula. The enclave of Oslavia in the Collio is regarded as its original home. This is an ancient variety, hardly found anywhere else*; first documented in the Thirteenth century, it had become widespread in Friuli and popular in Venice by the Fourteenth. This means RG has also had time to create a lot of genetic diversity. Once the most widely planted variety in the Collio, Phylloxera destroyed many Ribolla Gialla vineyards, compounded afterwards by two World Wars. Replanting was often with French types, then seen as a better commercial proposition.
Having become a rarity by the 1970s, Ribolla Gialla has made a significant comeback and now occupies 11% of the Collio vineyards. RG is fussy and only makes excellent wine on hillsides, preferably at the highest altitudes, certainly not on flat, fertile land. Therefore, the Collio DOC, where only hillside sites are permitted, is ideal.
What to expect
RG isn’t especially aromatic. It has a thick yellow (Gialla) skin, characterised by racy high acidity that doesn’t drop at harvest time, with only moderate sugar production. It is ideal for dry white wines, with a typical alcohol level of 12.5-13.5%. As is often the case, old vines bring lower yields and more complexity. These features make it versatile because it lends itself to a range of winemaking techniques, including an increasing trend for sparkling wines, though the use of oak can overwhelm its subtlety. As skin contact has often featured in local winemaking, this has been developed so that Ribolla Gialla is the ideal base for creating Orange Wines pioneered in Oslavia. In rare conditions, it can even develop noble rot.
The Wines and producers
The producers below show a snapshot of Ribolla Gialla – all the wines are excellent but have different expressions. Sometimes, this is the winemaking talking, but frequently, it’s also down to the local terroir differences. Hence, the Interactive Map shows the specific winery locations. The recent 2021 and 2022 vintages were hot years that brought extra weight and fleshiness. Indeed, global warming is evident in the Collio, where July temperatures have increased by 3-4°C over the last decade – a trend continuing in 2023.
Not all these examples here are available in the UK (more’s the pity), but those that are show prices and stockists. There are, of course, many other Ribolla Gialla producers in the Collio with excellent wines. However, all these below are Consorzio member producers who proudly presented their wines at various varietal tastings and dinners. They have a lot to be proud of!
An explanatory article introducing the Collio DOC is here. Tasting notes are given for each wine below, and all are 100% Ribolla Gialla from DOC Collio. The Interactive Map below shows each producer; click on the individual wine glass icons to show links to the producer’s website.
Interactive Map of Featured Producers
Humar, at San Floriano del Collio, 2022
Humar’s RG occupies two of their twelve hectares of vines, high up at San Floriano. Production is organically certified. Handpicked. 50% fermentation is spontaneous. 50% uses selected yeasts. Maceration on skins for three days, cool fermentation. No oak, one racking before bottling. Bright yellow gold. No big aromas, gently floral. The palate has tropical and exotic fruit, maybe influenced by selected yeasts, bound by racy acidity, a little white pepper and excellent persistence. N/A in the UK.
Gradis’ciutta, at San Floriano del Collio, 2022
25 ha of organically certified vineyards in several areas of Collio. Again, RG is high up at San Floriano, a lighter yellow-toned wine. One day cryomaceration, then a cool fermentation, no oak, lees ageing. Aromas of white pepper and apple skin. The palate is more citrus-lemony, with a bit of peach and a hint of saffron. It has precision acidity, is lighter-bodied, and has a long, clean mineral finish. It will develop over the coming years. Wine Not Italy, £22.20
Livon, Tenuta Roncalto, at Ruttars, near Dolegna del Collio, 2022
Part of the larger Livon wine group with wineries in several Italian regions. Vineyards are cooler as they are nearer the Alps. Silver-ish yellow colour. Delicate white flower aromas, while the palate has a saline minerality and persistent green apple. There’s less fruit but a more mineral tone on the finish – wet stones come to mind. Good concentration, a tangy, pithy example. Eurowines, £22.68
Bolzicco, at Cormons, 2022
Small producer at Cormons, with just eight ha of old vines, part in Collio and part in Isonzo. A more southerly location with lower altitude, a much warmer microclimate. Yellow with green flecks. Apple blossom aroma, then the palate shows lime fruit alongside lemon; the softer acidity makes the palate a bit broader and fleshier. Maybe a smidge more alcohol—no oak, all stainless steel and aged on the lees. N/A in the UK.
Tenuta Stella, at Dolegna del Collio, 2021
Tenuta Stella is organically certified and has a cooler microclimate because it’s nearest to the Alps. The wine is also a year older, the 2021 vintage slightly cooler than 2022, though a hot vintage, plus time for some development in the bottle. For ten months, 30% was matured in old French tonneaux, with 70% in stainless steel. A bright yellow colour, a white blossom nose, and a hint of white pepper. Green Apples and citrus, a touch of saffron, then almonds coming through on the finish, all bound with a softer acidity – no oak effects, but is there a partial malolactic fermentation here? GoodwineGoodpeople.com £21.50
Colmello di Grotta, Coldigrotta, at Farra d’Isonzo, 2020
Colmello di Grotta is in the far south of the Collio. At 110 metres in an area of low hills and sandy soils. 15 ha of vines in total spread across Collio and neighbouring Isonzo. This example is organic, with 30% aged in Amphora. 2020 vintage, so older, now majoring on minerality and subtle complexity. Colmello now keeps their wines back an extra year, so their releases are aged and ready for drinking on purchase. All sorts are going on; there’s white pepper, saffron, and black tea, all contributing to a tangy wine of excellent length. There is some creaminess on the palate – is that the amphora and a partial malolactic? An Autochtona Award winner – having judged there, I know that’s an outstanding achievement. (An experimental version exists with a no-sulphur 100% amphorae, but only 700 bottles pa, so untried, as yet). N/A in the UK.
Primosic, Ribolla Gialla di Oslavia Riserva, at Oslavia, 2018
These days, you can’t cover RG without including Orange wine. Primosic in Oslavia make RG in two guises, in the classic style and as orange wine. Indeed, Primosic is a leading exponent of the Orange style – the Oslavia “protocol” is maceration on the skins for 30 days before fermentation, then a minimum of two years in oak and a further minimum of two years in bottle. Hence, 2018 is the current vintage. Orange wines are marmite, with many examples being The Emperor’s New Clothes. However, this wine is perhaps the finest I’ve ever tasted, where the varietal character has been retained despite the “orange” complexity.
Amber coloured. The nose shows caramel, dried flowers and tangerine – one to linger over. Then, the creamy palate has orange pith, dried apple, apricot, saffron and honeycomb. Firm, dry tannins and crisp acidity complete the balance before a long, nutty finish. Higher alcohol – due to the evaporation of the Angel’s Share? No funk or Brett, just mastery; the result is pure energy. FortyFive10° £46.50
Try the local Žlikrofti, which originates from the Idrija Valley in Slovenia. This recipe is served at Ristorante Trattoria Al Cacciatore, La Subida Sirk, in Cormons. These are handmade pasta Tortellini, traditionally filled with potato and chives. This was the first Slovenian dish to be awarded protected PDO status and is often served in the Collio and typically served with roast meat juices or melted butter poured over. Slivers of aged Montasio DOP complete this dish.
Naturally, RG matches other cuisines, such as asparagus, freshwater fish, fried seafood, pasta and risotto. As for the Orange wines – they pair well with Middle Eastern cuisines.
Some concluding thoughts
Ribolla Gialla is undoubtedly an authentic taste of the Collio. It can show terroir because it differs according to where it’s grown in the Collio. However, it also responds to various winemaking styles, including Orange wines from the Oslavia area of the Collio, which is also Ribolla Gialla’s homeland. Undoubtedly, it can make some of Italy’s most outstanding white wines in the right hands. Indeed, all the wines featured here are heartily recommended.
*There’s a small amount in Croatia and California. BTW, it’s unrelated to the Greek Robola despite older claims – DNA tests have proven that.
If you like this, then try the white Friulano from Collio DOC.