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I Clivi and its Malvasia varietal: terroir and heritage

by Claudio Celio

I Clivi wines hail from an area of Friuli straddling the Collio Goriziano and Colli Orientali appellations, where winery owner Mario Zanusso cultivates 12 hectares under native Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Verduzzo and Malvasia Istriana vines. Most are old, even extremely old vines, ranging from 60 to over 80 years of age – which, as Mario says, is itself a responsibility that goes beyond mere winemaking.

Mario’s sense of terroir and heritage runs very deep, draws on his personal history and that of his father, Ferdinando, who emigrated to seek his fortune in Africa and eventually returned to Italy in the mid-1990s, achieving his lifetime dream of making wine. At first, the dream consisted of a small, old two-hectare vineyard on the southern slope of Monte Quarin in Brazzano di Cormons, the homeland of Mario Zanusso’s mother. This is where the story of I Clivi began, so rooted in its territory that it has taken on terroir and heritage as mission, combining it with a production that is painstakingly respectful of nature and the environment.

The old vines’ characteristically low crops per hectare endow the range with natural concentration and complexity, maintained with spontaneous fermentation and a hands-off approach in the winery. Production is consequently small, totaling approx. 50,000 bottles, each rife with personality. I’ve had several opportunities to taste Mario’s wines and though I could not but recognize the greatness of his Friulano, was often struck by the Malvasia varietal, which I recently retasted in its 2012 and 2015 incarnations.

These confirmed the Malvasia’s marked appeal and quaffability: the bouquet is a triumph of yellow flowers, notably gorse, and sweet ones like linden; consistency on the palate is practically perfect, with pervasive mellow nuances that eventually fade into fruity notes of yellow plums, taking on a savory, briny zest when it’s time to swallow, on the back of an intense floral finish. Paired with fish, it’s a match made in heaven, and also goes well with decided shellfish dishes.