Friuli-Venezia Giulia is a winemaking area in the northeast of Italy best known for its celebrated white wines. Wine expert Jancis Robinson describes Friuli wines as not so much Italian but “a product instead of a hilly no man’s land between the Veneto, Slovenia and southern Austria and they taste like it”. It is hardly unsurprising when you consider the heritage of Friuli, which has variously been a region of Italy, the Venetian Republic and, in part, the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The region was once a key stop on the Mediterranean spice route between Byzantine Empire and the trading centre of Venice. Many of the vines were introduced by merchants taking this route, from places such as Anatolia and Macedonia. Before the late-19th century Phylloxera outbreak, from which it took the region nearly a century to fully recover, there were more than 350 grape varieties in Friuli.
The wines here are often varietal, and producers will push hard to unleash everything the chosen grape has to offer. Among the most common varieties in use are Friulano, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay. These are joined by local varieties, such as Ribolla Gialla, Verduzzo, Picolit for the whites, and Pignolo, Refosco and Schioppettino for the reds.
The region is bordered on the north by the Alps, past which lies Austria. Slovenia borders on the east, Veneto on the west, and in the south is part of the shore to the Adriatic Sea. The northern areas are therefore more mountainous, and the soils there are generally made up of calcium rich marl and flysch sandstone. In the south, towards the sea, the land is more flat and features gravels, clay and sand. Vineyards carrying the name ronco have hillside terraces.
Friuli has 11 wines classified as Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), three are Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC, which makes up 62 per cent of wines produced in the region) and a further three have Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) status.
Friuli is home to Radikon, a producer that pioneered the art of extended skin contact.