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The Refosco Grape

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About Refosco

(Synonyms [for "Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso"]: Peteljcice, Refosc dal Pecol Rosso, Refosco, Refosco Nostrano, Refosco Penduncolo Rosso, Rifosc, Rifosco, Teran Crvene, Teran Crvene Peteljcice)


Refosco grapes Map showing the Triveneto region of Italy

Refosco is a red-wine grape originating in the so-called "Triveneto" (or "Tre Venezie") region of Italy, located in the northeast and centered on Venice. It is a grape, and wine, of great antiquity, being yet another that Pliny the Elder praised in his writing.

"Refosco" is actually not one grape but a small family of closely related grapes, comprising from six to eight varieties (there is some dispute over which are truly distinct types). The variety known as "Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso"—"Refosco of the Red Stems"—is by consensus held to make the best wines, and it is the grape from which the great majority of Refosco wines available in the U.S. are made. The Refosco wines from Italy's Colli Orientali D.O.C. are often held to be the premier specimens.

Refosco grapes have as one parent the excellent but still little-appreciated Marzemino grape (but, according to DNA analysis, they are not related to Mondeuse, old theories notwithstanding).

Like many Italian red wines, Refoscos tend towar high acidity. They also tend to be "big" wines: full-bodied, strongly flavored, quite tannic, and with a touch of the bitterness that Italians are said to like in their food and wines. The flavor quality is dark fruit, with the terms "plum", "currant", and "berry" showing up frequently. Better examples will age tolerably well.

For those mysterious reasons that drive the eccentricities of international wine marketing, Refosco at present remains a variety little known to or appreciated by the U.S. market, despite general critical plaudits for the wines. (That accounts for the paucity of Refosco reviews in the lists farther below.)

Factoid: The Parenzana railway from Trieste to Poreč was often called the wine railroad (or the vineyard railroad) because, it was said, the Habsburg who controlled the Austro-Hungarian Empire were especially fond of wines from the Triveneto, notably including Refosco.

Some Descriptions of Refosco Wines

  • Wikipedia at "Refosco"

    "The wines this grape yields can be quite powerful and tannic, with a deep violet color and a slight bitterness. On the palate, there are strong currant, wild berry and plum flavors. The wine can stand some aging (depending on variety), and after a period of four-to-ten years, it achieves a floral quality as well."

    Wikipedia at "Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso"

    "The deeply colored wine produced from the grape tends to be full-bodied with high acidity levels and flavors of plum & almond notes. Since the renewed interest in the grape of the 1980s, winemakers have experimented with producing more internationally recognizable styles of the grape with techniques like malolactic fermentation and new oak aging to mix results."

  • Wine Searcher

    "Refosco wines have particularly high acidity and are mostly dark and densely colored with violet and grassy aromas. Flavors of dark peppery spices and plums abound on the palate, and the wine often displays a slightly astringent, almond-skin finish on the palate. Refosco is a late ripener, and if harvested too early, can produce harsh, unripe tannins."

  • Wine Words Wisdom

    "This deeply colored wine is robust and full-bodied with discernible tannins yet polished and supple with black fruit flavors and almond notes. It has a long and pleasant finish marked with notes of plums and currants. The Refosco’s prominent acidity, typical for this variety, makes it a good complement to a wide variety of foods, especially grilled meats and other hearty meat entrees."

  • Wine Geeks

    "Refosco makes tannic and hardy red wines with high levels of acidity and currants. Recent versions have taken well to new oak and cold fermentation. The best examples of Refosco come from the Colli Orientali region of Friuli. "

  • Wine Enthusiast

    "Rich in both tannin and acidity, the dark-skinned Refosco produces sturdy wines with red berry and currant flavors. The wines are most expressive when paired with poultry or game and will generally benefit from a bit of cellaring."

  • Cal-Italia

    "Deep violet color with the aroma and flavors of Damson plums, supported with light-to-medium tannins. A faint, not unpleasant, bitterness surfaces in the finish. After four to seven years, Refosco assumes a bouquet of faded violets and dried plums."

  • Jancis Robinson

    "Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso…makes dense, lively wines with bite. "

  • David Anderson, View Italy

    "Refosco is not a wine for everyone. It is a complex wine and structured wine with pronounced flavors with a residual of tannins. To the nose, an intense bouquet of liquorices, blackberry and spices. To the taste, Refosco is complex and structured wine with tones of wild blackberry, violet and cloves. Refosco also has a distinct flavor of the minerals in the hills of collio that persists during the entire meal."

  • Fringe Wine

    "According to Lynch and Bastianich in their Vino Italiano, styles for Refosco can be all over the place from juicy, grapey Beaujolais-like wines to firmer, more solid examples like [the one being reviewed], so buying a Refosco can be a bit of a gamble. I would guess that it's probably a bigger concern in the area itself, as I would imagine that most of the wines that are imported into the US represent the firmer, more extracted and serious-minded approach to the wine…"

  • Wine Intro

    "It is a heavy, rich red wine, full bodied, with flavors of plum and almond."

Some Refoscos to Try

(About this list.)

Refosco is more available than some sources suggest, but it scarcely floods the market: we found fewer than two dozen clearly of the "Peduncolo Rosso" type that were available at under $20 retail. What were even harder to find were any comparative reviews of Refoscos—or, indeed, credible reviews, period (you will find that many reviews cited below are translated from non-English-speaking sources). Then, when one does find a reviewed Refosco, even Wine Searcher Pro shows all of perhaps two or at most three smaller local retailers carrying that particular wine.

After much beating about, we settled on the wines listed below, all either reasonably widely carried or are carried by at least one big national retailer, and each with some favorable notices.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Marco Felluga "Ronco dei Moreri" Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, $14 - $22.
         ($18.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The color is a rich dark ruby hue; the bouquet carries aromatic density of spice and earth and leather, a meaty fleshy aura of macerated plums, mulberries and blueberries and wild notes of violets and graphite. Dense, too, on the palate, the wine delivers prominent dry grainy tannins, as well as the grape’s fabled lively acidity, both aspects supporting flavors of fresh and dried red and black fruit permeated by touches of rosemary, lavender and granitic minerality. The finish is long and slightly austere. 13.5 percent alcohol. About as dignified as a rustic wine gets.

    [Google-translated from Italian]: visual examination is limpid, with an intense ruby ​​red color with garnet, consistent. The nose is intense and complex, with fruity notes of berries, raspberry, blackberry, black currant and dried fruits such as hazelnut; spicy clove and tobacco; notes of musk, undergrowth and slightly ethereal. The mouth is dry, warm and soft, with good acidity and tannins, quite tasty. Bodied, intense and persistent, with an almond finish. Overall balanced.

    ♣ Wine Advocate: 2009 vintage, 90 points; 2006 vintage, 88 points:
    "The 2006 Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso Ronco dei Moreri reveals greater depth and richness than the Merlot in its plump, dark red fruit. There isn't a ton of varietal character here, but that is a relatively small critique for a wine at this price point."

    ♣ Wine Spectator: 1995 vintage, 81 points; 1999 vintage, 85 points; 2001 vintage, 86 points; 2002 vintage, 86 points; 2008 vintage, 84 points.

    Really ripe, with a powerful berry and marmalade character on the nose. Full-bodied, with silky tannins and a long finish. Very fresh and fine. Almost classic.

    The 2008 Refosco is the perfect wine for lovers of Rhone and Spanish style wines. In the nose the wine offers aromas of ripe raspberries and blackberries. In the mouth, the fruit flavors are intense and complex, and even though you think it’s going to be a big juice bomb, the tannins keep the fruit in check, and the wine finishes with ample acidity to make it a great wine to pair with a variety of foods. A little bit of aging will soften the youthful edges of this 2008, but the delicious, vibrant fruit is what makes this wine so inviting.

    [Google-translated from Italian]: a wonderful Refosco Ronco dei Moreri with a great structure.

    [Google-translated from German]: fresh ruby red, clean and fairly deep in the fragrance, with some cassis and smoke, juicy on the palate, lively, beautiful aromatic length

  • Volpe Pasini Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, $15 - $19.
    (Do not confuse this with their more expensive "Zuc di Volpe" bottling.)
         ($15.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    [Google-translated from Italian]: ruby, garnet but just clear. They come away immense arches, with drops clear and firm. The nose is powerful, clear, direct. Vivid ripe fruit, flowers in the garland, and dark spices on the basis of bitter chocolate. Sharp also the vein alcohol, which supports a full but well sosrso vibrant and nervous, very resistant treble. Correspondent and rigorous exit, has a beautiful kept dry and clean, with a happy outcome and radiant. Mouth agile at the end, satisfied tannins educated but not soft, composed but not bent. Yummy.

    [Google-translated from Danish]: Dark color, flavor, spicy and faceted. Hangs beautifully in the glass, lush drapery. Dense, concentrated and deep. There is a good deal (dydbdeskabende or repulsive? - Depends on your taste buds) bitter substances which probably contributes to [another reviewer] and my ratings are separated part. (About a possible difference in men's and women's experience of bitter-tasting read here.) Bitter components and the marked - but still soft - tannins drowns out for Helle other flavors, less pleasurable. I experience the other hand, the wine as wonderful, quite complex and extremely harmonious and well-made, a great pleasure both with and without food. The wine has undeniable master oenologist Riccardo Cotarella's fingerprints: concentration, at the same time marked and very ripe tannins, obesity, butter, a little coffee and bitter chocolate - it is however fortunately not as exaggerated as it might sound! But where we have previously been tired of all wine made from Riccardo Cotarella tastes more of winemaker than certain grapes and particular geography, so is the typical Cotarella- characteristics here are more subdued, and the wine's personality comes more forward. There is for example the dark, bitter cranberry flavor, which we have not met before in his wines. I am quite close to the five stars, [the other reviewer] say three. A compromise-assessment said. Try it if you / I have a little stubble on the taste buds, otherwise: let be or give the wine 6-12 months of additional storage.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (2004 vintage), 91 points; 2006 vintage, 90 points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (2001 vintage), 87 points.

    It smelled of red cherries with some white pepper on top, an essence that complemented incredibly well the cinnamon spice of the gòlas (or goulash) of veal breast that Draghi and chef Caitlin Champagne had concocted. There should be a scratch-and-sniff option for this Refosco-gòlas combination next to every definition of extraordinary food-wine pairings.

  • Tenuta Luisa Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, $15 - $23.

    Some quotations and facts:

    [Google-translated from Italian]: Fifteen days of maceration, fermentation and twelve 8 months of maturation on lees in stainless steel. The result is a Refosco dal color lively, intense ruby with clear purple reflections. The nose has an impact of good intensity with fragrant mantle that goes first on the floral violet, magnolia and cyclamen, then give way to a dense fruity luggage where industry sour cherry, black cherry and blackberry; despite the youth does not hide already deeper perceptions of spices and graphite. The palate says his youth in tannin and untamed in excellent freshness, with a taste that brings us faithfully to the sensations perceived by the nose. Product of absolute interest, also for the excellent quality/price ratio.

    Spicy and savory, it offers aromas of white and black pepper along with raspberry, dark cherry and hints of bell pepper that carry over to the palate along with aggressive tannins. 87 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (2007 vintage), 87 points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator: 2008 vintage, 91 points; 2010 vintage, 87 points.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (March/April 2012), 89 points: "Ruby-red. Sexy, spicy raspberry and blackberry aromas are accented by mocha and minerals. Dark berry flavors are lush but also juicy and impressively bright, with tangy minerality and mouthwatering acidity providing lift. This medium-bodied wine is easygoing and uncomplicated, but has good finishing thrust, not to mention lingering sweetness. Excellent refosco for everyday drinking."

    [Google-translated from Italian]: The first impression on the nose, the first sip: emotion. The Refosco 2010 Tenuta Luisa I was blown away, surprised, excited. The ancient grape of Friuli in purity is proof that the best way to enhance a territory and the work of those who work the land is pure native grapes make wine, which, when companies know their business, resulting in a wine authentic and unmistakable…Refosco of Luisa is vinified alone and, after fermentation, remains in part 10 months in barrels acciaia and partly also in wooden barrels, and then do another aging in bottle for at least 4 months. Ruby, the nose offers an intense, rich, fruity especially with berries and blackberry; in the mouth is very strong, vibrant, complex and refined, pleasantly dry and velvety tannins.

    There’s some serious flavor and color intensity going on in this bottle. At first, the specific flavors and aromas were hard to put a finger on. They were familiar, but yet so foreign. After awhile the flavors started to show themselves with a little smoke, meat and plum on the nose. In the mouth were wild bramble berry flavors like raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and plum. As the wine opened up more, you got loads of violets; very cool. The tannins were pretty fine grained and clean and the wine was pretty darn firm. I don’t believe they used any oak in the vinification of this wine. I found out that refosco is an ancient varietal indigenous to the Northern regions of Italy. I love trying wines like these. Overall, a very complex wine full of intense flavors and a unique personality.

    [Google-translated from Italian]: Intense, vinous, with notes of blackberry and wild berries. Flavor, lively, typically tannic and pleasantly bitter.

  • Ca' Bolani Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, $15 - $25.
    (Do not confuse this with their more expensive "Alturio" bottling.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    An honest, super fresh example of Refosco with bright, upfront marzipan and floral aromas over loads of glossy dark cherries. 5 stars.

    I got more plummy, rich fruits and guessed a Sangiovese + Merlot. Humbled and way wrong. The wine was the Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2011 by Tenuta Ca’Bolani from the Friuli region. It was a rich violet ruby color with overwhelming notes of wild berries, sweet spices, and black stone fruit. I’ll continue seeking this varietal out.

    ♣ Wine Spectator: 2011 vintage, 88 points; 2010 vintage, 86 points.

    The wine from the Refosco grape [Tenuta Ca’Bolani 2009 Refosco] was a full bodied red wine with wonderful structure, spice, tannins…and a taste of blackberries. Keep your eye out for this one…

    Granted this wine [Ca’ Bolani Refosco] is served mostly with red meat, the strong currants, wild berry, and plum flavours make this a de rigeour request for me with seafood. Unless the seafood is in a rich, creamy sauce, a full bodied wine like a Refosco will redefine love.

    A bright and luminous ruby-red wine. Fruity, with hints of wild berries, flowers and spices. Well-balanced and full-bodied, with very good length on the finish.

  • Fantinel "Vigneti Sant'Helena" Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, $15 - $27.
         ($20.84 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    You’ll like the elegant approach of the aromas here that come off in steady pulses of black fruit, spice and tobacco instead of one overwhelming blast. The wine is thick, chewy, tart and slightly sweet in the mouth. 89 points.

    With this [dish] we’d now brought in the Sant Helena Refosco al Peduncolo Rosso, Friuli Grave 2003, which made a marked impression on D. His comment was “this is a serious wine”. Myself, I thought it tasted quite good, too. The nose was very nice, and got better and better. I would keep it at the side after the [food], and just breathe it in from time to time. Not as full as a a good Barollo that’s been open for awhile, mind you, but very pleasant.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (2007 vintage) 89 points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator: 2002 vintage, 84 points; 2001 vintage, 83 points; 1998 vintage, 85 points.

    The wine is absolutely fabulous! It is quite oaky which I love in a red and it's got a bit of spice to it. One thing I did notice was that it was a bit effervescent on the tongue. I'm not sure if I liked that or not. I didn't have to decant the wine long. It was basically ready to drink right out of the bottle. The Refosco grape is native to Northern Italy. It is very dark skinned as is the wine. The colour is a deep garnet, almost showing purple hints. It is also known to have a very berry taste and indeed this one does. I do enjoy this wine a lot…

    [Google-translated from Macedonian] Wine decanted 30 min. before…aroma that I "hit" on the first sacrifice of the cup to the nose was the perfect combination of dried red fruits, plum jam and beautiful notes of fresh red currant. The powerful flavor, full body with a perfect balance between sweet and sour, spicy white pepper, vanilla ... great. Long finish and feeling when you refill the glass and make a toast.

For a Splurge

About the only reasonably available "splurge" Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso seems to be the Fantinel Borgo "La Roncaia" Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, which retails for from $30 up to $45. James Suckling at Decanter gave it 93 points.

     ($37.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

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