Friuli-Venezia Giulia lies in the top-right corner of Italy, between Austria, Slovenia, the Adriatic Sea, and Veneto (Venice!). Although the region is relatively small compared to the rest of Italy, it ranks among the best for producers of white wines.
In terms of terroir, the most important influence on Friuli-Venezia Giulia's vineyards is their position between the Alps and the Adriatic. The mountainous topography in the north and east lifts many vineyards above the low-lying cloud that is sometimes trapped between the hills and the coast. This allows the vines to bask in bright sunshine without overheating, allowing the grapes to develop full phenolic complexity and aromatic depth before their sugar levels peak. Friuli-Venezia Giulia's reputation as a wine region essentially depends on a select group of quality-conscious, small-scale winemakers – large-scale production is not on the agenda here.
The region is divided into as many as 10 DOC and 4 DOCG areas that grow some thirty different wine varieties, often in small quantities. The 4 most important regions to know are:
Friuli Grave (Free-oo-lee Gra-veh) Center-west, it accounts for more than half of the production. Imagine a big flat valley with soils that have a lot of large stones. The stones heat up in the day and super-chill at night which effectively helps ripen grapes during the day while maintaining characteristically high acidity. Excessive temperatures (hot or cold) are moderated by the Adriatic sea (the Mediterranean).
Today, Pinot Grigio and Prosecco are the undisputed kings of Friuli-Grave (yes, they call it “Prosecco” in Friuli as well as in Veneto) and go well with sushi, veggies and light cheeses, or solo as a refreshing aperitif. The wines are light and moderately zesty with gentle herbaceous notes (think gooseberry) and citrus-like aromas, and ought to be drunk within 2-3 years. Prices are on the lower side of the spectrum ($10 to $15) compared to other regions (such as Alto Adige), providing a good value alternative.
Colli Orientali del Friuli
Colli Orientali del Friuli (Co-lli Oryen-tally) East of Udine (oo-den-eh) is where winemaking dates back to Roman times. Today, you can find local and international varieties growing side-by-side including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio. Vines do very well when planted on the Colli (aka hills) which are protected by the Alps to the North and exposed to gentle sea breezes to the South.
White wines here feature scents of white flowers and ripe apples. On the palate, you’ll taste lots of stone fruit and a long tingly finish. Despite the prevalence of international varieties in Colli Orientali, it’s the local varieties that are worthy of interest. The most important local varieties include Friulano (free-oo-la-no), which is the region’s signature grape made from the much lesser-known Sauvignon Vert variety.
Friulano wines are lean and crunchy with delicate notes of thyme, apricot, Meyer lemon, and ripe gooseberry with a bitter-almond finish. The other exciting indigenous grape is Ribolla Gialla (Jal-la), which is often made sparkling, like Prosecco. Finally, Malvasia (mal-vah-see-ah) is often made in an aromatic dry style characterized by crispy floral notes and perfume.
The prices are higher, between $15 and $30, but wines also age longer and tend to be more complex. Food pairing ranges from locally produced Prosciutto di San Daniele and other regional cold cuts to summer risottos with fresh vegetables or seashell.
Continuing south, on the very border to Slovenia in the Gorizia district where the cool Bora wind brings freshness and higher acidity into the grapes is Collio. This area accounts for slightly more than 5% of the vineyards but traditionally account for the highest accolades and awards. The international varieties find favourable conditions to express their potential: Sauvignon Blanc, especially Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio are more concentrated, thicker and more powerful. Wines age longer with commonly employed oak and barriques. The wines are fermented with little to no oxygen contact, therefore preserving fresh notes of ripe apples, apricots and pineapple. In the end, you’ll notice roasted aromas of hazelnut, smoke and vanilla.
Collio Bianco, a general term referring to a white wine blend entirely up to the producer. The wines of Collio make for ideal partners to savoury first courses or to Frico, a cheese tart and one of the region’s signature dish. The prices are fairly high (starting from $20 up to $50) but not if compared to the national level.
Carso is in the hills of the Trieste (tree-est-teh) area and is quite small and known for its orange wines.
Orange wine is a traditional method of making white wine letting the juice keep contact with the grape skins while the white wine ferments–a practice is typically reserved for red wines only. Orange wines have come into vogue due to their synergy with the slow food movement. Flavours range from dried fruit to tea-leaves and sweet spices. Wines here, have high acidity, sapid (pleasing) mineral tones, soft tannin and a long tart, tingly finish. The wines are made in an oxidative style, which means they are surprisingly stable and can age longer.
Terrano – the red grape of Carso produces a fascinating red wine that is quite old. It tastes of cherry fruit and forest floor with moderate tannin and high acidity. It’s the local treasure of Carso and the Kras region across the border in Slovenia.
Source: italymagazine, wine-searcher, winefolly