THE JEWEL OF ITALIAN VITICULTURE
Friuli-Venezia-Giulia tucked in the north eastern corner of Italy, is ethnically a diverse and historically rich region. The Austro-Hungarian Empire governed the region. Under the Hapsburgs, Trieste in Friuli functioned as a distribution point of imports and exports of the then powerful empire.
Viennese royalty from the imperial court of Hapsburgs knew of its charms, and over the course of six centuries of rule, built a majestic cultural centre that rivalled the finest in Europe. The merchants of Trieste knew of its significance as a strategic port for Central Europe and created huge trade centres to facilitate transhipments, imports and exports.
Today, under Italian rule, Friuli is more tranquil and devoted to agriculture and tourism
The region, located west of Slovenia, and very close to Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Hungary is a powerhouse for dry white and light fragrant red wines.
Mussolini started viticulture in earnest by transplanting Sardinians there during his reign. Today, locals and the descendants of the Sardinians are carrying the torch.
Here, cool climate grapes grow better than anywhere else in Italy, with the possible exception of Alto-Adige, and wines are marketed by variety with a suffix referring to their origin i.e Tocai Friulano.
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, Muller-Thurgau are commonly planted and exported, but local varieties, at least to my palate, are more appealing (Tocai Friulano, Picolit, Verduzzo, Malvasia Istriana, Refosco, Pignolo, Schiopettino and Terano). These grapes seem to be able to reflect the terroir better than those imported, but unfortunately in export markets people tend to relate better to internationally known
The soils range from gravely (Grave del Friuli) to clay mixed with sand and chalky.
Collio, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Aquileia, Grave del Friuli, Isonzo, Latisana, Lison-Pramaggiore are the sub regions entitled to market both varietal and propriety bands.
Enofirulia in the Collio Orientali del Friuli is very close to the Slovenian border and very successful in producing fine, balanced, deeply flavoured white wines, so are Count Attems, Castelvecchio, M. Felluga, Azienda Agricola Luisa, and Villa Russiz.
White Friulan wines exude apple and pear aromas, are light to medium-bodied, brilliant, acid-driven, balanced and complement local specialties, pasta with seafood, risottos, pizzas, fish, shellfish and crustaceans. They are meant to be enjoyed within a few years of harvest except for Picolit which is a unique, sweet wine with incomparable floral aroma and refined texture. Picolit is produced in small quantities and seldom exported as locals and Italians in general buy them as soon as the vintage becomes available.
Friulan reds are light and fruity, more resembling Beaujolais in style than other Italian wines. Regardless, they should be enjoyed for that they are; well-made, acid-driven, medium-bodied wines, particularly suited for cold cuts, pork dishes, roast turkey, semi-soft cheeses, pastas with meat sauces and pizzas.
Cabernet Franc and Merlot and Refosco, are the most poplar and successful
Friulan wines sell extremely well in neighbouring Austria and Switzerland; Germany is also a good market.
Canada, particularly Ontario, has been importing Friulan wines for a number of years, but promotional activities have been lacking to support these exquisite products, which represent good value.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu