This is a unique, interesting, rich white from northern Italy, that will provide a terrific 'bridge' from winter into spring when we start craving white wines again. Iuli 'Barat' white is made of 100% Baratuciat, a nearly-extinct variety originally from the Val di Susa, west of Torino in the Italian Alps of Piedmont. In the area’s dialect, the name means ‘the cat’s testicles’, in reference to its oval-shaped berries. Made from organic vines planted in 2015, this 2018 is the winery's the 1st release. Fermented naturally and spontaneously with very low sulfites and aged in concrete, look for licorice, tangerine oil, vanilla, hazelnut, lychee and spiced ripe pear flavors with a great texture, oily but clean crisp and delish. This is stunning. Reminds us of an excellent chalky Chenin in both fruit flavors and fresh acidity.
Located in the town of Montaldo in the far north of Monferrato, Iuli is an organic farm and winery, owned by Fabrizio Iuli. Today only 92 people live in his little hometown, a charming, soulful place where we had the good fortune of visiting on one of our European wine buying trips. We hiked around the vineyards with Fabrizio and tasted his wines both out of barrel and from the bottle with him. His wines clearly have a purity, honesty and joyfulness to them that we just love. They are also seriously complex at the same time.
Iuli is set among the last band of dramatic hills and valleys before descending into the rich flatlands of the Po river valley, with the Alps as a backdrop on a clear day. If you're headed to Montaldo, chances are it is to see Fabrizio Iuli. His family figures prominently and colorfully in the town's history. In the 1920s, his grandfather, Gioacchino Natale Iuli, like many young men from the countryside, was courted by a factory job in Lombardia. In a twist of fate, Gioacchino heard that a burgeoning marching band had been formed in Montaldo, so he packed his bags and headed back to become its clarinetist and to start a family. The first vines were planted around 1930. Fabrizio's grandmother, Ernestina, established a little osteria in their living room, a place with warm food and warm hospitality that became a gathering point for the village. There was much conviviality and Iuli Barbera flowing. Though no longer an official restaurant, the feeling continues to this day with Fabrizio and his wife, Summer Wolff, cooking up a storm and popping bottles. It is a place that sucks you in, where time seems to stand still, if only temporarily.
Today, Fabrizio is the only winegrower in the town. His first commerical vintage was 1998, with his Barbera called Rossore. The grapes found in his vineyards are Baratuciat (a nearly-extinct white variety from the Val di Susa), Slarina (a red Monferrato variety also almost lost), Grignolino, Nebbiolo, Pinot Nero, and, of course, Barbera. There are 35 contiguous hectares of land in one valley, with 16 hectares planted to vine. Certified organic, the land has never seen any chemicals. Despite being ridiculed by neighbors, Fabrizio's grandfather and father never succumbed to pressure to buy products they felt were meant to fix something that wasn't broken. The isolation of the place suits Fabrizio's desire to instigate and protect biodiversity. The thick surrounding woods keep the prospect of a monoculture at bay. They contain many white truffles in the season; they also house many wild boar, who can and do devour a crop of grapes. Some end up at Cascina Iuli in the form of 'Barbera Pig' stew.
The wines are Piedmontese to the core, ultra-reflective of the poor, but limestone-rich soils and northernly climate with cool nights. Each wine has a reason for being; each wine has extreme drinkability without losing seriousness or intrigue. They are concentrated in their fruit, but also have a lightness and florality that feel very "Iuli." In the cellar, Iuli's trajectory over the years has become increasingly non-interventionist. Fermentations are carried out spontaneously, with a little so2 added after malolactic fermentations. The tradition in the area is to use concrete tank and large oak cask. Fabrizio wouldn't dream of deviating from that lineage. He adores, collects, and restores small concrete vessels. There's a room in the cellar in which they're lined up like little misfit robots waiting to be deployed. The wines are aged slowly and statically, bottled unfined and unfiltered, when taste and an auspicious moon deem they're ready.