friuli venezia giulia

friuli venezia giulia
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Viticulture in Friuli Venezia Giulia

Dozens of different grape varieties are planted throughout the region, and many producers market each of them as a single-varietal wine. Historically, however, white grapes like Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, Verduzzo or Picolit would be blended into a single wine, and a few artisanally-minded producers still stick to this tradition.

On the other hand, pioneers of quality winemaking like Jermann and Livio Felluga have successfully innovated the art of blending, also adding dollops of international grapes.

As for red varieties, Terrano, Refosco, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have always been little more than a drop in the ocean of whites. However, the quality of the wines they give has improved consistently over the last few years, and the revival of forsaken grapes like Schioppettino and Pignolo has further contributed to the rediscovery of Friuli Venezia Giulia as a red wine-producing region.

What are the grape varieties of Friuli Venezia Giulia?

Key native grapes:

  • Pinot Grigio: the most widely grown variety in Friuli, giving simple and easygoing white wines and skin-contact Ramato, which usually displays an eye-catching copper-like color and a richer structure. The latter style is typical of Colli Orientali. 
  • Friulano: also known as Tocai Friulano, Friulano is one of they key white grapes for quality wine production in Friuli. The equivalent of “Sauvignonasse” or “Sauvignon Vert”, it gives fruity and floral wines with subtle herbal and floral nuances – distinctive enough to make it recognizable as a semi-aromatic variety but nowhere as exuberant as those of Sauvignon Blanc. Skin-contact often intensifies peachy aromas and allows to extract light tannins, while oak aging can impart a slightly creamier and velvetier texture.
  • Ribolla Gialla: the other key white variety Ribolla Gialla is neutral and highly versatile. While it can produce almost any kind of wine – including bright and easy-drinking tank-fermented sparkling wines that rival top-notch Prosecco – orange versions usually get the most recognition, coming close to fine red wines in terms of complexity and age-worthiness.
  • Malvasia Istriana: native to the Istria region, Malvasia Istriana is also widely grown in Collio and Carso. It produces either non-macerated whites that combine attractive floral aromatics with a minerally mouthfeel or perfumed and exotic orange wines. 
  • Refosco dal Peduncolo rosso: the difficult name of this grape hints at the red stalk of the bunches, and refers to a specific grape belonging to the Refosco family that gives the majority share of quality reds from Friuli Venezia Giulia. Aromas of sweet dark fruits, herbs and spice, medium-high acidity and slightly astringent tannins are typical features of this variety, the best versions of which originate from the Colli Orientali area.
  • Terrano: According to many experts, Terrano is a biotype of Refosco dal Peduncolo. Producers in the Carso area and neighbouring Slovenia, however, often treat it as a different variety, and the wines tend to be slightly lighter and more minerally, 
  • Picolit: the rare Picolit grape suffers from a genetic anomaly known as “floral abortions”, resulting in low yields and high sugar concentration. For this reason, it is mainly employed in the production of sweet wines, some of which are truly world-class.
  • Verduzzo: This rare grape is mainly grown in the Ramandolo subzone of the Colli Orientali area. Dry examples have become more common in recent years, and they mix lifted aromatics with a bit of tannin-derived astringency. 
  • Schioppettino: a rare red grape from the Colli Orientali area which is characterized by a high content of Rotundone, making for exuberantly spicy and slightly herbal wines.
  • Tazzelenghe: Tazzelenghe means “cutting the tongue” and refers to the extremely high acidity of this little-known red variety. It can give excellent wines if the grapes are ripe enough to avoid excess tartness or unpleasant herbal aromas.
  • Pignolo: another rare red variety producing complex, full-bodied and mightily tannic red wines that are slowly garnering attention (despite low production volumes).

Other key grapes:

  • Sauvignon Blanc: Collio, Colli Orientali and isonzo are the most important areas in Italy for the production of Sauvignon Blanc, yielding a considerable number of award-winning examples. Mostly aged in stainless steel, these wines are a happy medium between the tropical and leafy style of the New World and the lemony and minerally versions of the Loire, usually display compelling herbal and floral aromatics without being too aromatic or too green.
  • Pinot Bianco: while Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige is better-known at an international level, versions from Collio and Colli Orientali are also worth seeking out, usually displaying a richer and creamier mouthfeel while retaining excellent acidity. 
  • Chardonnay: the Isonzo and Collio regions produce some of Italy’s best Chardonnay – varietally accurate but also showcasing terroir-driven energy and minerally verve.
  • Merlot: the largest share of premium red wines from Friuli Venezia Giulia is made with this international grape. They different substantially from Merlot grown in Tuscany or other parts of Italy: generally more restrained, with moderately ripe fruit and good acidity to balance.
  • Glera: used to produce Prosecco DOC.

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