Pinot Grigio is one of the most popular Italian wine styles and, while the grape shares the same genetic fingerprint with one of Alsace’s noble varieties, Pinot Gris, its different spelling and origination portend unique styles of white wine.
But Italian Pinot Grigio hasn’t always been made in the dry, untinted fashion that we know today.
Welcome to the world of ramato wine, a style that is still made in its historic heartland of Friuli and is also getting growing attention from winemakers elsewhere.
How is ramato different from rosé and orange wines?
When Pinot Grigio grapes are crushed and the skins are allowed to spend time with the juice, a teasing, tactile texture and coppery hue results in a distinct wine style called ramato. It comes from the word ‘rame’ which means ‘copper’ in Italian.
Rosé and orange wines can also exhibit colours that range from light blush to salmon and deep amber, as a result of skin contact. But colour alone cannot determine the wine style.
What distinguishes ramato from a rosé or orange wine is that ramato is a product of historical winemaking style from Friuli, Italy, made with Pinot Grigio grapes.
Rosés are made from a number of black grapes and orange wines are made from white grapes throughout the world.
While Pinot Grigio has a distinctively Italian style, the grape hails from France, where it is called Pinot Gris, and is thought to have been introduced to Italy in the mid-19th century.
Eventually, the wine found success in the northeastern regions spanning Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige.
‘Ramato is a historical style of producing Pinot Grigio in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of Italy, where Pinot Grigio has been grown for hundreds of years,’ said Kirk Peterson, a writer, educator and certified Italian wine ambassador in the US.
Traditionally, the wines that exhibited colour were derived from contact with Pinot Grigio’s pigmented skins.
‘It was made in this style up until the 1960s, when producer Santa Margherita began exporting Pinot Grigio in the style most consumers are familiar with today,’ said Henry Davar, Italian wine expert and educator. This new dry, untinted style became one of Italy’s biggest wine exports.
But some Friulian wine producers continued to make ramato, retaining the wine’s historical relevance to the region.
And, while ramato is inextricably tied to Friuli, the style is also made in other parts of Italy and has recently emerged in the new world.
Producers in the US, for example, include Jolie-Laide Windsor Oaks Vineyard and Barrett Family Wines in California, and Channing Daughters in New York.
How ramato wines are made
How does ramato gets its copper colour from Pinot Grigio?
It’s important to understand that Pinot Grigio is not a white-skinned grape at all; its skins have a rosey-grey tone, hence the name gris or grigio, meaning grey in French and Italian respectively.
‘Pinot Gris [Grigio] – the “grey” Pinot – is a colour mutation of Pinot Noir and the berries have a pinkish if not entirely ‘grey’ complexion,’ said Davar.
‘Pinot Grigio is usually the easy-going contemporary conventional white wine, and ramato is the copper-hued Italian farmhouse style.’
Ramato’s copper-like lustre is attributed to the extended maceration of the must on the skins during the winemaking process.
This also adds to its unique flavors, aromas, structural complexity and tannic mass. But colour also comes from the natural pigments of the grapes that seep into the juice while they are still on the vine.
Producers like Vie di Romans retain the colour and aromatic compounds by preventing contact with oxygen during vinification.
‘The added skin contact does wonders by adding another dimension of depth and savoury drinkability to Pinot Grigio,’ said Peterson. ‘Ramato has flavours and aromas of orchard fruit skin and acacia flowers with a mineral, tactile finish.’
Some producers lean toward short maceration to achieve fresh and lighter wines, which often have a slight peach tinge. Others favour longer maceration, which yields richer, autumnal shades.
In Friuli, Scarbolo produces two types of ramati that showcase both ends of the spectrum.
ILRamato spends 24 hours on the skins before fermentation. This brief skin contact grants the wine a sheer pigment, with freshness and minerality.
The Ramato XL is fermented on the skins for two weeks and aged in French oak barrels for two years, resulting in a deep orange tone with elevated body and structure.
‘Because of the added textural component [that] the skin contact bestows, ramati are tremendously food-friendly and provide an excellent match to dishes as diverse as Prosciutto di San Daniele, crustaceans, white meats, Friulian frico and a diverse array of Asian cuisines,’ said Peterson, who is also a sommelier.
‘It’s [ramato] for the wine lover who wants more from their Pinot Grigio.’
Other producers of ramato in Friuli include Le Vigne di Zamò, Specogna, Radikon, Stocco, Attems and Damijan.