We’ve often said that one of the many reasons for the Italian wine industry’s popularity lies in the sheer variety of grapes grown in the country. No matter which region you care to visit, you’ll discover that its producers grow many common and uncommon varieties, with many of the latter being native to Italy, meaning they’re used to create wines you can only get from Italian producers.
Picolit is one such native grape.
This beautiful white wine grape is native to a single small region of Italy and is used to make some beautiful dessert wines. This article delves into the history of the Picolit grape and examines some of the wines it’s used to create.
The Story of Picolit
Today, we know Picolit as a white wine grape grown exclusively in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Located in northeast Italy, this region produces extremely small grape yields, leading to many producers shunning it in favour of more popular grapes that produce higher yields. However, those who have embraced Picolit use it to craft beautiful dessert wines that deserve to be sampled.
We mentioned earlier that Picolit is considered a native Italian wine grape. However, the whole truth of that statement is a little murky. Despite extensive research, scientists have been unable to confirm to true origins of the grape. Some speculated that the grape came from Hungary, especially given the assumption that it was precisely the same as a Hungarian grape variety called Kéknyelű. However, that theory was disproven in 2006 when a combination of microsatellite and isoenzyme analysis led to the discovery that, though similar, the grapes are actually different.
We know that Picolit came to international attention during the 18th century. During this time, the grape became a favourite of Count Fabio Asquini, an Italian agronomist and economist who was heavily involved in Italy’s silk trade. Asquini’s love for the grape was such that he played a large role in overseeing the production of about 100,000 bottles of Picolit wine, which were exported to France, Britain, Russia, and the Netherlands. Wine also became a highly sought-after choice in the Vatican during this period.
Asquini is also responsible for many practices producers use today when growing the Picolit grape. He experimented with the grape constantly, creating detailed notes that future producers have built upon. His winemaking methods helped producers figure out how to get as much as possible from a grape with historically low yields.
Unfortunately, Asquini’s efforts were somewhat in vain. Though his work helped those who chose to ensure with the Picolit grape, many producers saw it as being more trouble than it was worth. A sharp decline in planting occurred during the 19th century and into the 20th century. However, some companies still believed in Picolit’s potential, meaning the grape stayed in circulation during these lean periods.
Towards the middle of the 20th century, the Perusini family started to work on developing clones of the grape. Their goal was to create a version of Picolit that was easier to cultivate, thus setting the stage for producers to embrace the grape again. These efforts led to Picolit enjoying a brief uptick in popularity throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Sadly, that popularity didn’t last. However, Picolit didn’t fall into the obscurity it had suffered through prior to gaining its increased profile Today, the wine is respected to the point where it’s a cult favourite of those in the know.
What Can You Expect from Picolit Wine?
Now that you know a little more about this complex and difficult grape, you naturally want to learn more about the wines that it produces.
The grape is part of wines made in the Collio DOC and Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit DOCG. Producers tend to plant Picolit grapes alongside other berry sets because Picolit vines tend to abort grapes quickly. The grape ripens in late September, though it’s typically left on the vine for several weeks after ripening to allow its sugars to build.
That mention of sugar may give you some insight into what Picolit wines taste like.
Picolit wines are exceptionally sweet, making them ideal as dessert wines. Following the harvest, producers tend to dry the grapes in racks or on mats, though some have started to experiment with ageing the grapes in small oak barrels.
Regardless of the specific harvesting methods, Picolit wines tend to have strong floral notes that quickly draw the drinker in. Further examination of the wine should reveal sharp peach and apricot flavours, lending it a fruitiness that complements the wine’s natural sweetness nicely. The two main wines made using the grape are the Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit DOCG and Collio Goriziano Picolit DOC, with alcohol volumes of 15% and 14%, respectively. Both offer a storage potential of about five years and are best consumed alongside foods that their sweetness won’t overpower.
Many find that Picolit wines pair well with aged cheeses and are a good choice for an aperitif. However, it comes into its own when paired with desserts, particularly those of a fruity nature. While we may not recommend it as a pairing for chocolate, it works well with raspberry meringue and similar desserts that use ripe fruits.
The Final Word
Picolit wine isn’t widely available, though this is less to do with its quality and more with the quantities produced. The vine’s genetic tendency to abort many grapes means that Picolit offers exceptionally low yields, meaning you’ll have to go out of your way to find a bottle. This isn’t a wine that you’ll find on most regular store shelves. Instead, you need to locate a company that offers the wine directly from Italy.
Xtrawine is one such company.
We offer a variety of wines made using Picolit that you can order from the Xtrawine store. Check out our collection today and start developing your appreciation for this remarkable wine.
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