Updated: May 5, 2019
Unlike such more well-known Italian wine regions as Piemonte or Chianti, which are notably considered more conservative and traditional, Friuli Venezia Giulia (commonly shortened as just Friuli) produces wines which are creative, vibrant, individualistic and characterful.
Historically being the important Mediterranean port province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and now bordered to Austria and Slovenia, Friuli has exposed to strong eclectic ethnic influences. You can taste the German or Austrian precision in their wines.
Friuli is topographically situated between the Alps (to the north) and the Adriatic Sea (to the south). It is the contrasting forces of the mountain wind and the coastal breeze that create the cool nights and warms days that contribute to the body and a determined grip in the wines of this region. Majority of the vineyards of this region lie across the hillsides and plains on the sunny south side of the Alps, where the exposure to heat and light of the sun renders the grape to ripen fully. Here, white varieties account for more than 70% of the total vineyard area. Thanks to the peculiar climate, the white wines here are rarely delicate; instead, they are vibrant, racy with attractive aromas of pronounced fruit, spices and earthy notes - sounds like more Alsatian than Italian in style!
I tasted Bressan Verduzzo Friulano 2015 in a recent dinner. The cultivation of this variety dates back at least to 1409, showing characteristic sweet almond and herbal notes coupled with a spicy mouthfeel. The winemaker destemmed the grapes, crushed them and allowed the must to rest under very low temperature to macerate with the grape skins for 48 hours before the juice underwent fermentation. The resulting wine shows a lovely onion skin colour and displays a bouquet of apples, pears and peaches, layered with apricot, walnut, almond and herbs like rosemary and oregano. The entertaining complexities echoed very well with the pairing dish of roasted octopus and roasted artichoke with aromatic herbs dressing. Delicious!
It would seem counterintuitive that a relatively high latitude region known for racy white wines would also produce some unpredictably exciting red wines. At the dinner, we were served with Bressan Schioppettino 2009, which along the lines of the Verduzzo, went on to offer a gentle bite and lovely acidity. It is deep ruby, showing aromas of wild red cherries, blueberries with subtle notes of flowers, musk, pepper and earthy notes. Schioppettino is an ancient and native variety that has been documented cultivation since the 13th century. Had it not been rescued from oblivion in the 1970s by the Mayor Prepotto, it has become extinct after the phylloxera epidemic as it is not a particularly easy grape to grow.
Another red wine served was Bressan Pignol 2004, made from another nearly extinct variety Pignolo. The wine is deep ruby, emitting aromas of berries, plums, spices and herbs. It is dense, full-bodied, with good acidity and ample, but smooth tannin. It goes hand in hand with the braised short rib and beef tenderloin with red wine and plum sauce.
Friuli boasts a wide range of grape varieties, both native and international, made into a variety of whites, reds and sweet wines. I was lucky to taste some of the stunning ones!