Italy’s most precious and prized dessert wine is Picolit, made from the eponymous grape variety in Colli Orientali del Friuli. Because of a genetic malady known as floral abortion, Picolit’s flowering buds don’t develop properly, resulting in poor pollination rates and an exceptionally small crop. But the few grapes remaining on each cluster are packed with flavors. Some winemakers opt for a late harvest to further develop sugars and some dry the grapes on hayracks.
The grape was largely discarded and ripped out of vineyards to make room for better performing varieties and today a mere 400 acres exist. In the 18th century, Picolit became the rage among the noble courts of Europe and Russia and its peculiar hermaphroditic qualities have helped ensure a cult following.
Often compared to Sauternes, Picolit is a delicate and complex wine without the heaviness or over-sweetness of other Italian dessert wines. The wines sell for up to $100 for a 500ml bottle and offer aromas of honey, pressed flowers, dried apricot and candied orange peel. They can be paired with elegant desserts like custards and creams but an even more successful marriage is with foie gras.