Once a little-known region in terms of wine making, Friuli is now leading the world in the crafting of fine whites. Paul Pettengale explains why…
The last time we dedicated a Drink Italia! column to the white wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia was back in 2008. “It produces white wines that are not only considered to be the best in the country,” we gushed, “but among the best in the world”. In the five years that have followed, Friuli has gone on to cement this position, gaining an ever-increasing level of respect from international wine lovers. Friuli is not just on the world map of white wine production, for those in the know it’s at the centre of it. But at what cost?
Notoriety breeds demand. And Friuli is a relatively low yield zone. There’s a reason why the quality is so high; the altitude of this mountainous region and the soil types make perfect conditions for growing grapes, but the producers appreciate that these conditions don’t produce vast volumes of fruit, and so the yield is consistently low. And low yields mean limited qualities of wine. And where demand is high and supply is low, prices are inevitably breathtaking.
Indeed, five years ago we considered the white wines of Friuli to be pretty expensive. And, to be honest, we’ve been shocked at how much those prices have risen during the interim half-decade. In issue 49 we sampled a wine from Livio Felluga (one of the region’s best producers) that cost £18.99. We drank a Felluga wine with a price tag a penny under £60. Friuli may have come to the fore in white wine production, but boy are we having to pay for progress.
Italia! discovery of the month
From Great Western Wine
Giovanni Puiatti’s father, the late Vittorio, was a pioneer in modern white wine production. He invented the method of wine maturation whereby after fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, the wine was vatted in further stainless steel tanks to mature – rather than being transferred into oak barrels or immediately bottled. The resultant wines had depth of flavour, but retained a freshness of fruit character and were unsullied by the flavours that oak barrels inevitably bestow.
Such were the quality of wines made using this method, it is now the most widely-spread means of making white wine in Italy and has become known as metodo Puiatti. This wine, which is 100 per cent Friulano, is crisp, elegant and highly perfumed with apple peel and white peach. Because of the way it’s been made the wine retains a fairly high level of acidity making it refreshing to drink. It suits shellfish and thinly-sliced cured hams especially well.
From Berkmann Wine Cellars
The local Friulano grape variety excels on in the hills of the Collio zone within Friuli. This area has rich limestone, sandstone and clay soils that once formed the ocean floor and benefits from cooling sea breezes that prevent early ripening. This example is a wine of great character; there’s a crispness to it, though it is at the same time silken and rich. White flower and almond aromas delight and it has plenty of delicious fruit to taste.
Pea and asparagus risotto, light pasta dishes and white meats.
From The Drink Shop
Although not traditionally associated with the area, the Sauvignon Blanc grape variety has taken to the hills or Friuli like a duck to water. Far too often this grape is used to make cheap wines that are all gooseberry and very little else. This one has a creaminess to counter the acid attack of gooseberry and lime, giving it a smoothness and distinct sophistication that matches the quality wines that come from Marlborough in New Zealand.
Makes for a good aperitif, or drink it with green salads and soft cheeses.
From Great Western Wine
We have previously selected the similarly priced VUJ Friulano Isonzo as our wine of the month, but this other wine from Giovanni Puiatti is also a stormer. It has aromas of dried grasses and herbs (thyme and sage), and boasts a light-to-medium weight in the mouth. Its opulent fruit character has been stabilised and optimised by use of fermentation and maturation in stainless steel tanks. Fresh, lively and very easy to down, it drinks well on its own.
Fish with cream sauces or anything that features strong lemon flavours.
From Berry Bros. & Rudd
Once again the Friulano grape variety (which until relatively recently was known as Tocai Friulano before international wine laws intervened) has been employed to fantastic extent, producing a wine that is light yet structured with honeycomb and orange peel aromas, a zesty, zingy fruit palate and a slightly almond finish. It’s a refreshing, drinkable wine that excels with seafood and line-caught fish.
A seafood platter with oysters, scallops and lots of cracked crab claws.
From Liberty Wines
Yes. At just under £60 this wine from the venerable estate of Livio Fellgua is officially the most expensive white wine to have ever been tasted within the pages of Italia! magazine. A combination of Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano and Pinot Bianco, it’s a magnificent symphony of aromas and flavours. Arguably the best white wine to come out of Italy (though we’d champion W… Dreams by Jermann), it tastes fantastic. £60, though? That’s hard to swallow.
Grilled lobster, un-dressed crab or a plate of oysters au naturelle.
From Great Western Wine
In a previous issue of Italia! we suggested that W… Dreams from Jermann is one of the best whites in the world. For around £18 less than Jermann’s top offering is this, its Vintage Tunina made from five grape varieties in equal measure. With honeyed fruit and jasmine aromas it’s full and well-bodied in the mouth; a supremely well-orchestrated balance of flavours wrapped up in silken elegance. It has a buttery, almond finish that is a joy to experience.
Fresh mussels simply prepared with butter and a sprinkling of thyme.
International Wine Wars…
Friulano is a native grape variety to the Friuli region of Italy, though it’s only been known as such since 2007. Before that year, when the European Union sided with Hungary over the ‘ownership’ of the word Tokaji, Friulano had been known as Tocai Friulano (though this was typically shortened to just Tocai). The Hungarians didn’t like the fact that another country produced a wine where the grape variety had the same pronunciation (both rhyme with ‘sky’), and so a complaint was lodged and legal action entered into so that its grape – which makes a sweet dessert wine – was alone in the use of the word. All this even though it was spelt differently and was used to make a completely different style of wine. And so Tocai is no more – save for vintage bottles that pre-date 2008.
Long live Friulano!