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Staying at Iuli was a High Point of my Piedmont Trip

Staying at Iuli was a High Point of my Piedmont Trip

And now I have all their wines!


Two months ago I flew to Piedmont and I kicked off my trip with a stay at Iuli in Monferatto. I've held off on writing about the incredible experience I had until now for the simple and inarguable reason that I did not have enough of the wines on hand! Finally new vintages have arrived in the US so I am free to pass on my Iuli stories! 

I took an overnight flight as always and I always manage to sleep on the plane to maximize my time there. But this time I just couldn't go to sleep. I sat reclined in my seat with a hat over my eyes and ear plugs in for a solid five hours straight and I never truly dosed off. I accepted it and enjoyed landing at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport at 5 am and having it completely to myself. By the time I landed in Turin and talked Hertz into giving me an Abarth hatchback I was a bit of a zombie. The car and some espressos perked me up but the drive across the Po river valley was pretty bland. Then, suddenly I was driving up into these steep wild wooded hills: Monferrato!  

I drove up a small switch back up a bill and bam: there I was at Iuli. Conveniently Fabrizio was out front tasting wines with a friend and an elderly Swiss couple who owned a small vineyard nearby and contracted Fabrizio to take care of the land and then make them a wine each year. As I got there they were tasting some of Frabizio's wines plus the very young still fermenting wine from the vineyard of the Swiss couple. It was a wonderful relaxed moment talking about whether or not to age the wine in wood at all and how the vintage had been. This was a good introduction to Iuli. Located in the tiny hamlet of Montaldo up on top of a ridge where the road turns to dirt and fades into the woods beyond town; this is an isolated, insulated, beautifully relaxed oasis up in the hills.

The two days at Iuli were wonderful and made an impression on me. The vineyard and winery, the people, the dinner party we had, the school; it was all great. What really over all struck me though was the feel. There was constantly so much happening and people all over working, but it was all relaxed and comfortable and felt in it's rythym, everything in it's place. It was a great introduction to Piedmont and a feeling I'll remember.

Summer showing me the Waldorf school she started when the pandemic closed all the schools. Seems like a pretty reasonable thing to do: you need a school? Might as well start your own. The first night I was there Summer had a school board meeting so Fabrizio and I went out to dinner at a restaurant in a nearby town. We talked a lot about his youth playing music. We drove his immaculate old Citroen DS. He told me he had had one when he was a teenager but got profiled by the police all the time pulled over. Apparently Citroen DSs were stereotypically driven by rebellious kids and musicians going to parties.... which I think actually sort of describes Fabrizio. Fabrizio always missed the DS and years later, once Iuli was successful, Fabrizio tracked down an old DS in great shape and bought it.

Summer looking out from the back to the winery at the valley of their vineyards. From the Waldorf school on the back hillside we could look out over all the vineyards planted on the hillsides leaving the low point in the center of the valley empty. The kids were putting on a little performance to celebrate Michaelmas. 

Fabrizio's family owns just about all the valley and had only made wine for themselves up until Fabrizio started selling wine in 1998. So no chemicals, pesticides, or herbicides have ever been used here. Everything is organic with some biodynamic principles. All the work is by hand and the grapes ferment with native yeasts in a cellar that has been used for wine going back 300 years. The soil is all grey argillos clay. It's dense and super slippery when wet! I ran all over the vineyards and up and down on the hill sides and definitely should have had boots! The wines are technically natural but only because that was how Fabrizio's family had always continued to work. He primarily grows Barbera along with other traditional grapes like Grignolino, Slarina, Nebbiolo, Pinot Nero, and now Baratuciat. The wines are alive and lovely and also have a very strong sense of place; they are very true expressions of Monferrato wine making.

After the 30 or so kids in the Waldorf school held their Michaelmas performance Fabrizio took me all around the perimeter of the vineyards and through the woods in his '79 Land Rover. This is the view looking back across the valley at their house/winery (the tall brown building) and the whole rest of Montaldo next to it. His extended family had been here around this tiny valley for generations making wine for themselves and then eventually for a restaurant that they had. In his younger days Fabrizio worked in the family restaurant and then nearly moved to South America (I think it was Colombia that he visited repeatedly). Personal connections kept the South American move from happening and Fabrizio decided that he needed to “grow up” and stop working tables. He liked wine, had been learning about it through the restaurant, and he had inherited about 2 hectares there in his family's little valley. So he decided to try his hand at making wine commercially and in 1998 he started bottling Iuli and selling it. Fabrizio already had experience making wine in a traditional natural style with his family so he started from there.

Fabrizio in the cellar reflecting on how much he likes the 2021 Pinot Noir. 

In ten years, starting from 1998 Fabrizio grew to 8.5 hectares there in the little valley behind the winery. In 2008, Summer Wolfe, a wine buyer from the US came for a visit and taste his wines. They were both love struck. Summer moved in, they got married, they had 2 children, Summer helped Fabrizio plant more vineyards and expand to selling in more international markets. And Summer started a wine import company in the US so she could sell Iuli in America. And then after that company ran it's course Summer started another import company, Hootananny, with the help of her friend Carolyn. Summer is a very energetic person. At dinner I asked Fabrizio how it had been meeting Summer and falling in love and everything. I asked if it had been like getting hit by a hurricane. Fabrizio gave a sly smile and a little shrug and said it had been what it had been and that it had been great. I took away that it may have been a whirlwind but Fabrizio had been ready for it and had loved all of it. Fabrizio had a little corner shrine in a stairwell with a picture of the Dude from the Big Lebowski. I definitely saw shades of the calm "taking what comes" ethos of The Dude Abides.

Fabrizio uses a lot of cement for aging. He uses some wood tanks for softening wines that need it but cement is his go to. It sounded like he had gotten a lot of his tanks either free as others discarded. They were a fun hodgepodge of different sizes and styles; but that's actually kind of useful since your volume of wine fluctuates vintage to vintage it's kind of handy to have a wide assortment of different size vessels so that hopefully you can get all the wine to just fit and all the tanks to be full!

Fabrizio's little shrine in a corner of the stairwell: two old pictures of when he played serious amateur soccer, a picture of the Dude from the Big Lebowski, and a comic drawing of four men all balancing on top of a wine barrel carrying more bottles of wine. Fabrizio explained that the Dude is his guiding light (he abides) and that his life is encapsulated by that drawing of all the people balancing on a wine barrel.

Iuli Baratuciat

Find this at Black Birch, Blue Hill Wine Shop, Maine and Loire, and Aragosta

Baratuciat is a local indigenous grape that was just discovered in the last 15 or so years. Fabrizio told me that an old man had a large grape vine growing over the side of his house and that he sometimes made wine from the grapes. Eventually the vine was too big and sort of a problem for the house so he cut it down, but first he took cuttings and made a small vineyard. He started regularly making wine from the vineyard and at some point a bottle came into Fabrizio's hands. Fabs had been searching for a white grape that he could grow but didn't really like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. He decided to start experimenting with Baratuciat, this new pretty unknown variety, and has come to really love it. Yes, the grape's name does mean "cat's balls" in local slang. The grape clusters apparently look like cats balls. Hence the label. It's more of that romantic rural Italian magic.

Aroma: ripe sweet apple, fresh peach juice, a little bit of hay, a little teeny bit of melted butter. It smells ripe and fruity and sunny and delicious

Taste: medium bodied and energetic, it's vivid and has nice acidity up front but then more body and mouth feel on the mid-palate. Up front there's a fresh orange flavor and then the mid palate is kind of lemon citrusy. The finish has an apple flavor and more mouthfeel and a hint of aromatic spice. I really enjoy it; it's a vivid energetic wine with nice acidity that balances the fruit. It reminds me of a really ripe Alpine Italian Sauvignon blanc or kind of like a dry Chenin Blanc.

Iuli La Rina

Find this at Solo Cucina, Blue Hill Wine Shop, Black Birch, and Bow St Beverage

This is Slarina, an old local grape variety that was effectively abandoned after WWII. Oddly it produces lots of grapes in some years and then almost no grapes in other years. The clusters are also very lose with lots of space between the tiny berries which helps it resist mildew. Consequently Slarina can happily be planted on shadier north facing hillsides where other varieties might not be happy. The University of Torino helped find and resurrect the variety and Fabrizio has been planting some on the far side of the valley where it's shadier. The Slarina gets about 10 days of skin maceration and then 6 months resting in cement.

Aroma: really pretty fresh berry aroma that combines bright strawberry, ripe raspberry, and a little bit of a wild brambley peppery raspberry bushes sort of a thing. It smells so fresh and exciting and delicious! Really what more do you want?

Taste: smooth fresh easy drinking and gorgeous! The texture is so smooth and then it has these tannins that aren't too aggressive or heavy but they do sort of hold on and linger. The fruit is bright and opens with some raspberry and cherry but gets progressively darker until it turns into a darker cherry or black raspberry by the time you get to the finish. This has a great balance. The texture is smooth and it's thirst quenching and very vibrant but the flavors are a little bit wild and intense. It's driven by the pretty fruit, restrained woodsiness on the mid-palate and then those unique tannins.

Iuli Ta Da!

Find this at John Edwards, Blue Hill Wine Shop, and Leeward

The Ta Da! is a delicious field blend of Gignolino, Pinot Nero, Slarina, and Baratuciat. The grapes are co-harvested and co-fermented in concrete. So in order to get the timing right the Grignolino is a little under ripe and the Pinot is a little over ripe. This sort of feels like the flagship of Iuli, if you could say the winery has a flagship wine. Yes the Barabba is the biggest serious extroverted wine that they make but the Ta Da! feels like more an expression of Fabrizio since it's actually a blend that has a bit more of his fingerprints on it instead of just a single varietal expression. Also Ta Da! is a saying he uses a lot to sort of express a conclusion of a story or thought. How cool is it that the flagship wine is a unique delicious and complex 11.5% alcohol coferment of red and white grapes?! I clearly think it's very cool.

Aroma: really pretty fresh raspberries just off the bush, some cranberry: it smells beautiful and elegant. It has very fresh red fruit with this subtle touch of aromatic herbs... rosemary I think, in the back of it. Maybe a little bit of ginger too

Taste: juicy bright and zippy. Really compelling raspberry and some fresh red cherry up front, but then the mid-palate turns darker and has rich riper raspberry, black raspberry, and then this interesting little cranberry kick. It has real structure and the tannins make this serious. The fruit up front is so pretty and uplifting and then it gets darker and has some black pepper. The structure is deceptively substantial but the finish also has a suppleness to it and then uplift. I think the Pinot Noir contributes some of the effortlessly smooth textured mid palate. It's a super impressive complex delicious and layered wine. It has this delicious thirst quenching uplifting character that I feel like I pretty much only ever get from vin de soif, but then more complex earthy woodsey flavors come in. It kind of tricks you and surprises you in a fantastic way.

Iuli Rossore
$26/ btl

Find this at Solo Cucina and the Blue Hill Wine Shop

Classicly big, juicy, muscular, and with some dark savory foresty qualities Rossore is a very old school Monferrato Barbera expression. More than any of the other wines this may really be the core wine that expresses what this part of Monferrato is known for wine wise. Rossore comes from a few south facing parcels of Fabrizio's older Barbera vines and gets 3-4 weeks of skin maceration before it is aged for 24 months in large old Slavonian oak casks followed by 6 months in bottle.

Aroma: deep dark spicy black cherry. The aroma is driven by a core of juicy fruit, but there's all kinds of aromatic spice: coriander, a little bit of clove, it smells a little bit like wood smoke or something toasted. The aroma makes me think of Cajun spices! There's even a little bit of heady blood orange to he aroma

Taste: juicy rich raspberry hits you up front. The fruit flavors are so concentrated that they make me think of syrup or a reduction, but the wine is definitely not sweet! After that brooding the dark jammy fruit up front I get more wintergreen and sage on the mid palate. There's a hint of toffee and then some cranberry as well. The finish has more cherry.... there are good meaningful tannins but they're not too aggressive and support the fruit. The interesting aromatic spices on the mid palate are really cool and a great partner to the ripe dense fruit

Barabba Barbera

Find this at the Portland Food Co-op

Barabba is 100% Barbera and Fabrizio only makes it in the best years. Fabs started making it because he had a small plot of nearly 100 year old vines that his grandfather had planted and of course he wanted to vinify those separately. Eventually though too many vines had died in that vineyard, it wasn't producing much fruit, and it was in a little corner at the back of the vineyard where the wild boar could easily sneak in an eat all the grapes. So eventually Fabrizio replanted that parcel with more Slarina and Baratuciat. He couldn't give up on Barabba though so he found a nearby 90 year old parcel that he could rent and fully farm the way he wanted. In the years that he doesn't feel are good enough the fruit can go into Rossore, but in the best years he keeps this fruit separate. It gets 4 weeks on the skins and then 2 years in a 2100 L oak cask and then more aging in the bottle until Fabrizio is ready to release it. This 2019 vintage is 14% alcohol and I find the Barabba to be a bit silkier and more fruit driven than the Rossore. It's just as big, but a bit less dark and savory. It's a bit more polished and very impressive.

GioGio Freisa

Find this at Maine and Loire, John Edwards, Alna General Store, Kennebec Meat Co, The Weather Bird, and the Blue Hill Wine Shop

After decades in the wine business Summer finally jumped off the cliff and made a wine herself. This is a red made from Freisa and it is delicious and very impressive! For years Fabrizio and Summer had been vinifying a small barrel or tank (depending on the vintage) of Friesa for a legendary grape grower in Monfferrato to make some wine for the grower's personal consumption. After tasting the developing wines for years Summer fell in love with the variety. One day when Summer dreamily said " This is so good, I am fascinated by this variety; I want to make a Freisa" Fabrizio said "do it!" And Summer did. She has 2 hectares planted.

Aroma: mmm, the smell is a delicious balanced combination of juicy red cherry and raspberry jam. It's just a little bit spicy/peppery in the background; like a combination of the cool aromatic spice of rosemary and then a bit of a wild brambley quality hidden behind the fruit. 

Taste: bright and juicy and fresh up front, strawberry and raspberry fruit... then it has some drying sort of powdery tannins that remind me of coco powder on the mid palate. It picks up some tart cherry and then this slightly woodsey smokey tart kind of blood orangey finish! Please excuse my bending of the English language there. Friesa is a parent of Nebbiolo and while individual wines don't always taste that similar this Friesa has a finish that is very reminiscent of a structured but sexy and romantic Nebbiolo.

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