Grown in a region that straddles Italy and Slovenia, the Rebula, or Ribolla, grape has a dual identity. But, argues Stephen Brook, whatever you call it, this versatile grape is worth seeking out...
In the 1980s I would stand in the vineyards of Collio in Italy and gaze across the patrolled border into Slovenia, which was visible but scarcely visitable. Collio, the core appellation of Friuli, adjoins the Slovenian region called Goriška Brda. The topography is much the same, the varieties planted are identical, and many of the Collio producers are ethnic Slovenians. Hardly surprising, as until the late 1940s this was a single region, and in 1991 the border was removed.
Scroll down for Stephen Brook’s top Ribolla / Rebula picks from Italy and Slovenia
At the Zanut winery in Goriška Brda, the Kocijancic family dreams of a single appellation uniting Collio and Goriška Brda. ‘But it won’t happen,’ they add realistically, ‘as there are too many bureaucratic obstacles to allow producers from two countries to follow identical rules.’ Many producers remark on how unusual it is for grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Ribolla / Rebula all to be grown within the same region. That’s because Goriška Brda lies approximately 20km from the Adriatic shore in one direction, and 20km from the Alpine foothills in the other, giving a complex cluster of microclimates.Rebula is the most treasured variety here, and growers believe the striking quality of the best wines derives from soils known as opoka. This is sedimentary marl with sandstone and clay; it’s layered and friable. It’s low in organic matter but has a high mineral content, which combined with the climate can give the wines a saline character. A variety that loves heat, Ribolla / Rebula thrives on the area’s sunny hilltops.
Ribolla / Rebula at a glance
Collio DOC: 1,500ha, of which 435ha are planted with Ribolla Gialla (94ha of that declared as DOC)
Goriška Brda: 1,800ha, of which 381ha are planted with Rebula
Dominant soil: opoka (sedimentary marl with clay and sandstone)
Elevation: Collio (80-200m); Brda (60-250m)