Paul Howard Articles, Blog, Italy, Organic, Sustainability

Tenuta Stella

Tenuta Stella – a Bright Star in the Collio Heavens

Tenuta Stella is a young, certified organic Italian winery. It’s in the far northeast of Italy, in the crescent-shaped Collio DOC at Dolegna. Dolegna is one of the five unofficial subzones in the Collio DOC, being closest to the Alps and featuring some of the highest elevations. It also has Collio’s unique Ponca soils and enjoys a reputation for high-quality wines.

Recently, Collio has become one of my favourite Italian destinations. Hence, I’ve previously featured some of the most popular Collio grape varieties in these pages, such as Friulano and Ribolla Gialla. Tenuta Stella makes these and other dry wines in sparkling, white, orange/amber, and red styles.

However, the focus here is on their Malvasia Istriana. While this grape variety accounts for only 3% of the Collio vineyards, it’s becoming more popular and deserves wider appreciation. Furthermore, it encapsulates Tenuta Stella’s minimum-intervention wine style and organic philosophy.

About Tenuta Stella

Sergio Stevanato, the owner, founded Tenuta Stella in 2009. Stevanto is the chairman of an international pharmaceutical glass company that has developed its glassmaking from a Venetian heritage. Hence, a husband-and-wife team runs Tenuta Stella: Alberto Faggiani (wine production) and Erika Barbieri (oenologist, technical, and marketing). Erika recently presented some of their wines, and I was fortunate enough to attend.

Sustainability

They take a sustainable approach, aiming to maintain their ecosystem and diversity. For example, the winegrowing has been organic since 2013 and certified since 2016. Moreover, manual work is preferred over automation, and solar energy powers the farm. Tenuta Stella is now becoming DiversityArk certified, a certification that monitors and measures biodiversity scientifically.

There’s also a circular economy operating here: the waste pomace becomes natural fertiliser, while the bottle labels use recycled paper. The bottles are the distinctive Collio DOC design, made of 100% recycled glass and weighing only 410 g. In addition, animal products are not used, so the wines are vegan.

50,000 bottles are produced yearly, potentially increasing to 70,000 over the next five years.

Vineyards

The organic vineyards are located at the highest part of the Collio DOC, ranging from 180 to 270 metres. The vines are cultivated on terraces with deliberately low yields (about half of what is allowed under Collio DOC rules). The entire estate comprises 38 hectares, of which 15 ha are vineyards and the remainder woodland. Initially, the vineyard was 5 ha. This was expanded in 2018, adding 5 ha, and in 2022, with another 5 ha. Planting new vineyards in Collio isn’t allowed, so the estate expansion can only come by purchasing existing holdings.

The white grape varieties at Tenuta Stella are Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, and Malvasia Istriana, plus a small amount of Chardonnay. The reds are Schioppettino, Pignolo, Tazzelenghe and Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, with a tiny amount of Pinot Nero.

 

Malvasia Istriana

Malvasia Istriana is not as familiar as it deserves to be. According to expert Ian d’Agata, it’s one of seventeen Italian Malvasias, many of which are of Greek origin and made sweet! However, DNA research suggests it’s unlike any other, and its origins are probably in Croatia, where it’s also planted. This variety has many biotypes, meaning that it’s an ancient variety that has had time to adapt to the conditions where it’s grown. Although it does well in many locations in Friuli and Croatia, it does best at the top of well-draining hillsides, such as in Collio, where it can achieve full ripeness and always makes a dry wine. Ripeness plus human restrictions on vigour and grape yields results in the capture of complex aromas and flavours.

 

Tenuta Stella, Collio Malvasia DOC, 2022.  13%

Tenuta Stella Malvasia

Tenuta Stella Malvasia

Technical

Two hectares of guyot-trained Malvasia Istriana grapes grown at 180-250 metres on Ponca soil facing southeast. Harvest in early September. Whole bunch pressed with the stems, then a three-week fermentation at 16-18°C in stainless steel tanks. The alcoholic fermentation is spontaneous using indigenous yeasts, and the malolactic fermentation follows. Maturation features 40% stainless steel tanks and 60% untoasted French oak and Mulberry wood tonneau. Malolactic fermentation occurs naturally. The wine is bottled under cork after ten months on the lees, with 5-6,000 bottles per year.

Tasting Note

Served at 14°C – not overchilled to allow full expression. A golden-yellow in the glass. There are complex and powerful aromas here – the typical apricot and peach varietal fragrances, but with hints of fresh ginger, dried roses, and white pepper appear as the wine opens. On the palate, those aromas reprise, along with citrus and pear notes. There is sufficient acidity for freshness and balance with the fruit and moderate alcohol. It has a full, robust body yet still shows elegance and finesse.

Meanwhile, the wood’s influence is super-subtle. There is no big oakiness here to drown out the complexity and subtlety. Instead, the no-toast wood is for slow and gentle oxygen exchange. Erika says that the rare (and no doubt expensive) Mulberry wood imparts a dimension of roundness and silken texture.

Finally, a saline note and an attractive hint of wintergreen provide a satisfying and refined finish.

In short, this distinctive wine is an authentic expression of terroir. It’s ready to drink, will improve over the next few years, and will live for ten years or more.

 

And finally

Erika also showed two other varietal wines: Ribolla Gialla Riserva 2020, a skin contact wine (orange/amber wine), and Friulano 2022. These are also superb expressions and will feature in a future article.

UK importers are Passione Vino (Pandemonio di Luca Dusi) in London. They have the Malvasia Istriana 2019 at £31.00.

Food is an essential partner. Consequently, the big flavours of pan-fry Cod Loin proved an ideal match. As for cheese, if you can source Montasio PDO aged cheese (a Friulian classic), that’s a perfect pairing. Instead, Thornby Moor Dairy’s Allerdale from Cumbria was a great match, and surprisingly, so was their Blue Whinnow.

Being a white wine with the body of a red, there’s enough robustness here to match with Salumi, too.

Tenuta Stella is a bright star in the heavens of Collio. Malvasia Istriana is a grape variety that is becoming more popular in Italy, and the Tenuta Stella expression is exceptional and will grace any table.

Location

Tenuta Stella
Via Sdencina, 1
34070 Dolegna del Collio (GO)
Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Italy

What3words Location

 

*The word Istriana never appears on the Collio DOC label. Given the grape’s pedigree and distinctiveness, perhaps it’s time to show that word to differentiate it from many other Malvasias, especially the sweet ones.

 

Many thanks to Erika Barbieri of Tenuta Stella for presenting this exceptional wine!

 

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