Wines of the Borderlands
Wines from border regions such as Friuli Venezia Giulia are always of great interest, usually do to the influences and people that have passed through the region of the years. Friuli Venezia Giulia is Italy's most northeasterly region is no exception. From its earliest plantings, wine growing in this region has been influenced by many different cultures - the Romans, Celts, Furlani and Illyrians have all settled here and left their mark on the region, and more so its wines. These changes in the region saw successive kingdoms come and go - Gothic, Lombard, Carolingian and Frankish rulers were followed by centuries of tension and dispute between the Halsberg Empire and Venice. Even today signs of the Halsburg influence can be found in the province of Gorizia and the influence of Venetian rule can be seen in the Grave and Colli Orientali provinces, area where red wine predominates.
Today the vineyards of Collio, a region of hills are owned and worked by wine growers from both Friuli and Slovenia, where large estates extend over the border into both countries. The wine growing potential of the area between the Alps and the Adriatic have recently begun to be developed, unlike other Italian wine regions. The areas abundant sunshine and adequate rainfall, add to this the regions varying range of soil types make it an excellent region for quality wine production. This allows the region to cultivate a number of grape varieties, not only traditional Italian varieties but also French and Slovenian varieties. The regions reputation was originally founded on varieties such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Until a few decades ago, the regions vineyards were mainly producing red wines, but the market for quality Italian red wines were dominated by Piedmont and Tuscany. The market for white wines, however, was just beginning to grow and the only Internationally significant Italian white wines came from the Alto Adige region. In recent years a rebirth in quality Italian red wines has seen a shift back to a more red-variety based production in the Friuli region.
Friuli has always had a firm foundation of quality red wine to build upon, French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were planted in the mid 19th century, straight after the great Phylloxera disaster which wiped out many French, Spanish, German and Italian vineyards. Merlot has been grown in Friuli since the beginning of the twentieth century, and due to excellent work in both vine cultivation and wine making some fantastic Merlot wines have been produced. The finest growths of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have always corresponded with wine-consumers tastes, producing wines with both structure and finesse to match any of the great French Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and many are a more than adequate match in terms of fruitiness and flavour for many Australian and Californian Merlot and Cabernet wines.
One of the regions greatest benefits is its native grape varieties, many of which are still in production today. In the early 1980s many wines growers began to look towards and devote more attention to the natives vines they had in their vineyards. In forgotten corners of vineyards allover Fruili Schiopepettino, Refosco, Pignolo and Tazzelenghe vines were growing un-treated and now these grapes produce some amazingly powerful and highly individual red wines with tremendous character.
There has also been an increase in the use of native white varieties, one of the most successful being Ribolla Gialla being produced in the Collio region on the Slovenian border. Ribolla Gialla produces clean fresh white wines with good fresh acidity, being made either as a single varietal wine or as a blend. The Picolit and Verduzzo varieties are producing some amazing sweet white wines, a speciality of the the region. Wines made from Verduzzo grapes grown in the Ramandolo area are often of a greater quality to those from elsewhere in the region.
Wines of Friuli - A Brief Run Down
Although "Colli Orientali" means "Eastern Hills" this is not the most Eastern wine growing are in Friuli, the Collio and Carso regions lie much further East than Colli Orientale. Colli Orientali surrounds the regional capital of Udine occupying the most northwestern part of the range of hills which Collio belongs to. The gentile rolling hills at the centre of the range offer the right climatic conditions to produce quality fine and elegant white wines. The southern most part faces the Adriatic is more suitable to the production of quality powerful red wines.
Some of Colli Orientali's wines are some of the best wines produced in Italy today. The regions of Ramandolo (for sweet wines), Cialla and Rosazzo both of which were once part of Colli Orientale, have been classified, since 2001 as independent DOCG wine producing areas.
Collio is posibly Friuli's most famous wine producing regions. The name "Collio" means hills and the region does not lie completely in Italy, over half the region lies in neighbouring Slovenia. In Slovenia, the area of Brda is a relic of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which formerly ruled the entire region. Many of Collios winegrowers also own vineyards in Slovenia, but are allowed to market their wines under an Italian label due to a legal exception under EC rules.
White wines are the areas great speciality, varietal wines made from the native Ribollo grape and the French varieties Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and blended wines made up of several different native and none native varieties are produced with great success. The hills of central Collio are among the few really excellent white wine producing areas in Italy. The slopes of the southern Capriva and Cormons also produce some outstanding red wines, many based on the regional speciality variety Merlot.
Isonzo, Carso and the river plains
The remaining areas of Friuli have to struggle to establish a reputation for themselves in competition with the great regions of Collio and Colli Orientale. Nevertheless, this area includes the Grave region which accounts for most of Friuli's wine production in terms of quantity. The Insonzo region in the south of Collio offers delightful and often outstanding Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc based wines. To the north of Trieste the area of Carso produces some good and individual style wines, mainly due to Carso's heavy Limestone base soils, which give its wines an individual minerality not found in other wines of this region made from the local traditional grape varieties of Terrano and Vitovska.
The areas of Latisana, Aqueileia, Annia and Lisson-Pramaggiore generally produce some good quality, clean, fresh tasting white wines, however wines from these areas tend to be mass produced.