Friuli Venezia Giulia - Food and Wines - Wines
The compact region of Friuli - Venezia Giulia, which borders on Austria, Slovenia and Croatia, is the realm of Italy's new-style white wine. Drawing from worthy native varieties and the noblest of the international array, Friulians have applied studied vineyard techniques and avant-garde oenology to the production of highly distinctive whites, as well as some eminently attractive reds.
Friuli has two DOC zones of execeptional status in Collio Goriziano, or simply Collio, and Colli Orientali del Friuli, adjacent areas that follow the border of Slovenia from Gorizia northwest to Tarcento. A highly favourable environment is created on the terraced slopes, called "ronchi", by the exchange of Adriatic and alpine currents. Carso is a unique zone in the hills above the seaport and regional capital of Trieste. The other four DOC zones cover low hills or plains, but quality there can also be convincing.
Nearly all the wines included in the seven DOC categories are varietals. Usually about 49% of Friuli's total production is DOC, but whether or not wines are classified they tend to be reliable. Only the Grave del Friuli zone, which produces nearly 20 million litres a year to stand with the top ten DOCs in volume, is big by national standards.
Friuli has built a glowing reputation in Italy and abroad for white wines. Tocal Friulano has been dominant, a fine variety, which, despite its name, seems to be a native of Friuli with no parental links to other wines known as Tokay or Takaji. The local Malvasia, Ribolla and Verduzzo can be intriguing, as can such long-established imported varieties as Chardonnay, Sauvignon, the Pinots, Traminer and Riesling.
The Friulan style in whites favours the exquisitely fresh and fruity, with delicate fragrance and flavour that expresses clear varietal character. Many producers consider their whites to be too pure and linear to benefit from wood ageing. The Friulian style has been on target for the national market, which seems to favour the flavours and names of pure varietals. There are exceptions to the rule, though, in certain white table wines which gain depth and complexity from blending, wood ageing and other artistic touches.
Friulan reds were traditionally light and fruity, best to drink within two to five years of the harvest. This applies to the predominant Merlot and Cabernet Franc, as well as Pinot Nero and the prominent native variety of Refosco. But certain winemakers have heightened structure and nuance by blending Cabernet, Merlot and other varieties and ageing the wine in small, new oak barrels.
Friulians have shown an encouraging tendency to rediscover certain varieties that had been neglected and to revive them. Foremost among the legends is Picolit, a white that ranked as one of Europe's finest sweet wines around 1800 when it was favoured by the Hapsburgs. Despite low yields, Picolit has been coming back. So has Verduzzo, which makes exquisitely light dessert wines in the Colli Orientali. Ribolla Gialla, a native of Collio, has benefited from new methods that make it into a dry white of charactger. Among the reds are Refosco, which can be made either light and fruity or into a durable wine for ageing. Though rare and odd, Franconia and Tazzelenghe make distinctive reds, but perhaps the Schioppettino grape has the greatest quality potential.
Sparkling wines represent a growing field, as winemakers bring not only choice Pinot and Chardonnay grapes into their cuve'es but also Ribolla for refined spumante by the classical and charmat methods.