Monday, August 4, 2014

Italy Unit 1: Friuli–Venezia Giulia

The following are my notes for studying the wines of the Friuli-Giulia Venezia wine region of Italy. In these notes I provide information about the topography, climate, soils, important red and white wines and extensive information on the DOCs and DOCGS of the region. I then provide notes on the wines I tasted from this region.

In our first meeting of the Advanced Study of Italy we reviewed the “Big Picture” of Italy, reciting all 20 major wine regions from north to south. We then focused covered the following information while sampling the wines – read a little, sip a little, read a little, sip a little… At the beginning of the next meeting we’ll begin with a quiz which will entail identifying all the of regions Italy plus the climate, soils, major grapes, wine blends, and at least 3 top producers of FriuliVenezia Giulia. In future meetings we will also practice going through the grid and sample some Advanced Grid wines blind.


FriuliVenezia Giulia (FVG) is a predominantly mountainous region located in the north-east corner of Italy bordering Slovenia to the east and Austria to the north. Consequently the region is heavily influenced by the neighboring Slavic, German, and Italian cultures. Since the phylloxera devastated its vineyards in the late 19th century it has replanted with many non-Italian varietals.

White Wines

With the introduction of modern wine making techniques and modern stainless steel equipment, stylistically today’s white wines tend towards crisp and clean white wines but they can also be blended, barrel-fermented and aged, and consequently more lush rather than lean.

Red Wines

Approximately 40% of Friuli’s wines are red. The most important red varietals in the region are Bordeaux varietals, namely Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cab Franc but there are a number of indigenous grapes as well.

“Orange” Wines

There are also a small amount of producers, lead by Josko Frosko Gravner, who are making “orange” white wines with lengthy skin contact influenced by ancient Slavic style of winemaking. To make most modern white wines, the grapes are crushed, and the solids are quickly separated from the juice to maintain the wine’s pale color. Orange wines are white wines produced more like reds, with prolonged maceration of crushed grape skins and seeds. These wines are often made in clay vessels or wooden barrels. Rather than being orange, these skin-fermented white wines range from bright gold to tawny brown. On the palate, they often possess the texture, body and tannins of red wines and the fruit and minerality of white wines. Stylistically unique, many offer earthiness, funk and a savory, richly textured mouthfeel.

The region is protected by a band of two Alps the Carnic and the Julian. Both of these tall mountain ranges help to protect the cold of Central Europe from racing down on these growing regions. Then you have the Adriatic at a close proximity. This moderates the temperatures, keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, which also creates a push and pull of wind between it and the two mountain ranges. This constant breeze known as la bora helps many of the vineyards by giving them a wonderful air flow that makes farming in a bio or organic practice easier. This wind also helps in keeping fungus outbreaks lower in many vineyards.
Most vineyards are on glacial moraine – gritty sand, gravel, and sediment.
There are ten DOCs in Friuli although the first two are considered to be exceptional
Collio Orientali DOC
Located in the Northern part of Friuli’s wine growing region. It has steep hills and a soil rich in ponca; very deep, well drained, moderately permeable soils that formed in loess (silt-sized sediment, which is formed by the accumulation of wind-blown dust). There are also layers of sandstone mixed with red clay and limestone. The Collio Orientali has a cooler, wetter area in the north where Ramandolo is produced, a famous sweet wine from Friuli. This is also where the best reds of FVG are made. These world class soils around the hill of Rosazzo and the hilly town of Buttrio produce full bodied, rich Bordeaux varietals, as well as indigenous reds of Pignolo, Tazzalanghe and Schiopetino. Collio Orientalli is home to great producers such as Ronco di Gnemiz, Meroi and Miani in Buttrio.
Collio DOC
This hilly area on the Slovenian border is be protected by the pre alps of the Julian mountains. The soil on the multifaceted hilly slopes are sandstone and stratified marl with Ponca. Collio, with Collio Orientali, is home to some of the most famous and sought after wines of Friuli inclduing Franco Torros for his Pinot Bianco, the Bordeaux varietals of Russiz Superiore. Livio Felluga is a historic producer with vineyards in both Collio and Collio Orientali and he produces fresh Friulano and to the epic Terre Alte. Terre Alte was created in 1981 and is considered one of Italy's most prestigious white wines. The balanced blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon grapes, estate-grown at Rosazzo in the historic Terre Alte vineyards. Giampaolo Venica at is yet anotherwho produces Sauvignon Blanc and outstanding Malvasia.
Friuli Isonzo DOC
Named after the Isonzo river, it not only splits the region but helps make it distinct. The river has historically flooded and given the areas on both sides nutrients and soil. White gravel on the right bank with a lot of chalk and on the left bank a more red gravel with less chalk. The la bora winds come in from Slovenia and run right down the Isonzo. The wines from Isonzo have an exotic aromatic ripeness, rich alcohol and fullness. In Isonzo you’ll find Vie di Romans which make rich full and highly exotic aromatic whites and their chardonnay is similar to that of California. Tenuta Blasig is a producer from this region where the wines are less full blown and show great elegance.
Carso DOC
This bora wind swept terroir looking down on the Adriatic is a plateau that sits above Trieste and heads north. This wind keeps yields down as the vineyards struggle with very low out put. The soil in the Carso is unique, with red iron rich soil that is also layered with limestone and calcium. The vineyards are so distinct and rich in these minerals that in the 1890s the doctors of nearby Trieste would recommend a glass of the red varietal Terano for people with anemia. Malvasia Istriana has a salty mineral note while maintaining all the great exotic fruit components. There are some excellent wineries in the Karst. Zidarich and Kante both make spectacular wines in this wind swept plateau. Vodopivic is a winery also making wine in the Karst in the more Gravner style of Amphora and long skin maceration.
Friuli Grave DOC
The largest area, it is on the flatter soil West of Udine and is dominated by gravelly stones left by the Tagliamento river looking up at the Carnic Alps. The deep well-drained soil on the river plane enables the rocks and stones to store heat. But it is cooler here so the more delicate aromatic whites do not get cooked by the warmth from the stones and allow crisp, clean, aromatic and ripe whites. While not as profound as the wines of Friuli, they are aromatic and good value wines.
Ramandolo DOCG
Sweet whites from Verduzzo grapes grown on the hills to the north of Udine
Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit DOCG
Became DOCG in 2006, produces amber wine made from the aromatic Picolit grape.
Key White Grape Varieties
It is formerly known as Tocai Friulano, the “tocai” was dropped after the forming of the EU in order to be distinguished from Hungary’s Tokaji. It is also known as Tai Bianco in Vento and Sauvignon Vert in France. It is typically crisp and medium bodied with flavors of pear, white almond, stone fruit and Cavaillon melon carried with mineral notes.
Pinot Grigio
Also known as Pinot Gris in France, but Pinot Grigio is stylistically different in Italy. Plantings can also be found in the Lombardy region around Oltrepo Pavese and in Alto Adige. In Italy, the grapes are often harvested early to retain the refreshing acidity and minimize some of the overt-fruitiness of the variety, creating a more neutral flavor profile. This style is often imitated in other Old World wine regions, such as Germany where the grape is known as Ruländer. This is a “Grid Wine” for the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Two clones exist: Ribolla Verde and Ribolla Gialla. The grape is also found in Slovenia where it is known as Rebula and the Greek island of Cephalonia, where it is known as Robola. It is thought that the vine originated in Cephalonia and arrived in Friuli, by way of Slovenia, as early as the 13th Century and during the Venetian Republic. It is typically golden in color, light body, high acidity and fragrant aromas of exotic fruit, papaya and mango, which turn nutty with time. It gives its best results on hillside vineyards.
Sauvignon Blanc known locally simply as “sauvignon.” A single bottled variety grown in the region since the 19th century. What distinguishes the grape in Northeast Italy is that it lacks those aggressive aromas of nettle and artichoke you sometimes find elsewhere. In the Colli Orientali del Friuli’s Collio and Grave areas it tends to showcase softer aromas of passion fruit, sage, mint and tomato leaf.
A single bottled variety grown in the region since the 19th century. It is also an important blended wine in “Super Whites”.
Pinot Bianco
A French import, Pinot Bianco was introduced during the 19th century. It is planted across Northern Italy and grows well in Friuli due to the calcareous marl soils that enhance its aromas of mineral, apricot, pear and Golden Delicious apple. Typically they have a creamy structure.
Verduzzo Friulano
Verduzzo Friulano is used in varietal and blended wines, many of which fall under DOC as well as vino da tavola designations, that range in style from dry to late harvest wines. (see below)
Used to produce rare dessert wines (see below).
Lesser Local White Varieties
Traminer Aromatico
The Traminer is native to the cool Alpine slopes of the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol in northeastern Italy. It is somewhat debated as to whether the Gewürz- mutant originated in Friuli or in Trentino-Alto Adige. Confusingly, both pink and green grapes may be called simply Traminer. This wine is aged in Austrian oak rather than the Slavonian oak used for most Italian wine.
Malvasia Istriana
This wine is grown in the in Collio DOC and Isonzo DOC. The name comes from the Istria peninsula spanning over Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. The vine was introduced to the area by Venetian merchants who brought cuttings from Greece. It is also found in the Colli Piacentini region of Emilia where it is used to make sparkling wine known locally as champagnino or “little Champagne.”
Riesling Italico
Also known as Welschriesling, Laski Rizling and Olasz Riesling. It is NOT related to the Rhine Riesling, that is grown throughout Central Europe. Its origin is uncertain but it may have been brought to Central Europe by the ancient Romans. However, the Croatian name Graševina suggests that the origin might be somewhere to the east of the Balkans. In Italy it is grown in in the northern regions such as Trentino, Collio and Friuli.
Key Red Grape Varieties
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
The three most important red varietals in Italy are from Bordeaux varietal that have been produced in Friuli since the 19th century.
A dark-skinned grape varieties native to the northern Italian of Friuli, Gavi, Trentino, Istria, and the Karst – a limestone plateau region extending across the border of southwestern Slovenia and northeastern Italy. It origins in the area pre-date modern day political borders. The wines tend to be dark and densely colored violet with high acidity and are mostly and grassy aromas. Flavors of dark peppery spices and plums abound on the palate, and the wine often displays a slightly astringent, almond-skin finish on the palate. Refosco is ripens late and if harvested too early it can produce harsh, unripe tannins. In Friuli, the most common sub-variety is named Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, which translates to “Refosco with the red stalks”. The wines from here have impressive fruit intensity laced with minerality.
The name means “gunshot” or “little crack” and it also known as “Ribolla Nera”. The grape is believed to have originated between the commune of Prepotto and the Slovenian border where records of the Schiopettino wine being used in marriage ceremonies date to 1282. The grape was nearly lost to extinction following the phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century when vineyard owners decided against replanting the variety in favor of French wine grapes.
In Italian the grape’s name means “fussy” which describe the viticultural profile of the grape which often produces low and uneven yields. The wines tend to have a balance between acidity and tannins with flavors of plum and blackberry. Most experts believe that it is not related to the Lombardy Pignola grape of the Valtellina region.
A native grape to the region. The grape's name means “Tongue stinging” or “Tongue cutting”. It is a late-ripening variety that produces medium- to large-sized berries. Its bunches are medium sized and cylindrical in shape, with narrow wings. It is one of 10 varieties permitted in red wines of Friuli's Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC. It is typically full bodied, with an intense purple-red hue. The wines often exhibit notes of licorice, dark chocolate and earthy spice, but are most recognizable by their texture rather than by any particular characteristic flavor. It may be used to create single-variety wines, but it is most often blended with the Bordeaux varieties Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has strong, mouth-puckering tannins and acidity. The variety was widely planted in the last century throughout Friuli, but has been largely forgotten since.
Key Wine Blends
Following the trend of the “Super Tuscans” red wine blends, the term “Super Whites” are white wine blends. Some of the most well-known include Vinnaioli Jermann’s Vintage Tunina (Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Tocai and Picolit), Ronco della Acacie “hilltop of the Acacias” (70% Chardonnay 30% Friulano), Capo Martino (Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana and Picolit), Miani Bianco (Tocai vines, Malvasia and Ribolla.), Livio Felluga’s Terre Alte (Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco and Tocai) and Vie de Romans’ Flors di Uis (Chardonnay, Malvasia and Riesling).
Dessert Wines
Picolit (also known as Piccolit and Piccolito in friulian language is called pecolèt or pecolùt) is a native grape used to make rare dessert wines often made in the passito style (“Straw wine” made from grapes that have been dried to concentrate their juice). The grape had a worldwide reputation in the 18th century when it was featured in royal courts from Great Britain to the Russian Empire. While experiencing cult wine popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, Picolit's extremely small yields have made it economically difficult to grow and it has limited the number of plantings.
Verduzzo di Ramandolo is made from the Verduzzo grape. Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, has stated that this is one of the "lightest-bodied, most exquisite dessert wines made anywhere.” (pg. 349-350). According Joe Bastianich and David Lynch, authors of Vino Italiano, describes these as honeyed sweet wines with a citrus note similar to “an orange jelly candy” but it can also be used to create somewhat tannic dry whites with “chalky” notes (pg. 38-40, 401).
Notable Wine Producers
Bastianich Winery
Lis Neris
Josko Gravner
Livio Felluga
Conte D’Attimis Maniago
Villa Russiz
La Viarte
Vie de Romans
Mario Schiopetto
Castello di Spessa

The Wines

During our first study group meeting we tasted the following wines:

2012 Raccaro Friulano “Vigna del Rolat” Collio DOC

This is a clear white wine, moderate intense straw-yellow in color with medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of ripe melon, green apples and lemon, cucumbers, sea breeze, and an array of white flowers with a hint of mint and sage. The floral aromas are up front and are followed by the fruit and herbal notes. On the palate the nose is confirmed with tangy oranges, grapefruit pith, sea salt, and a hint of bitter almonds long finish. This wine is very zesty with medium+ acidity, medium+ body, it is very round and creamy, it very powerful and complex with a long finish. This was my favorite in the line-up and it retails for $39.99 per bottle.

2011 Ronco del Gelso Toc Bas Friulano Friuli Isonzo DOC

This is a clear white wine, moderate intense straw yellow in color with medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of dried papaya, dried peach, a hint of quince and oxidative notes of sweaty socks, peanut shell, notes of cheese and salty sea breeze. The oxidative notes are more prominent on the nose than the palate and the “sweaty socks” notes seem to dissipate. It is dry, with medium acid, it is medium bodied with a moderate length finish. This wine is fully developed and will not benefit from ageing. This wine retails for $17 per bottle.

2012 Ermacora Ribolla Gialla Colli Orientali del Friuli

This is a clear white wine, moderate intense straw yellow in color with medium viscosity. On the nose it has subtle intense aromas of white peach, tangerine, melon, lime, white flowers, a hint of coconut, white chalk and a hint of bitter almonds. Out of the three wines, this one had the most noticeable mineral character. On the palate it is dry with medium+ acidity, medium+ alcohol, it is very lean and steely with notes of peach skins, under ripe stone fruits, and a very prominent minerality, with hints of bitter almonds and lemon pith with herbal notes on the medium length finish. This wine retails for $15.99 per bottle.

2003 Gigantes Pignolo, Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC

This is somewhat opaque dark ruby red wine that transitions to garnet at the rim with medium viscosity. On the nose it has medium intense aromas of dried red cherries, dried plums, black currants, dried roses, tobacco, dried cinnamon stick, black pepper, anise, and a touch of mint. On the palate it is dry with medium+ tannin, medium+ acidity, medium body, it is a complex and well-balanced wine with a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for $43.99 at Enoteca Vino Nostro in San Francisco.

2007 Gigante Schioppettino, Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC

This is somewhat opaque dark ruby red wine that transitions to moderate intense garnet at the rim with medium viscosity. On the nose it has intense aromas of fresh cracked black pepper, black cherries, plums, dried earth, dried roses and a hint of old leather. On the palate it is dry with medium+ tannin, medium+ acidity, it has medium body, medium+ alcohol with a medium+ length pepper and spice driven finish. This wine is very Syrah-like but it is so peppery that it almost overwhelms the fruit. This wine sells for $24.99 at Enoteca Vino Nostro in San Francisco.
2006 Gigante Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC

An opaque red wine, dark purple / black at the core with minimal rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of dark baked black cherries, dried figs, with hints of black pepper, dried roses, damp earth and a touch of vinosity. On the palate it has additional notes of sour cherries and dried cinnamon stick. This wine is somewhat rustic, it is very dry with medium+ tannins, medium+ acidity, medium body and a lengthy finish.

Food and Wine Pairing

All these wines have a common “I’m Italian” character to them as they have similar bitter almonds traits that I find in Pinot Grigio from northern Italy. After tasting the white wines we tasted them again with a classic pairing of melon (cantaloupe and honeydew melon) wrapped in prosciutto. The salty sea breeze notes of the Friuli compliment the prosciutto and the fruit notes, especially those of the 2012 Raccaro Friulano, was a great match for the melon.

The Refosco is an excellent pizza wine and I really enjoyed it with a thin crust pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms and black olives.

The Schioppettino was very peppery when I opened it but I enjoyed 2 glasses of it. The next day when I finished the bottle the pepper seemed much more integrated which allowed the fruit to come to the front. So, I highly recommend decanting the wine for several hours before serving it. I enjoyed it with Italian turkey meatballs in a Cabernet Marinara Sauce and garlic bread


  1. Felicidades muy completo y actual !!!!
    Más bodegas : Borgo del tiglio ,Le Due Terre ,Volpe Pasini,F.Keber,IL Carpino,Doro Princic , Castello di Spessa ,Radikon,Moschioni,Specogna,Le vigne di Zamo' !!!! Cin cin

  2. You missed the Lison DOCG which was added in 2010. Wines are made from Tocai and the DOCG is shared with the Veneto as well. The area covers some of the vineyards which used to fall under the Lison-Pramaggiore DOC. There is also a 'classico' zone which highlights some of the older vineyards and bottles are labelled Lison Classico.

  3. When in Rome... Thanks for the comment. When I first posted the notes for Friuli they were much shorter as I did not include as much information about the DOCs. But as I went along I went back and expanded them so apparently I missed Lison DOC and the Lison-Pramaggiore DOC due to using an older source. About 1/3 of my way through my study I bought some new books and found more up-to-date resources. I'll make changes to these notes ASAP.