Aquila del Torre, Friuli Colli Orientali

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Aquila del Torre Friulano front label

Country & RegionItaly, Friuli
Appellation(s)Friuli Colli Orientali
ProducerMichele Ciani
Founded1996. Michele is the third generation to farm the domain.

F riuli Colli Orientali (eastern hills of Friuli) shares with Collio the distinction of being the finest DOC in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. The zone is in the far northeast of Italy on the border with Slovenia, situated in the foothills of the Julian Alps, and its quality is due to the region’s cool upper elevations, its drying winds, and above all its calcareous sandstone soil. Known as flysch in Italy and as ponca in Slovenia, the soil was once an ancient sea bed whose sedimentary layers are rich in calcium and minerals. The region’s better wines can thank this soil for their mineral salinity and age-worthiness.

Aquila del Torre countryside

Michele Ciani is his family’s third generation to manage the affairs of Aquila del Torre. The estate dates back to 1904 and was purchased in 1996 by his grandfather and father. His father wanted a proper environment in which to raise his family, an ideal informed by his passion for wine and even more so for nature—and the hills and woods of the estate, combined with mature vineyards of Friulano and Picolit, met the criteria. Fittingly, Michele’s training is in agronomy, and he’s a hard-core viticulturalist who takes well-earned pride in his vineyard work. Following his studies at the University of Udine, Michele did an internship in Montalcino and in Alsace (with Olivier Humbrecht), and then took up his responsibilities at Aquila del Torre. That’s Michele with his sister in the photo below.

Michele Ciani and his sister of Aquila del Torre

Between 1999 and 2003 the family put in new parcels on terraces on the hillsides. This was a major undertaking of clearing old terraces and creating new ones, and the key thing is that each terrace supports only one row of vines, which in turn provides excellent air circulation (it’s not only wind that is omnipresent; rainfall in this area is intense). These terraced flanks are quite steep, ranging from 175 to 350 meters, and whatever work isn’t performed by hand is performed by a special terrace tractor built in Alto-Adige that is all of one meter wide. The rows form an amphitheater facing the Udine Plain in various expositions, bounded by woods. Today the estate has 46 acres of vines and 163 acres of woodland.

Aquila del Torre vines

In 2006 the University of Udine’s biology department conducted a study on the estate and identified 237 species of flora among the vines—a remarkable number, considering the norm in vineyards is 25. In large part this is thanks to the surrounding woods. An additional benefit is that the woods host a large population of insects, predatory and otherwise that keeps populations of harmful vineyard insects in check and further enables organic farming.

The Cianis have sown cover crops (that’s their Riesling parcel below) and farmed organically since the beginning, and in 2016 Michele began applying biodynamic preparations 500 and 501. The vines are harvested by hand, all fermentations are spontaneous, macerations and extractions are decidedly light-handed with an eye toward finesse, and ageing takes place on the lees until the wine is deemed ready. Fining, SO2 additions, and filtrations are all kept to a minimum.

Aquila del Torre cover crops in Riesling vineyard

Aquila is Italian for eagle and Torre is the local river; thus Eagle of the Torre. It helps too that seen from the air or from a distance on the plain, the estate’s vineyards take the shape of a wing on hillsides surrounded by forest.

AT, the first range of wines, comes from the initials of Aquila del Torre. It’s also an English preposition, as in at home or at the table, and it’s meant to be an introduction to classical everyday wine.

Michele Ciani on flysch soil
Michele Ciani on his terroir

The Wines

At Friulano
FriulanoFrom three west-facing parcels at mid-slope, each vinified and aged separately, one in steel tanks, one in concrete vats, and one in older barrels. Native yeast, long aging of 8-10 months on the fine lees with very gentle battonage. No malo to preserve freshness. Average production is 700 cases.
At Sauvignon BlancSauvignon Blanc
Their Sauvignon Blanc has proven to be stubborn with spontaneous ferments, so Michele uses a pied de cuve as a starter, and to this mix he adds wildflowers! He does so because the local bee population is quite active between the vines and flowers and Michele believes that the flowers carry abundant yeasts. His own experiments making a pied de cuve without flowers and one with flowers convinced him--the pied de cuve with flowers proved much more active.

The vines face east on the mid to lower slopes, and the wine undergoes a long aging of 8-10 months on the fine lees in steel tanks (sometimes with small quantity in older barrel) with very gentle battonage. No malo to preserve freshness. Average production is 800 cases.
At RieslingRieslingFrom a Rhine Riesling parcel planted in 1999 at the top of their highest hill--their coolest site--at an elevation of 1,150-feet (another 150 feet is the limit of grape growing in these hills). Here the flysch soil is dense with clay and Michele uses horn manure to increase the soil's porosity. In addition, he cuts the horizontal roots to encourage deep rooting for the best intake of nutrients. Spontaneous ferments in steel with aging in steel on fine lees for 8-10 months with gentle battonage. Dry. Average production is 400 cases.

At RefoscoRefoscoThis northern Adriatic native has been around for ages, but recently has come into its own as a vibrantly fresh red wine of dark color but lithe body, one liberally peppered with spice and plum flavors. Refosco (full name being Refosco dal peduncolo rosso) could be considered Friuli’s answer to Dolcetto or to Beaujolais, albeit with a bit more tannin. Colli Oriental is considered to be the finest terroir for this grape in Italy. At Aquila del Torre, the vines face south along the lower slopes, and the wine is aged in concrete vats and older barrels. Elegance is the aim here. Average production is 375 cases.
At MerlotMerlotAs with the other French imports, Merlot was introduced to Friuli in the 19th century under the Habsburg reign, and then significantly expanded following Phylloxera. Like the Refosco, the Merlot grows at the bottom of the slopes and faces south. Michele ages this wine in concrete vats and in older barrels. The aim, as with the Refosco, is for finesse and drinkability. Average production is 300 cases.