Venica & Venica Friulano Collio Ronco delle Cime 1990–2017


Located in the Vencò fraction of Dolegna in the prestigious Collio denomination of Friuli Venezia Giulia, the estate founded in 1929 by Daniele Venica has long been a beacon of white wine quality not just in this region but in Italy as well. Best known for their Sauvignon Ronco delle Mele bottling, one of Italy’s first truly famous and world-class Sauvignon Blancs, Venica & Venica is actually very proficient with a number of other grape varieties as well, including Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano. The latter variety is used to make the Ronco delle Cime, one of Italy’s more interesting Friulanos (Tocai Friulano is the grape variety; Friulano is the name of the wine). Today the estate farms 40 hectares and produces about 300,000 bottles a year; roughly 12,000 to 15,000 bottles are of the Friulano Ronco delle Cime.

A few of the beautiful Ronco delle Cime vines.

The Grape Variety and Its Wines

Tocai Friulano is a Friuli biotype of Sauvignonasse, a variety that elsewhere in the world is mostly grown in Chile, though small plantings exist in France, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. In fact, there are at least three different biotypes of Tocai Friulano in FVG: the green, the yellow and the red-stalked. The merits of each are much debated (which means, this being Italy, that if you ask three FVG producers which biotype is best, you’ll get three completely different answers). In my experience, the green biotype gives aromas and flavors that are more reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc, while the yellow biotype gives bigger, rounder wines. (The red-stalked biotype is extremely rare and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody anywhere is making monovariety wines with it.) In the early 2000s, the majority of producers in FVG preferred to use mostly the yellow biotype, as big, fat, rich wines were in demand. But in recent years, many winemakers have backed off using only the yellow biotype, because over-exuberant reliance can result in wines that are a little too low in acidity and much too ripe. Even so, in my view wines made with a little more of the yellow biotype in the blend generally age better. These differences aside, the Tocai Friulano variety is a favorite in FVG, where it has apparently been documented since the 13th century.

The Venica family.

Farmers have always appreciated the fact that it is resistant to most vineyard diseases and grows easily, without posing too many problems. Just about the only concern with Tocai Friulano, albeit a serious one, is its thin skin, which breaks down easily in rainy years; a waterlogged autumn can wipe out most of an estate’s crop. The wines are very popular too. Fresh and juicy but with sneaky concentration, they sport a typical saline nuance that increases overall complexity. Locals like to drink Friulano not just with typical white wine fare (vegetables, fish) but also with the local salumi, especially the region’s magnificent prosciutto di San Daniele. A good Friulano expresses aromas and flavors of white flowers, white peach, green fig, sage, rosemary and fresh citrus fruits and a variety-typical bittersweet almond note. In fact, any time you walk into a local osteria (or gostilina, in Slovenian), the house wine will almost always be a Friulano (or a Ribolla Gialla).

A beautiful old bottle of Friulano that would later become Ronco delle Cime.

Venica & Venica’s Friulano Collio Ronco delle Cime

Ronco delle Cime was first made in 1999. It is not a single-vineyard wine but is made from a selection of the best grapes picked in a series of well-regarded vineyards in Cerò, Bernizze and Cime, lying at 180–240 meters above sea level. In fact, since the 2005 vintage, the grapes have come mostly from Cime, a 1.9-hectare vineyard planted entirely to Tocai Friulano, though at Cerò there still exists a small plot of Tocai Friulano called Punta Daniele (planted by Daniele Venica and named in his honor) that is especially high-quality. Ronco delle Cime’s oldest vines are roughly 50 years old, but because of the intense replanting program undertaken over the years, using massal selections obtained by scouring the estate’s best old vineyards, the Ronco delle Cime vines today average about 25 years of age. It’s interesting to note, because you can observe this in the various vintages of the Ronco delle Cime wines, that Venica & Venica owns mostly the yellow biotype of Tocai Friulano (though some of the lower hillsides are planted with the green biotype, which helps add freshness). The vines are mostly north-facing, which leads to longer hang times than in some other Venica vineyards (as much as a two-week difference come harvest time), but in order to make the Ronco delle Cime, the estate harvests the grapes in as many as 10 separate passes because of the wealth of mesoclimates in the vineyards. Diurnal temperature shifts are very pronounced (15- to 20-degree differences are not unheard of), making for very deep wines that are remarkably fresh and perfumed.

Vinification has also evolved over the years. Initially, the wine was vinified and aged in stainless steel only, but from 2007 the estate began aging a small percentage of the wine in large 27hL oak casks (half made with French oak and half with Slavonian oak) for five months. The portion of wine aged in oak was gradually increased until five years ago, when the current regimen of 50% oak aging was instituted. Ronco delle Cime is made every year, although annual production volumes differ depending on the vintage weather. The wines have always been made by Giorgio Venica, helped since 2013 by his daughter Marta, also a trained winemaker.

The wines in this report were tasted directly at the Venica & Venica winery with Giorgio, Gianpaolo, Ornella and Marta Venica in September 2019.

See the Wines from Youngest to Oldest

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