Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, a north-eastern province bordering Slovenia, with Trieste as its capital, is responsible for a mere 2% of Italys production but is significant qualitatively with over 50% of its wines credited as DOC. It has become famous over the last 20 years for relaunching the fortunes of Italian white wine via the Pinot Grigio grape.
Friuli enjoys an illustrious history stretching back to the Venetic and Celtic tribes of the 6th century BC who cultivated the vine here before fleeing the Hun to found Venice. However, the potential for making quality wines among the Friulian hills was first properly recognised by the Romans, from the area now better-known as Colli Orientali del Friuli and Collio. Thereafter Friuli was occupied by all manner of race and creed: Austrians, Slavs and Germans, each contributing grape varieties to the rich viticultural tapestry. Colli Orientali del Friuli, for example, now boasts 17 different varieties across its 2,000ha.
Until the 1980s the region was in the grip of the cooperatives, released by a new generation armed with stainless-steel tanks and ambitious ideas bent on transforming Italys white wine scene. They certainly succeeded not least in bringing Pinot Grigio to a world-wide audience - and their innovative efforts continue today.
Geographically the region is perfectly situated, with cooling air currents flowing between the Adriatic Sea and the Alpine foothills, while the nearby Carnic and Julian Alps that separate the region from Slovenia reveal an array of fine vineyard sites. The ancient alluvial river floodplains at the heart of the region are home to the DOCs of Friuli-Grave, Isonzo and Friuli-Aquileia. Famed for Pinot Grigio, they are also increasingly a source of some good reds.
Further north, the hillside viticulture and steeply sloping, low-yielding ponca calcareous marl soils of the Colli Orientali del Friuli and Collio DOCs is more challenging and rewarding. This area produces fuller structured, top quality whites from Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano and Malvasia Istriana and some impressive reds from Refosco, Pignolo and Merlot.
Recommended Producers: Lis Neris, Miani, Davino Meroi and Canus