An unusual meeting in Florence: Robert Princic’s Collio wines from Gradis’ciutta with Tuscan food

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Combine one of the best trattorias in Tuscany and one of the best vineyards in Collio on a sunny day in early March in Florence and you have the best of both worlds. It heralds a great experience!

(Ed.: Collio is a small wine region in north-eastern Italy. Sometimes the longer name Collio Goriziano is used. The area stretches over 1500 hectares in the borderland with Slovenia, sometimes even crossing the border. They mainly make white wines. They have both international grapes, such as sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, the now very popular pinot grigio, and several fairly unknown local grape varieties: friulano, ribolla gialla, malvasia, etc.)

Drinking excellent white wines from Collio in Tuscany is not to be taken for granted, we are after all in the “big reds” area and Florence are not directly on the coast. We feel lucky because today it is the producer Robert Princic himself who gives us a fresh breath from the north, with wines from his property which he has given the name Gradis’ciutta. The name Princic is probably familiar to many. Dorio Princic has written the history of this territory on the border between Italy and Slovenia after being one of the first to bottle and one of the key figures in the Collio DOC Consorzio, the producer organization.

Robert Princic owner-winemaker at Gradis’ciutta in Collio
Robert Princic owner-winemaker at Gradis’ciutta in Collio, copyright E Pontil

We ask Robert how far from the Slovenian border his vineyards are and he smiles at us from his almost two meter high stature: “The border is not visible here”. Here, those who work in the fields are used to passing it without realizing it. In fact, the company’s 40 hectares rise on the Italian side but also extend into Slovenian territory. Here, the neighbours have names like Josko Gravner and Stanko Radikon, pioneers in a rich area for those who know how to listen and interpret the terroir.

Contrary to many people’s beliefs, Robert Princic’s vineyards grow only a few hundred meters above sea level (Princic means “small hill” in the local dialect). The farms are blessed with a perfect microclimate for a vineyard characterized by a mild and temperate climate with the characteristic “pre-alps” as protection from cold winds and the Adriatic coast just a stone’s throw away.

Here the secret behind the fantastic Collio wines is called “ponca”, the local soil consisting of siliceous marl and clayey marl. It is rich in minerals, perfect for the high rainfall of the area and necessary in times of drought or high temperatures. It is no coincidence that 85% of the wines produced by Gradis’ciutta, Robert’s winery, are white and composed of native grape varieties such as friulano, ribolla gialla and malvasia (from Istria). He also grows pinot grigio, sauvignon and chardonnay.

Collio Riserva Gradis'ciutta
Collio Riserva Gradis'ciutta, copyright E Pontil

The family business has been producing grapes since 1780 and Robert’s eyes sparkle as he shares memories of a childhood spent among the vines, with his grandparents living in the fields. His father sold grapes until 1997, the year when Robert bottled his first wine under his own label after studying at the famous school of oenology and viticulture in Conegliano. It is a family story marked by the same generational clash that exists for many young producers, about how to introduce new forms of agriculture with respect for nature while preserving the old tradition.

2005 was the turning point for organics and it was concretized in the first organic wines of 2008, a choice that Robert has always strongly believed in and which is confirmed not only by the market but also by the latest national law on organic farming. The law, which has been awaited for 12 years, is a necessary pillar for building a sustainable agricultural and food system in Italy.

Today’s tasting begins with a Pinot Grigio DOC Collio 2020 Gradis’ciutta, a fresh wine with hints of apple and peach. It gives a refreshing taste in combination with the starter with liver and Tuscan dried ham, fegatello su pan briosciato e crudo toscano, delivers an unusually elegant combination. Someone asked if Robert brought with him San Daniele prosciutto (a dried ham made in the Collio region and which is usually matched with Collio wines) and a few words should actually be said about the fantastic direction that was behind the menu. After all, we are in the cradle of Florentine hospitality and at the controls are two winning brothers, one in the kitchen and the other in the dining room here at the Trattoria da Burde in Florence. Or, they are more like directors who in combination manage to maintain a fantastic balance with the use of white meat and a limited amount of flavour enhancers. Real masters!

Sveti Nikolaj Rebula 2018 Slovenija (Slovenia)
Sveti Nikolaj Rebula 2018 Slovenija (Slovenia), copyright E Pontil

The first autochthonous (domestic) grape to be tasted is the ribolla gialla in the Ribolla Gialla DOC Collio 2020 Gradis’ciutta with its unmistakable aroma that varies from elder to citrus and which preserves freshness and elegance. The rigorously hand-rolled Cinta Senese pici (a kind of thick hand-rolled spaghetti – don’t say that to someone from Tuscany – served with a sauce with cinta-pig pork from Siena) accompanies an excellent Malvasia DOC Collio 2020 Gradis’ciutta with a marked aroma that extends from thyme to rosemary. Friulano DOC Collio 2020 Gradis’ciutta makes us feel like we are in the ranks of Collio with an explosion of freshness and very good length. Remarkable was the taste of the Slovenian Sveti Nikolaj Rebula 2018 Slovenija with almond and hazelnut notes and with a warm colour that reminds us of the sunny vineyards that stretch across the border (ie a wine made in Slovenia on the rebula grape, which is the country’s name for ribolla gialla). A wine that contains the story of this fantastic corner of the borderland, of men and women who are used to working hard to achieve excellent results!

Here you will find more info on Gradis’ciutta.

More about Trattoria da Burde.

View over the vineyards in Collio Goriziano in northern Italy from the Slovenian side of the border
View over the vineyards in Collio Goriziano in northern Italy from the Slovenian side of the border, copyright BKWine Photography

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