Fruili Italy shines at Comelli

Bottle2Glass brings in an Italian line called “Comelli” named after the family that produces it. Currently the wines are only available in Ohio and New York.  The only reason we have it in Ohio is because Grandson Nicola married a lady he met during an American student exchange who is from Cuyahoga Falls.  His wife and he visit Ohio 2x a year pre-COVID to visit her parents, so we are afforded an opportunity to meet the young Comelli couple one or two times a year, pre-COVID (they missed 2020).  This is how the wines came to be imported in Ohio via Bottle2Glass. 

Here is Nicola, Comelli grandson sharing the wines with us:

Comelli Wines are small producer from Friuli, Italy, a far Northeast Italian village bordering Slovenia at the top of a hill with only 15 residents!!!  As a small producer, they usually do not exceed 3,000 bottles for any wine type.   They are also recently fully certified organic for those who care about this.  Nicola’s grandfather bought the property in 1946 and it is a family winery with all estate fruit. 

Here are the wines we tried during this visit.  The wines are named by their grape varietal and most are not widely familiar to Americans:

Fruiliani – presents a wonderful floral scent with flavors of bright Meyer lemon.  It’s similar to Italian “pinot grigio’ with wild-flower florals, bright fresh acidity and fruit-forward flavors of light soft pink grapefruit and lemon.  Nicola suggests pairing with prosciutto that is very salty.  I can see it offsetting spicy Asian or Creole foods!

Malvasia ​​– is an indigenous varietal in Veneto Italy.  This grape had virtually died out, but they planted it in 2005.  Nicola says it’s a great grape adapted to the terroir and it ripens and endures climate changes beautifully. Nicola says it is “elegant, clear, clean and has balanced minerality”.  I found white blossom aromas and a complex mixture of bright citrus, flowers and minerality.  It contains a sharp acidity with a surprising creamy texture.  I think the primary flavor was like a very soft lemon curd spread over morning toast, extremely easy sipping.  I definitely liked this wine and ordered some!

Jaco Merlot, Jaco is a Roman god of wine and thus this name.  This wine is not like California Merlots for which most American’s are familiar, yet an Italian version produced in a very different terroir.  In the hills of a Northern Italian slope, it is colder and there’s more rain, producing wines with sharper tannins and higher acidity; therefore, this wine features brighter acidity than we see in products from America. 

To balance this acidity, it is fermented in Italian oak barriques to round out the edge of the acidity.  For those who wonder what is a barrique?  It is a barrel or cask originating in Bordeaux, traditionally holding 225 liters, or 59 gallons.  The most common type is a wine barrel. The size of a barrel is important because dictates how much oak influence it will impart.  The wood of a barrel matters too because it exchanges particular flavors with the wine specific to that wood type.  In this case the wood is Italian, which Nicola says allows the fruit to retain more of its own flavors verses be overtaken by flavors of wood.

Despite the higher acidity compared to American Merlot, this wine is great for sipping, yet also screams for a food pairing.  Nicola says to pair it with pasta-and-meat sauce or a fatty flavored fish dish.  The wine is clean and refreshing so food with hefty flavors it will balance the wine.

Pignolo.  This grape has a very unique story. Google says The berry of Pignolo grape is black, small and round with waxy, thick, black skin. The cluster is small, cylindrical, simple, and tight with a small, three-lobed or five-lobed leaf. Its production is scarce but regular. Pignolo grape gives a light ruby red wine, with fruity notes of cherry.

This grape was nearly lost because it has both low yield and is very delicate and subject to weather damage.  During the wars with the care it requires and small yields, it got abandoned for quantity grapes.  It was revived in the 60s when it was re-discovered being tended to in a monastery.  In fact, there’s a 5” thick record-book of the monk’s efforts to cultivate it.   Pignolo is expensive to produce for two reasons:

a).  As mentioned Pignolo is subject to weather and in some years the Comelli’s didn’t get any production from this varietal. 

b).  Adding further to the expense to produce, the winery cannot get paid for the wine fast because it needs to lay down at least 8 years to balance out the tannins and make it drinkable. Pignolo is most like Nebbiolo (known for floral scents of rose and tar).  It must be aged a number of years before it balances out.  By example, the most recent release is a 2012 and, according to Nicola, “could not be enjoyed any earlier”.

Because of above, less than 30 wineries in all of Italy bother with it.   Comelli uses an old wooden press from 1960s to process the fresh grapes.  Nicola says they don’t do this “to be cool, it’s because it extracts better and softer tannins from this fruit”.  

I did first taste the powerful mouth-watering effects, yet it was followed by a complex mix of both black and red fruit flavors.  This is definitely a wine to pair with a meat or a fatty cheese to offset that powerful acidity and it can stand up to any potent food.  Nicola says it pairs well with moldy powerful cheeses.  For those who love tannic Bordeaux and Napa Cabs, this is your Italian wine!!!

Picolit. This white grape has a long history dating back into the 1700+ courts of kings.  Nicola says it is very expensive to make because the production is very low. The grapes has a genetic defect in that it doesn’t populate all its flowers, producing partial clusters and low yields.  It is picked last in the second week of October and they avoid botrytis, or it could be made like a Sauterne (Bordeaux’s famous sweet desert white).  Dried like an Amarone, they reduce the water in the grapes for 4 to 6 weeks in crates with holes that allow air exchange.  Nicola says ”it’s our gem, even though the market doesn’t appreciate it right now or buy a lot of sweet wine.”   All the retailers I showed it to respected that this wine is expensive to make yet they do because it’s so special. 

While I do not like sweet wine, I LOVED this one and bought some!!!!  While it is clearly sweet, the sweetness is not cloying or annoying.  The sugar content is offset by a fresh acidity and softly refreshing fruit and creamy texture.  The fruit is hard to define and I determined stone fruits, such as pear or apricot mixed with honey.  I had a strong impression of caramelized pear!  Nicola says it’s amazing to use as the dessert and pair it with powerful cheeses, like a sharp cheddar or another unique potent cheese.  The wine will make all the flavors burst expressively.  I can’t wait to try that!

Bottle 2 Glass also imports red and white blends they call Soffumbergo.  The red is a blend of Merlot and Refosco (a family of closely related varieties found Northern Italy and neighboring Slovenia with genetic links to the grapes of Valpolicella).  However, we didn’t taste it on this round but it is available at our retailers (see Little Italy Wines or Colonial Beverage).

Olive oil was an special treat, and as it turns out that you can ONLY get this this olive oil in the USA here in Ohio from Bottle2Glass and New York.  Nicola says that it is not their primary product, but rather an expensive hobby of his father.  It started as a side project by his father after most of the trees were destroyed in bad weather.  His father restored and cultivated the olive grove.  While there are over 600 olive trees today, it produces only 300 to 400 bottles each year.  Due to their sensitivity to climate, 2020 had a too rainy climate for olives so there was no production, so there will be no new 2021 oil.   

Comelli Wines are a treat that Ohioans can enjoy because of Nicola marrying an Ohio girl.  The Beach Boys had it wrong – Ohio girls are the best!  😊

ALL WINES CAN BE TASTED from 3-8 on Saturday 8/28/21 at Little Italy Wines.  Contact Matteo at the store for a reservation.

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