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The Wines of Friuli

Updated: 3 days ago

If you haven’t enjoyed white wine, it’s likely you haven’t experienced the white wines of Friuli. Alongside the white wines of the Trentino-Alto Adige region, Friuli stands out as one of Italy’s most renowned and high-quality wine-producing areas. Whether you’re a wine enthusiast or simply curious to explore, you are invited to discover the superb quality of produce from this relatively unknown corner of northern Italy.


Vineyards in Udine, situated in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.
Vineyards in Udine, situated in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Photo by Depositphotos

The wine scene in Friuli ranks among the finest in Italy. Unlike many areas primarily renowned for red wine production, Friuli takes pride in its white wines.

Detailed recommendations for the finest wines to taste will follow later in the article. Before delving into that, let’s step back and discuss the grapes. Familiarity with the key grape varieties of Friuli is essential for understanding Friulian wines.


One of the most renowned grape varieties associated with the area is the Friulano. Formerly known as Tocai, it was renamed Friulano in 2007 following a legal dispute with Hungary. The geographical and climatic conditions in Friuli are ideal for this grape variety, resulting in exquisite wines noted for tenderness as well as their rich, complex, and full-bodied aromas; they possess personality and are sometimes unforgettable.

Among the grape varieties found in the area, which underpin Friuli’s white wines, are Ribolla and Malvasia Istriana – an exceptionally ancient variety introduced during the period of the Serenissima (Republic of Venice). Moreover, internationally recognized varieties, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and more are also present.


Friuli wines are divided into several main production zones: those from the western part of the Friuli, including Grave DOC and Latisana DOC; those from the Giuliana area, such as Carso DOC; and Isonzo DOC wines from the Gorizia area. Nevertheless, the most captivating and esteemed wines hail from the elevated hills bordering Slovenia: Colli Orientali del Friuli and Collio wines. Prosecco is also produced in Friuli; however, this article will not delve into it.


The terroir in Friuli is distinctive, as are its weather conditions: a mild climate, notable temperature variations between day and night, and proximity both to the Alps and the Adriatic Sea. These factors enable the grapes to develop exceptionally complex flavors. Consequently, producers can emphasize the wine’s inherent qualities. Because of the broad selection of grape varieties allowed for the production of DOC and DOCG wines (listed on the bottles), producers have significant flexibility and freedom. Therefore, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay wines, which might typically receive a rating of 7.5-8 in other regions, stand out in this area.


Similar to many other places in Italy, it’s advisable not to limit tastings exclusively to DOC and DOCG wines. Some of the most fascinating wines arise from the combinations that winemakers craft from their own experience and understanding, often deviating from official consortium regulations. The best tasting experience involves sampling both “official” wines at top wineries and the “alternative” selections they offer.


Friuli Colli Orientali DOC

Within this extensive category, covering 19 towns east of Udine, lie some of the finest wines in Friuli: well-balanced, complex wines, also referred to as Super Whites (inspired by the famous Super Tuscans from Tuscany). Despite the area being renowned for its white wines, its red wines and dessert wines are noteworthy as well.

Within the broad general category, several subareas can be identified: Cialla, Ribolla Gialla di Rosazzo, Pignolo di Rosazzo, Schioppettino di Prepotto, and Refosco di Faedis. The label indicates the grape variety constituting the primary ingredient (85%). For instance, if 85% of the grapes are Chardonnay, the label will read Friuli Colli Orientali Chardonnay. The soil in this area is abundant in marl and limestone, and grapevines are planted on slopes, which have become one of the area’s trademarks.


One of the area’s notable red wines is the Pignolo di Rosazzo, recognized for its deep color, soft tannins, impressive aging potential, and rich aromas of berries and cherries. A personal favorite of mine is Schioppettino di Prepotto, produced near the town of Prepotto. Crafted from a local variety that faithfully embodies the hills where it thrives, this wine boasts intoxicatingly complex aromas of dark fruit, sweet spices, cloves, and woodland. Another recommended wine is the Refosco Nostrano, especially in its Riserva version. This red wine originates from the town of Faedis and environs.


Collio

As previously stated, this is the second most famous area in Friuli. Collio wines are of very high quality, particularly those crafted from Friulano grapes, recognized as Collio Friulano DOC. These wines boast rich aromas of flowers, chamomile, and Mediterranean herbs. Wines made from Malvasia grapes are also outstanding. Italy features approximately 17 varieties of Malvasia grapes, with the local Friuli variety known as Malvasia Istriana. Collio bianco is also highly regarded; it comprises a blend of several white grape varieties allowed by the consortium regulations. Collio wines from the town of Cormons are rightfully well-liked.


Lison DOCG

Another renowned wine from Friuli is Lison, also produced in select parts of the neighboring Veneto region. Lison is made from Friulano grapes, referred to as Tai in the Veneto region. At minimum, 85% of the grapes used must be Friulano, with additional varieties sourced from authorized growing areas. Unlike other well-known Friuli wines, Lison hails from a flat area bordered by two rivers: the Tagliamento and Livenza. This area is abundant in limestone, clay, and various minerals. The grapes acquire delightful aromas due to the substantial temperature fluctuations between day and night, coupled with drying winds that sweep through the vineyards. Its subtle fruitiness and deep flavors, along with aromas of apple, herb, chamomile, and wisteria, enhance the widespread popularity of this wine.


Picolit

Even if you’re not a fan of sweet dessert wine, a visit to Friuli wouldn’t be complete without trying the famous Picolit. This wine is considered rare because the local grape variety produces extremely limited produce. Each grapevine yields only a few clusters, yet they are exceptionally rich in flavor, creating an unforgettable experience.


What Should I Taste?

Due to the complexity and numerous subcategories of the variety and considering that some of the most recommended wines do not fit into any official category, I chose to create a separate list of recommended wines from all categories, distinct from the description of typical wines in Friuli. Naturally, it’s advisable not only to taste but also to visit and arrange a tour of the recommended wineries, enabling you to experience the beauty and quality firsthand.


Schiopetto winery, a renowned historic winery, has made significant contributions to the style of white wines in Friuli. The winemakers describe themselves as blending French elegance, German technology, and local Friuli grapes. I find this description to be accurate. The Friulano wines categorized under the Mario Schiopetto win awards every year and come highly recommended.


Russiz Superiore winery, located in the Collio area, offers a selection of excellent and reasonably priced Collio Bianco wines.

The Borgo del Tiglio winery in the Collio area is renowned for its Collio Studio di Bianco wine, a captivating blend of local Riesling, Sauvignon, and Friulano, highlighting their unique characteristics. Fresh peaches, almonds, and woodland aromas embrace the palate, solidifying this wine as one of the winery’s flagship offerings.


Toros winery also crafts excellent wines in the Collio area, notably their Pinot Grigio-based Collio, which is distinguished by its rich aromas of white flowers, pears, and almonds.

Venica & Venica holds a special place among my favorite wineries. Their Collio white wines consistently deliver surprises and excitement. Friulano enthusiasts, such as myself, must try the Friulano delle Cime. This wine wonderfully captures the essence of the winery. It originates from the vineyard’s highest point, where the grapevines flourish at 270 meters above sea level in the northeastern section.


Jermann winery, one of the most renowned in Friuli, showcases a fantastic collection, making it impossible to recommend just one wine – so I won’t even try to limit myself to one. Beginning with their absolutely magnificent Vintage Tunina, a diverse, golden, dry and full-bodied wine that emanates delightful floral and honey aromas. It pairs perfectly with a sumptuous fish course. It is a blend of four varieties: Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla, and Malvasia. Another intriguing wine is Capo Martiano, named after a hill in the heart of Gorizia. This is also a blend of local varieties which are traditionally aged for ten months. Their marvelous Chardonnay, ‘W. Dreams’, is also worth sampling, as it ranks among the best in Friuli. Although these three wines are the most distinctive in the collection, their ‘standard’ introductory wines are also superb.


The region of Friuli Colli Orientali boasts several exceptional wines. Torre Rosazza winery was founded within a small medieval fortress and gained fame for its complex wines originating from the eastern hills (Colli Orientali), located in close proximity to the charming town of Cividale del Friuli. Fans of Ribolla Gialla will appreciate this wine for its lively character and abundance of fresh fruit aromas, including melons and citrus.

Butussi winery presents an exceptionally fine Sauvignon (a variety I typically don’t favor), while Livio Felluga winery, renowned as one of the area’s finest, showcases profound and sophisticated wines. Friuli Colli Orientali Olivio is excellent and powerful and also provides great value for money. Grape clusters are hand-harvested, and their initial malolactic fermentation occurs in small barriques. The result is marvelous! Their Rosazzo is even more remarkable; dubbed an aristocratic wine, it blends local grape varieties (Friulano, Riesling, Malvasia, etc.), boasting untamed, opulent aromas of white flowers and fresh fruit, making it an ideal accompaniment to shellfish.


The renowned Lis Neris winery is located in the Friuli Isonzo area. Situated in the heart of the Isonzo River valley, it enjoys abundant sunlight and a Mediterranean microclimate. Since 1879, the family has been crafting high-quality wines. Notably, among their offerings, the ample, full-bodied Pinot Grigio stands out.

Those who like Ribolla Gialla would undoubtedly enjoy sampling the wines from Feudi di Romans. Esteemed among wine lovers, this historic winery has been operating for over a century. The quality of wines here is highly regarded, ranging from Ribolla to Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.


For those intrigued by natural wines, orange wines, and other unconventional varieties, exploring the distinctive wines of Radikon winery is a must. While they may not cater to every taste, their technical intricacy is fascinating. Gravner winery, renowned for its adherence to biodynamic principles, is also highly recommended.

In summary, to fully grasp the bond between Friuli wines and Friulian gastronomy, the best method is to pair them in an authentic Friulian meal.



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