The vastness of Italy’s rich viticultural variety never ceases to amaze, and it is always a thrill to turn over a heretofore unknown stone. During the past few years, due to our new relationships with Gravner, Zidarich, and Vodopivec, we found ourselves spending more time in the northeast of the country, and taking a closer look at the Veneto region in particular. While Valpolicella and Amarone are the red wines that dominate the public consciousness of the Veneto, they hardly tell the whole story. As is the case throughout Italy, despite the proliferation of international varieties (as widespread a phenomenon in the Veneto as anywhere), pockets of deep tradition exist and thrive. In that vein, we consider ourselves quite fortunate to have discovered Dominio di Bagnoli—a unique fattoria nestled in the southeast corner of the Veneto, in the commune of Padua.
Owned for the past century by the Borletti family, the Bagnoli estate dates back another thousand years prior (during which time it was owned by the church), and in fact there exists evidence of viticulture in the area from pre-Roman times. Encompassing over 600 hectares of land and forest, the farm produces rice, flour, honey, grapeseed oil, and, of course, wine. The Borletti family and their team run the entire farm as sustainably as possible, with many of the products certified-organic, and they pride themselves on their operation’s very low carbon footprint. The Villa Widman-Borletti—the nerve center of Bagnoli—is a splendorous work, designed and constructed in the mid-17th century by the famous Venetian architect Baldassare Longhena. Within the complex are a granary, a theater, stables, a pigeon loft, a medieval monastery garden (adorned with forty amazing statues created in the 19th century specifically for the estate), and the wine cellar itself—a thick-walled, vaulted-ceilinged, subterranean barrel room of striking beauty. The whole operation is a sight to behold, suffused thoroughly with a palpable, almost achingly old-world éclat.
Bagnoli’s wine production centers around the local Friularo (known also as Raboso Piave, in reference to the local Piave river), a tight-bunched, late-ripening variety that combines pert acidity, jaunty tannins, and mercifully low alcohol—not a far cry from its northeastern siblings Terrano and Refosco with whom it shares a parent. Friularo is particularly suited to the sandy soils of the Bagnoli estate, which contribute to its exuberant and burstingly red-fruited aromatic profile. A whiff of the nearby Adriatic Sea permeates the wines as well, manifesting in an attractive complicating trace of salinity. Furthermore, the high-acid Friularo takes particularly well to late-season harvesting, and indeed Bagnoli produces a powerful, spice-driven, complex Vendemmia Tardiva that still manages to convey freshness and lift. Notably, Friularo di Bagnoli was upgraded to full DOCG status in 2011—a clear testament to its ultimate distinctiveness and quality.
Fermentations at Bagnoli take place in cement and begin spontaneously in all but exceedingly rare instances, and aging occurs in very well-used French oak of various sizes—but mostly in enormous 50-hectoliter foudres which flank the dramatic cellar room. Sulfur dioxide is used sparingly (and never before malolactic fermentation has finished), and the wines typically end up with just 50-60 milligrams per liter of total sulfur. The finished wines possess undeniable charm, combining an unfussy elegance with an appealing trace of rusticity. In the manner of Italy’s most successful indigenous-variety local wines, Dominio di Bagnoli’s are comfortable in their skin and undeniably evocative of their place of origin, and we are eager to share them with you this season.
2015 Friularo di Bagnoli Classico
This lip-smacking wine showcases the vibrant side of Friularo’s personality, with a nose of high-toned spices, purple flowers, and tangy red fruits. A subtle pipe-tobacco element adds a bit of savory depth, and the gently tannic, cleansingly acid-driven palate culminates in a quite long finish. The Borlettis insist that Friularo can age well, and certainly the combination of acidity and tannin here bode promisingly for future development despite the wine’s overall current accessibility. This 2015 was fermented in cement (with a maceration period of two weeks), then aged in 50-hectoliter foudres for 18 months, followed by an additional year in bottle before being put up for sale.
2013 Friularo di Bagnoli Classico “Vendemmia Tardiva”
A testament to the variety’s capacity for depth, Bagnoli’s late-harvest Friularo is selected vine by vine, necessitating up to three separate passes through the vineyards, and is harvested during the latter half of November. Fermented in cement like the “basic” Friularo above, the 2013 “Vendemmia Tardiva” spent three years in a combination of large foudres and smaller tonneaux (20% new), followed by an additional year in bottle. Hailing from a warm vintage, this wine illustrates Friularo’s capacity for power, with a sterner tannic mien and notable density on the palate. There’s a more obvious mineral component here than in the basic wine, and despite its late-harvest concentration the fruit remains vibrantly red and scintillating in its acidity—no mean feat.