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Wine from Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Wine from Friuli-Venezia Giulia

The Wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Varieties and Origins


Talk about a borderland…

Friuli-Venezia Giulia is one of the most intriguing and difficult to understand regions in Italy. For one thing, the name is something of a tautology: the word ‘Friuli’ means ‘Forum Julii’, which comes from the same idea as ‘Venezia Giulia’: namely, that this is the Italian portion of the Julian Marches, the ancient Roman designation for the area now stretching through Slovenia and Croatia. For another, the ‘Venezia’ in the name has nothing to do with Venice, referring rather to (again) a Roman geographic designation (the province of Venetia & Histria). Thirdly, this is a region with three distinctly important borders, but which might be said to be itself the border of all three: with Austria to the north, with Slovenia to the east and south, and with the region of Veneto to the west. It’s perhaps not surprising then that there are at least four different languages prominent in the region, with Italian and the local dialect joined by German and Slovene speakers. It is a link between the north and the south of Europe, between the east, west and centre, between the Romance, Germanic and Slavic spheres, a great crossroads since time immemorial.

"Ponca" Soil of Collio Doc

The wine

And it’s no surprise at all the wine exemplifies all this! The grapes and winemaking styles exhibit influence from the nearest country. The region is split into 10 DOC areas and 4 DOCGs, of which one is a rather large area of its own, the other three of which are contained within one single DOC zone. By far the largest district is the Friuli Grave DOC, covering 6,500ha of vineland. It occupies almost all the border with Austria and, more importantly, with the Veneto region and probably as a result is best known for grapes which are mostly found in its neighbour too: pinot grigio of course, as well as glera – the prosecco grape – and friulano, greatly renowned for its aromatic qualities and its controversial name history (otherwise known as sauvignonasse or sauvignon vert, it used to be known as ‘Tocai’ during the Hapsburg days – modern EU origin rules have forced the name change). Some reds are made from international varieties like merlot and the cabernets, as well as from an intriguing local variety we’ll get to later. The rest of the Austrian border is made of the thin strip of land known as the Colli Orientali del Friuli. Though this area is itself a DOC, it is one of the most prestigious winegrowing parts of the whole region, containing no fewer than three DOCGs: Ramandolo, a sweet wine made from verduzzo; Picolit, another sweet wine made from an ancient variety of the same name; and Rosazzo, a dry white wine made from a blend of primarily friulano with help from sauvignon, pinot bianco and/or chardonnay, and sometimes ribolla gialla. Outside of these specific DOCGs some of the most sought after wines from the whole north-east of Italy are made in this area.

Moving south along the Slovenian border we find the DOC Collio or Collio Goriziano, the winemaking area based around the town of Gorizia. The wine, of which fully 90% is white, is distinctively maritime in character, reflecting the influence of the Adriatic. South of Collio is the DOC Friuli Isonzo, based around the Isonzo river valley, seriously renowned for its extraordinary characterful white wines from sought-after winemakers like Vie di Romans. Below there on the map, right on the border with Slovenia, is the DOC Carso (‘Kras’ in Slovenian) around the major city of Trieste, whose wines are similar to those of Collio but notable for the use of the very Slovenian malvasia istriana and vitovska grapes. Heading west of Isonzo is the DOC Friuli Aquileia, entirely within the province of Udine and facing the Grado lagoon.

Those coastal areas have wine that reflects those of the neighbouring zones, but head inland and some of the hottest temperatures result in some of the most substantial wines in the whole region – and the same can be said of the region to its west, DOC Annia. West even of there you have the DOC Latisana, where you start to see more Austrian influence once more due to the increased presence of traminer and pinot nero (known as Blauburgunder in German). Finally, nestled in the southwest corner between Latisana, Friuli Grave and the Veneto border, you find the final DOCG of the region, one which is actually shared with Veneto – Lison DOCG, made in the Pordenone area of Friuli and the Treviso and Venezia areas of the Veneto. An aromatic, dry white wine, it has to be made 100% from the tai bianco grape.

That grape is just one of the unique and immediately identifiable Friulian range that we’ve been looking at. The whites are characterised by a certain leanness and elegance, as well as a spicy kick, but they nonetheless all have their own particular characteristics. Verduzzo is renowned for its somewhat chalky texture and peachy, nutty notes (as well as its disposition to sweetness), while ribolla gialla is almost considered northeast Italy’s answer to chardonnay for its citrussy zing when unoaked and creaminess when oaked; as we’ve seen, picolit is especially valued for its vinification into dessert wine, while friulano is renowned for the aromatics reminiscent of the grape it used to be mistaken for, the Hungarian furmint. The presence of riesling indicates the influence of Austria, malvazia istriana that of Slovenia.

And – do not neglect the Friulian reds! Although they only make up around 23% of Friuli’s production the red wines of Friuli are genuinely fascinating, using both international grapes (of which pinot noir, known as pinot nero, is the most important) and local varieties including the two most important autochthonous black grapes: schioppettino, which makes a vibrant, crunchy and relatively low-alcohol wine; and refosco dal peduncolo rosso, a member of the wider refosco family that makes a full but sharp wine which adapts well to oak and is increasingly regarded as one of Italy’s next breakout wine stars.

Finally, recent decades have seen a revival of the traditional ‘amber wine’ style, now commonly known as ‘orange wine’. White wines aged on the skins like red wines have an extra grippiness and structure, and have become more and more favoured as a way of extracting more flavour and body out of certain white grapes. Pinot grigio is famously considered well-adapted to this technique, but so very much is ribolla gialla, as well as other common Friulian white grapes.

Friuli-Venezia-Giulia is always gaining ever-more prestige and recognition for its wine, a land whose unique combination of dolimitic soil and cool climate with influence from both mountains and the sea does something different to almost any other region in Italy; a land whose liminal status, a cultural hinge that swings Italy open to the Germanic and Slavic universes, and whose wine is like a breath of wind that blows in. Ignore at your own peril!

The breakdown

Location: northeastern border

Climate: cool mountainous, Mediterranean

Soils: Ponca (Flysch), chalky clay and sandstone

Elevation: from very high down to sea level

IGT, DOC and DOCGs: DOC Friuli Grave, DOC Colli Orientali di Friuli, DOC Collio, DOC Friuli Isonzo, DOC Carso, DOC Friuli Aquileia, DOC Friuli Latisana DOC Friuli Annia, DOCG Lison, DOCG Ramandolo, DOCG Picolit, DOCG Rosazzo, IGT Venezia Giulia

Main red grapes: cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot nero, refosco dal peduncolo rosso, schioppettino.

Main white grapes: chardonnay, friulano, malvasia istriana, picolit, pinot grigio, pinot bianco, ribolla gialla, riesling, tai bianco, verduzzo, vitovska.

Hidden gem: probably elegant, sweet Ramandolo!

Image Credits: Tunella , , ViediRomans 

About Wine Shop all’Amarone

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Wine Shop all’Amarone in Venice offers an exceptional selection of Italian wines, spotlighting the distinguished Amarone della Valpolicella. In addition to our Amarone focus, we proudly feature select wines from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, showcasing the diversity and richness of Italy’s winemaking regions. Our curated collection is designed to offer wine lovers a taste of Italy’s finest, from the robust flavors of Amarone to the unique profiles of Friuli’s wines.

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