Wines of Friuli
Friuli-Venezia Giulia is Italy's most North-Eastern region, and the fifth smallest region in the country. It is a region that boasts a wide variety of climatic conditions, mild Mediterranean climate in the south and chilly Alpine weather in the north. It also has great geologic diversity, comprised of roughly 60% mountainous hilly areas and 40% plains. This versatile region can offer the adventurer a day of hiking and skiing snow capped mountains in the morning, then grabbing some afternoon rays on a coastal lagoon in the afternoon. Although small in size, Friuli, and its important capital city, Trieste, has always been considered a central player in European relations and has played an important role in connecting Italy (and the Mediterranean) to Central and Eastern Europe.
The Friuli wine region is split into several appellations, some of the most notable are; Ramandolo (the only sub region with DOCG status, famous for its silky dessert wine, made with a native clone of Verduzzo Friulano called Ramandolo), Il Collio Goriziano (considered by many wine critics to be Italy’s best appellation for white wines), Colli Orientali del Friuli in the province of Udine, which is host to superb cellars such as Livio Felluga. (Continued below.)
La Tunella Bianco Sesto 2007
Sub-appelation: "Colli Orientali"
(50% Tocai Friulano, 50% Ribolla Gialla.)
La Tunella Bianco Sesto exhibits the characteristic straw-golden yellow color to typical of whites from the region, with some green hues. A formidable wine, this white blend is quite sophisticated with an elegant bouquet of apple, vanilla and acacia blossoms, with a subtle wafting of tropical fruits and melon. The palate is gentle, quite pleasing and full of character, smooth and robust. It has a lingering finish, with a slight almond note from the Ribolla and the crisp trademark provided by both grapes. ($30)
As noted above, some spectacular wines are created in the Friuli region, and for the purposes of this writing, I will focus on two grapes, Tocai Fruilano and Ribolla Giallo.
Tocai Friulano is a Venetian vine which is likely native to the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and has been documented in Friuli as early as 1771. This variety has long been known as Tocai Friulano, but in 2006 the European Union banned names that have some similarity or association with the Hungarian wine Tokaji. As a result, Tocai Friulano is now simply called Friulano, and is Friuli’s most planted white vine with over 20% of vineyard space taken.
Friulano enjoys a cool climate and its characteristics of late ripening vine and high productivity and resistance make it the darling of the region. It gives birth to wines of great character and sophistication, acidic wines that carry notes of apple, acacia, minerals and vanilla.
Another important grape in the Friuli region is the ancient grape varietal Ribolla Gialla. While the Ribolla Gialla is a transplant of the Greek varietal Robola, it has been growing in the same region since the 13th century, and is certainly by this point, an indigenous varietal. Wines made from the Ribolla Gialla tend to exhibit a light and crisp character, with hints of apples, citrus and almonds. It is often called just Ribolla, though the Gialla helps to distinguish it from the lesser Ribolla Verde varietal.
Being a very acidic grape, Ribolla Gialla was primarily used as a blending grape until winemakers began to apply advanced techniques to it such as malolactic fermentation, which softened the wine but still retained the crisp, lemon zing of the grape. These days it can stand alone, but it is better paired with another grape, say, like Friulano.
Mike Mollica (aka "MikeMo") is an independent food & wine journalist for the "Italian American Community News", author and publisher of the very popular blog "Mike's Mostly Food and Wine Blog" and is also a blog contributor to VinVillage.com.