Friuli-Venezia Giulia rests in the northeastern corner of Italy and shares its border with the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia, Austria, and Veneto. The provinces of the region include Trieste (the region’s capital), Gorizia, Pordenone, and Udine. The contrasting sky-high snow-capped mountains, rocky plateaus, and tranquil lagoons fit right in with the complex, diverse culture and history of this intriguing land.
Friuli’s region is full of different predecessors who have directly impacted the region's prosperity and wine culture. For two thousand years, Friuli-Venezia Giulia has been under the control of the Romans, Goths, Lombards, Huns, Venetians, French, Austrians, Yugoslavs, and the Italians. The region's capital, Trieste, was not officially a part of Italy until 1977.
After being destroyed by wars, used as a key site for trade and wealth, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia has gone through a lot of developmental changes to put their diverse wine culture on the map. While you may find some of the best red wines in Tuscany or Piedmonte, in this region, you’ll come across uniquely unknown yet world-class white wines.
THE TERROIR OF FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA
Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s proximity to the Adriatic Sea and the Julian Alps in Slovenia creates a juxtaposing climate that plays to the advantage of the grapes.
Starting in the center of the region, there is a large, flat valley called the Friuli Grave. This valley is made up of large stones and rocks that heat up in the sunshine and cool down at night. This climatic shift helps the grapes ripen effectively while giving them an unmistakable acidity from the cool air at night. Pinot Grigio and Prosecco wines are famously produced in this area.
The Julian Alps that reside in the northeastern sides of the region - Colli Orientali del Friuli and Collio - help elevate the foothills where vineyards grow. The rise in terrain gives the grapes - Ribola Gialla, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Collio Bianco - the boost they need to ripen from the warm summer sunshine, which helps the grapes mature with phenolic complexity. The signature soil found in this area is called Ponca. Ponca soil is a mix of marl and sandstone, giving the wine beautifully crisp aromas of white flowers, ripe apples, and stone fruit along with gripping acidity.
Closer to the coast by the flat plains of Trieste, The Carso Peninsula, the terroir and maritime environments shift, making the vineyards and Mediterranean climate more predictable and reliable. The Carso Peninsula has soil formations made up of mineral-rich “terra rossa”, hard limestone and alluvial sands. Carso has become increasingly popular for producing skin contact (orange) wines and mineral-driven reds.
THE WHITE WINES OF FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA
Ribolla Gialla - This is an ancient and native white grape to this region. It is marked by its high acidity, medium to high alcohol, and citrus/apple flavors.
Friulano - This is a white grape found in Colli Orientali, Grave del Friuli and Collio. It produces a fragrant white wine with notes of citrus and florals with high acidity.
Verduzzo - Verduzzo can produce both sweet and dry wines. A remarkable quality of this wine is that it has incredibly high tannins, which are not typically found in white wines. In the sweet wine varieties, there are notes of orange candy, honey, citrus, salt, and pears. In the drier wines, it produces a chalky wine with crisp acidity.
Picolit - This white grape is famous for producing the region’s beloved Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit DOC and the sweet dessert wine, Passito. It’s been said that the grape is native to the area around the hamlet called Rosazzo. It has aromas of stone fruit, honey, apricot, and orange peel.
Vitovksa - This is planted in Carso, the famous orange wine-making region. Vitovksa is a white grape that produces a citrus-driven mineral wine.
Pinot Grigio - The pinot grigios made in Friuli are beautifully harvested, using ancient vines with very low yields. The wines produced are often highly acidic, rich, complex, and creamy.
THE RED WINES OF FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA
Schioppettino - The nearly-extinct red grape is a cross between Syrah and Cab Franc. The grape prefers cooler temperatures, making it a perfect addition to the Friuli-Venezia Giulia grape family. The wine is unmistakably balanced, high in acidity, and very complex. Tasting notes include peppercorns and white and green flowers.
Refosco - The red grape is found growing in the Colli Orientali region and has intense black fruit flavors with minerality, and a strong acidic finish.
Pignolo - A native red wine grape to Friuli that produces a deep-colored, highly tannic red wine. The grape today is prominent in the Colli Orientali del Friuli area but has a history of being popular with the monks residing in the hills of Rosazzo. Tasting notes include plum and blackberry.
Tazzelenghe - The name means “tongue cutting” in the local Friulian dialect. This is due to the red wine grape’s “mouth-puckering” acidity and tannins. On the palate there are flavors of dark chocolate and spices, however, the wine is distinguished mainly by its texture.
Terrano - This is a red grape found in the area of Carso. Notes of cherry and earthy forest come through on the palate as well as a strong acidic finish.
THE CUISINE OF FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA
After years of being ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Friulian cuisine has set itself apart from its neighboring Italian regions. The dishes are warm, rich, and hearty, with lots of Slovenian, German, and Austrian flare.
Friulians typically start their meal off with an antipasto called Jota (yo-ta). This is a warming soup that originated in Trieste made with borlotti beans, fresh herbs, potatoes, and sauerkraut. This soup is also enjoyed throughout Slovenia. Another popular antipasto is called Frico. Frico is made with local Montasio cheese. They fry the cheese until crispy and its usually enjoyed as an accompaniment to soups and stews.
Despite their melting pot of cultures, the people of Friuli-Venezia Giulia still love their pasta. Cjarsons are sweet and savory ravioli made with potatoes, cinnamon raisins and herbs. Lasagne ai semi papavero is native to Trieste. It’s a special lasagna made with butter, sugar and poppy seeds. The people of Friuli-Venezia Giulia also love cherry gnocchi. Typically eaten when cherries are beautifully ripe, the dish is enjoyed in the summertime with butter and cinnamon.
Fagiano ripeno is enjoyed as a secondo. It is a stuffed pheasant served with lots of local herbs and served with grappa from the region. Pestat di Fagagna is a preserved sausage made with lard, lots of herbs, spices, and diced vegetables. The locals like to use it as their version of a bouillon cube, giving flavor to potatoes, meats, and stews. Jamar is the name of an amazing cheese that is made with cow’s milk and aged for 12 months in the caves covered with limestone and dolomite rock.
Gubana (“guba” meaning to fold) is a traditional pastry that is a relative of Austria’s beloved strudel. The spiraled yeast cake is stuffed with lemon zest, sugar, local nuts, and raisins. The historic dessert dates back to 1409 when it was prepared for the Pope.