Perhaps it's something in the air, or in the wine, but few places on earth have such a concentration of determined, individualistic winemakers as Friuli-Venezia Giulia… ERIC ASIMOV, New York Times
But whereas 20 years ago wine producers in Friuli tended to be besotted by the international varieties such as Pinot Grigio, and especially Pinot Bianco because of its similarity to Chardonnay, they increasingly value such local specialities as Ribolla Gialla, (Tocai) Friulano, Verduzzo, Malvasia…realising like their counterparts the world over that it is these that lend the region its distinction JANCIS ROBINSON MW
Tucked into Italy’s north-eastern corner against Austria and Slovenia, Friuli Venezia Giulia is a melting pot of magical food and wine. It’s where east meets west and the region’s food and wine reflect this. Off the usual track for tourists on the Grand Tour, this corner fuses cultural influences of Austro-Hungarian history with its modern border, Slovenia.
Borders have changed over the last hundred years as the land passed between Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia and Slovenia. And before that, the Romans, Huns, Byzantines, Venetians and Austr-Hungarians have had their turns at ruling the lands.
Contrasting landscapes of gravelly plains warmed by the Adriatic seaside to rolling sunny foothill hills that grow into the Slovenian alps, there’s an abundance of good drinking to be found.
RED OR WHITE?
This corner of the country put Italian white wine on the map, first with modern, clean crisp dry whites in the 80s and later with spicy textural blends. Most recently it has led the way in the innovative, avant-garde world of amber and skin-contact wines.
In the red corner, Habsburg legacy has gifted over a century of experience with silky French red blends from Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
White: Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Friulano
Red: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, (Refosco, Schiopettino, Pignolo)
The cooking is strongly influenced by its neighbours; Austria to the north, Venice to the south and Slovenia to the east. It’s mostly a hearty fare, lots of ham (Friuli’s famous San Daniele variety), pork, beans, potatoes and strudels. Fish also features here alongside omelettes and pasta.
This 6 pack includes a range of the diverse grape varieties you’ll find in the region – pinot grigio, ribolla gialla and friulano from Collio, refosco peduncula from Colli Orientali, a merlot cabernet blend from the gravels of Friuli and a skin-contact malvsija from a region which straddles Italy and Slovenia.
So slice up some ham, roll some gnocchi, get a pot of goulash on the stove and fry up a schnitzel - enjoy your exploration of Friuli.
Collio is one of Friuli’s premium regions located on the border of Italy and Slovenia. Made up of low-rolling hills, this elite growing zone is small but the beneficiary of some of the best vineyards in Friuli. The wines from Collio possess great intensity and liveliness. It’s a torchbearer for Italy’s best whites. While it’s small in size, it’s big in stature.
2019 Collavini Collio Pinot Grigio DOC Villa Canlungo
This pivotal winery was established at the end of the 19th century and is still owned by the same family. With prime vineyards in their back pocket, Collavini makes fragrant and modern wines with great energy and line. Stainless steel tanks and temperature control are employed which aid in keeping these wines cleansing, crisp and refreshing.
2019 Zuani Ribolla Gialla
Founded by Patrizia Felluga (from the local wine dynasty that includes her father and her uncle – Marco & Livio) Zuani is also based in Collio. Felluga taps into the terroir of Collio by fermenting mainly in stainless steel and a touch of old oak barrels. This is a lovely ribolla gialla, it’s fragrant and tempting on the nose and a delicately composed palate fleshes out with an edge of richness.
2019 Schiopetto Friulano
Mario Schiopetto is considered the godfather of modern Friuli. Taking over from his father who made two wines, Mario was a protagonist of temperature controlling ferments which helped captured freshness. Friulano is the grape variety previously known as Tocai Friulano (this infuriated the Hungarians as it was too similar to tokay and they change the name). The grape variety is Sauvignonasse, an old Bordeaux white variety that is non-existent there today. However, it thrives in Friuli. It’s typically light in colour with florals and green almond flavours. This is an exciting rendition that offers delicacy and verve.
Like Collio, the Colli Orientali is also a hillside region that stretches further than Collio and is held in high esteem also. Sharing similar soils of limestone marl and sandstone the wines it’s a little cooler than Collio and the wines tend to be a touch lighter.
2018 Visintini Refosco Peduncula Colli Orientali
The Visintini winery is based on the hills of Corno di Rosazzo on the southern side of the DOC Friuli Colli Orientali. Organic and biodynamic farming is embraced at this long-standing winery, it has been in the same family since 1884. Refosco Peduncula is a native variety. In its youth, it can be a little gruff with demanding tannins and closed nature. But thanks to excellent fruit selection and modern winemaking this refosco is bright and evocative with a fine line of tannins. No need to age this, it’s drinking beautifully right now.
Venezia-giula encompasses the whole of the Friuli region. An expansive zone, while it includes the hillside regions of Collio and Colli-Orientalli there’s also a swathe of alluvial plains with plentiful quantities of sand, pebbles, and rocks deposited by the various rivers. And it’s in these pebbly soils where merlot and cabernet thrive.
2018 Felluga Vertigo Melot Cabernet
Merlot is to Friuli what barbera is to Piedmont. This is what all the locals drink as their everyday wine. It’s also the most widely planted grape in Friuli. Felluga is a name synonymous with the rejuvenation of the Friuli region, Livio Felluga and Mario Schiopetto were leaders. This merlot is fleshy and alluring, cabernet adds tannins and spine to the wine. A touch of French oak cloaks the fruit with spice and complexity but doesn’t strangle. It keeps its 'Italianess' about it, perhaps in its medium-bodied and telltale tannins.
While it’s true that in the past, beer and slivovitz were favoured by the Slavs, the same can be said for the local Italians – they drank common wine and grappa. Then in the ’80s, we saw the introduction of winemaking techniques such as temperature control and an interest in an exploration into local grape varieties. But if we look further back in history we can see that old Slovenian oak and skin contact was used when making white wines. Many Slovenian and Italian winemakers have come full circle – firstly exploring new oak, stainless steel and all the bells and whistles and then embracing the techniques their fathers and grandfathers used. As the iconic Oslavian winemaker Josko Gravner says ‘I moved into the future by looking back at the past.’
2019 Marko Fon Malvsija Slovenia
Sharing borders and history can be a little confusing at times when you are driving around to know if you are in Italy or Slovenia. Just over the border in Slovenia, the region Kras straddles both Italy and Slovenia – one of the world’s few wine regions to share countries. Working with the local grape Malvazija (Malvasia Istriana) on rocky limestone vineyards, this is an aromatic variety, but in the hands of Mark Fon it has dimension and a saline edge. It’s fermented on skins for a few days which builds in texture and tone. This is a refreshing skin-contact wine that can handle richer dishes.