Friuli-Venezia Giulia is one of the most beautiful and unique wine regions in Italy. Just as its unique geographical position at the crossroads of northeastern Italy, the Adriatic Sea, Austria, and Slovenia has given this region a mixed bag of cultural influences, so has its varied terroir and terrain allowed it to cultivate an astonishing mix of grape varieties. Today Friuli is known for its myriad of small, high-quality family-run vineyards and diverse production of indigenous and international grape varietals. The region has a fascinating Middle Europe- meets- Italy feeling. Friuli was inhabited by Celts and Romans, was part of the Venetian Republic and the Austro Hungarian Empire (until 1918!). Visitors will get an “Italy, off the beaten track” experience as there is a distinctly unique flavor here, and the region is still quite virgin.
For wine lovers and gourmet travelers, Friuli offers beautiful vineyard scenery, lovely historic towns and villages, and seriously stylish wines. Trieste is the most well-known town in Friuli (mostly thanks to James Joyce, who lived here) and is a lovely historic city. Udine is another gorgeous art city, which reminds you of Venice and Vicenza (the Loggia del Lionello is a mini Doge’s palace). Pordenone is a historic town with many Gothic and Baroque architectural masterpieces. Other beautiful places to visit in Friuli include Gorizia (a delightful medieval town on the Slovenian border), the grapevine nursery in Rauscedo (one of the biggest in the world), Grado (a miniature Venice). The Castello di Strassoldo (castle and small hamlet), Cividale del Friuli (a town near the Slovenian border, of great historical importance as it was the capital of the Lombard kingdom, also famous for its Mittelfest theatre and music festival), Palmanova (a superbly preserved Venetian fortress town), Aquileia (an ancient Roman town), Cormòns (a gourmet village famous for its Hapsburg architecture, excellent restaurants, and wineries) and Rosazzo (with it Benedictine Abbey).
History of Wine Making
Winemaking in Friuli dates back to the Ancient Romans. However, modern commercial success came in the late 1960s when innovations in temperature controls allowed producers (led by the famed Mario Schiopetto) to create crisp, clean white wines for the first time. Many wine experts consider the advances made here as the first step in creating the trend toward fresher, lighter white wines. The trend continues today, and Friuli’s white wines (along with some whites made in the southern region of Campania) are considered the best in Italy.
Friuli’s wine appellations are broken up into various sub-regions, the most important including Ramandolo (the only subregion with DOCG status, famous for its stunning white dessert wine, made with a native clone of Verduzzo Friulano called Ramandolo), Il Collio Goriziano (considered by many wine critics to be Italy’s best appellation for white wines with many top producers including Marco Felluga, Mario Schiopetto, Silvio Jermann, and Josko Gravner), Colli Orientali del Friuli (in the province of Udine, this region is host to superb cellars such as Livio Felluga and is famed for its Picolit varietal), Isonzo (includes the communes of Mariano del Friuli and Gradisca d’ Isonzo, and is well known for wines made with the Malvasia Istriana, Tocai Friulano, and Pinot Bianco varietals), Grave (Refosco, the local red Friuli varietal is prevalent here), Latisana, Aquileia, Annia and Carso (Terrano is a local red wine made here).
Friuli is characterized by its unique local grape varietals, which include Tocai Friulano (Friuli’s signature white grape, whose acidic, fruity, and slightly mineral notes are not unlike those of a Sauvignon Blanc. No relation to the Tokaj wines of Hungary), Refosco (the principal varietal used for red wines), Schioppettino (also known as Ribolla Nera, this is a delightful red varietal), Tazzelenghe (another native red varietal, used a lot in Colli Orientali) Ribolla Gialla (an aromatic white varietal) and Picolit (used to make a rare, expensive dessert white).
Nonindigenous white grapes used widely in Friuli include stars like Pinot Grigio (among the roundest and most full-bodied in Italy) and Sauvignon Blanc (creamy and peachy), Riesling, and Chardonnay. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are used extensively for red blends. Friuli winemakers tend to favor blends over single-varietal wines.
Interesting for wine lovers to note- a small group of highly regarded wineries has coined the phrase “Super Whites” for their top wines (always blends), a reference to the ultra-high quality “Super Tuscans”. Some of these wines include Vinnaioli Jermann’s Vintage Tunina (made with Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Tocai and Picolit) and Capo Martino, Miani’s Bianco (Chardonnay, Malvasia Istriana, Riesling, Pinot Grigio), Livio Felluga’s Terre Alte (Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco and Tocai) and Vie de Romans’ Flors di Uis (Chardonnay, Malvasia and Riesling).
Other great wines made in Friuli include: Schiopetto Blanc des Rosis, Ronco del Gnemiz COF, Zamò Tre Vigne and Joe Bastianich’s Vespa Bianco (both “Super Whites”), Marco Felluga Collio Pinot Grigio, Volpe Pasini COF Pinot Grigio “Zuc di Volpe”, Villa Russiz Collio Sauvignon Graf de la Tour, Tenuta Villanova Menj Bianco, Edi Kante, Josko Gravner, La Viarte, and Vignai da Duline.