There are many reasons to like Italy as a wine country. It’s hard to imagine a better place to down a few glasses of vino, eat some good food while being surrounded by ridiculously beautiful landscape everywhere you go. But even though Italy is famous for its wines, certain regions still remain unknown for most wine lovers; such is Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone and the list goes on. Italy makes some of the best red wines on the planet. They are so good in making red wines in fact that the whites are almost completely overshadowed by them. But the truth is that if you are into whites you can find some real gems all over Italy, if you know where to look.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia, or just Friuli amongst friends, is a wine region tucked away in the Northeast corner of Italy pinned between the Alps in the north and the Adriatic Sea in the south. It’s here in this unique region that Italian white wines shine.
Although the wines of Friuli are not internationally as well known as the wines of the neighbouring wine region Veneto, it holds a special place in many wine geek’s heart. The region has always produced wine but it was winemakers such as Stanko Radikon and Josko Gravner who put Friuli in fancy wine lists around the world. Their old-school approach to making wine gave Friuli the “street cred” it very much needed.
The region consists of several DOC (Denominazioni di Origine Controllata) and DOCG (Denominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita) areas; Collio and Carso being few of the more interesting ones. Grape varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio are abundant but it’s the local varieties such as the elegant Friulano and the super crisp Ribolla Gialla that in my opinion showcase the land better than anything else. Also, the aromatic Istrian Malvasia produces some very intriguing wines that can be quite powerful. It is the wide range of autochthonous grape varieties that makes Friuli so vibrant. I mean where else could you taste a sassy Schioppettino or the aptly named Tazzelenghe which in Friulian dialect means “tongue cutting”. Friuli is one of those regions that can keep surprising you over and over again.
During harvest it’s all hands on deck. Some say good wine never grows on flat soil and there might be some truth to that. Even here in Friuli it’s on the steep hills where the magic happens. The 2016 vintage has been turbulent in Europe, especially in France where some areas has suffered from hail, frost and rot. Most areas in Northern Italy managed to escape rough weather and the vintage is looking good so far.
Some of the best vineyards in Friuli grow just next to the Slovenian border. I always find it funny how people forget that viticulture does not stop at the border. While Slovenia might not be as well-known for its wines as Italy is, it’s important to remember that there is plenty of wine being made just a few steps away on the other side of the invisible border. Interestingly there seems to be a bit of the same mindset on both sides. In Slovenia producers like Movia, Čotar and a handful of others are making waves. It’s wines like these that make you wonder what else is out there that I don’t know about.
Let’s just put it this way: if you like the so called natural wines, amphoras and skin contact whites, you will definitely want to spend some times in this small corner of the world.