Friuli-Venezia Giulia, known by many as Friuli, is located in the Northeast corner near the border with Austria and Slovenia. Its rich history reflects the Italian, Germanic and Slavic influences. Friuli’s landscape is a mix of mountains, the Alps, and the Adriatic’s coastal flat plains with a particular climate providing perfect conditions for the production of high-quality white wines. The renown of these wines has reached such levels they are often referred to as “superwhites” by many wine lovers.
Friuli, due to its bordered location has been the subject of territorial disputes by the Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Habsburgs. As a result, the diversity in international varieties dates back to this period. In more recent times there has been a rebirth in local heritage which is now leading to many uniquely modern expressions in the wine.
The location helps to distinct the wines
The area can be divided into two main regions: the plains in the south and the low hills inland, each with different influences and weather conditions. As a result, we have clear distinctions between the easy drinking wines and the more structured from the hilly Friuli Colli Orientali DOC.
Friuli has a warm maritime climate but experiences cooling influences both from the Adriatic Sea and from the Alps, creating ideal conditions for aromatic fresh whites. The levels of rainfall make the work in the vineyards more challenging, but local winds like Bora do help to keep vineyards healthy.
Friuli – the land of the “superwhites”
More than three-quarters of production is based on white wine, focused mainly on single-variety, fresh and unoaked wines from grapes like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. But Friuli also boasts a notable number of local white and red varieties like Friulano, Verduzzo, Picolit, Pignolo, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, Ribolla Gialla, Schioppettino, Tazzelenghe, etc.
Did you know that in the past the grape Friulano was called Tocai?
In 2007 Friuli lost a dispute with Hungary over the right to continue to call one of their wines “Tocai'' (produced from the local grape variety Tocai Friulano). In Hungary there is a protected designation of origin called Tokaji, the name of a small village on the border with Ukraine world famous for its sweet passito wines. Resulting in a need to change the name of their grape from Tocai Friulano to 'Friulano' in Friuli and respectively 'Tai' in Veneto.
Known appellations from the area
Collio DOC is located in the eastern part of the region, and specializes in the production of white wines from the Friulano and Ribolla Gialla grapes. There they also grow international varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The Collio DOC does have a broader range and you can find red wines made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC - sometimes shortened to “COF” - is the second most noteable region and is located further north-west. Here one of the most sought after and famed dessert wines of Italy is produced from Picolit and has since gained its own appellation Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit DOCG.
Another sweet wine is produced from grapes of Verduzzo Friulano, through both appassimento and late harvest. As in the Collio, the production of the Colli Orientali del Friuli is heavily focussed on whites, in particular Friulano, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes. The red wines of the Colli Orientali del Friuli are a mix of international grapes, such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Nero and native black berried varieties which are delightful even though less well-known.
Do you know where it comes from the name of Prosecco DOC?
Prosecco is Italy’s largest DOC; the area extends from Vicenza to Trieste with more than 20.000 ha. Its name comes from the village Prosecco in Friuli.
They can be “spumante” when they are fully sparkling or “frizzante” with lower pressure and gentler bubbles. It can be made with the Charmat method but also the traditional. In 2020 a new style was introduced, the Prosecco rose’.
The “Prosecco revolution” was called by many journalists the “sparkling gold rush”. The producers have done a great job protecting their product, and its quality. They are also considered to excel at marketing as their export and sales continue to grow. But it wasn’t always easy, as it was only as recent as 2009 that they managed to gain protection of the Prosecco name as an appellation and from there they changed the name of the grape to Glera.
Amazing luscious sweet wines
Before 2001 the Ramandolo area was integrated in the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC appellation, but then it became the first DOCG of Friuli. There they produce an elegant, structured and luscious sweet wine from the Verduzzo Friulano grape variety, made from a blend of both overripe and dried grapes.
Orange or macerated wines are becoming more popular and now Friuli can proudly boast some of the top Italian examples. The wines are made with long skin maceration, for days, weeks or even months. The resulting wines have a medium to deep amber colour, intense flavours of dried apricot, orange and its zest, pineapple, honeyed nuts, marzipan and the often-significant tannins.
Refreshing single-variety whites, great orange wines and fruit forward reds. But don’t overlook the amazing sweet wines.What are the most popular grape varieties in Friuli?
Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Picolit among the whites and for sure the peppery Schiopettino and Refosco among red grapes.What types of food works well with wines from Friuli?
Light reds: try them on Prosciutto di San Danieie and the smoked Prosciutto di Sauris; Full-bodied reds: wild game and mushrooms, or roasted beef; Whites: some local cheese like Frico, creamed baccala’ or risotto with seafood.