Refosco is a very old red varietal native to the northern region of Italy - the areas of Friuli, Gavi, Trentino, Istria, and Karst Plateau - and is considered indigenous to these regions. The name comes from the combination of ‘rasp’ and ‘fosco’ that in the Venetian and Friuli dialects mean respectively grape and dark. There are actually several different varietals - though the Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso (red-stemmed) Friuli vine is the most widely planted, producing dense, rich wines with bite. The grape varietal and resulting wines have a lengthy history, with ‘Pliny the Elder’ praising the wine in several pieces of writing. Also there is a local story which recounts that one of the reasons the Habsburgs (who controlled the Austro-Hungarian Empire) built the Parenzana Railway from Trieste to Poreč in Croatia.
Because they liked the wines from the region (Refosco, Malvasia and Teran). This is why the railway was often referred to as a wine railroad or vineyard railway. Refosco is actually not one single varietal - but the name of a small family of closely related grapes, with current research believing the family comprises up to 8 members *(ongoing DNA testing is still trying to give more clarity on the actual distinct clones). Thought recent DNA analysis of Refosco dal Pedunculo Rosso has revealed a relationship with Marzemino, another ancient red varietal of northern Italy, near Isera, south of Trentino.
Older research had suggested that Mondeuse Noire, which is primarily found in the Savoy wine region in eastern France, was related to 'Refosco dal Pedunculo Rosso' due to the similarities of the wines. But recent DNA analysis has shown that this is not valid, and that the two varietals are not related.
The varietal known as Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso - ‘Refosco of the Red Stems’ - is agreed by many to produce the best wine expressions, and it is the grape from which the great majority of Refosco wines known and exported are crafted. The name Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso - is such because the grape cluster has a red stalk-stem which holds the grapes to the vine. The Refosco wines from Italy's Colli Orientali D.O.C. are often rated at the premier examples.
In recent times modern winemaking is attempting to craft more approachable wine with an international palate. Plus several expressions have responded well to new oak and mix temperature fermentation. Over the past 5-10 years, the most well-known expressions of Refosco wines have come from the Colli Orientali region of Friuli.
Even with the internet and high interest into all things Italian over the past few decades - Refosco remains a varietal little known or enjoyed outside of the northern region of Italy. The traditional wines produced from this varietal can be quite powerful and high in tannins, with a deep violet colour and a slight bitterness on the finish. On the palate, ripe black currants, wild berries and dark plum flavours.
Well-made Refosco wines can age well, and after a period of up to 10 years, they can develop a floral character to the aroma and finish. Modern day Refosco wines are ideally served at 16°C, or if they are rich in tannins, best served at 18°C - and they pair well with cured meats, game and seasoned cuisine.