After two World Wars literally razed Friulian viticulture to the ground, it took Italy’s economic boom of the 1980s to bring the vineyards back to where they are today—turning out vibrant, savory, long-lived whites based on varieties like friulano and, more recently, sauvignon blanc, which can deliver spectacular results, especially in blends.
1. Ronco del Gelso Isonzo Bianco Latimis
This is the lightest of the bottlings from this winery, a grower in the pebbly flatlands of Isonzo where the vines deliver rich and powerful whites. The blend varies from harvest to harvest: In 2014, riesling gave the wine its aromatic character while friulano and pinot blanc added savory and herbaceous notes (think sage and bay). Traminer aromatico, which is sometimes added in small amounts, gives a gentle nutty quality to the cuvée.
2. Scarbolo Venezia Giulia My Time
Arguably the most international in style on this list, My Time is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and friulano from Valter Scarbolo, whose restaurant in Lauzacco, La Frasca, inspired the owners of Babbo in NYC and Frasca in Boulder, Colorado. Aged in large-format casks with frequent stirring of the lees, it’s a rich white with refi ned floral notes and melon flavors balanced by the aromatic, meaty nature of the sauvignon blanc and friulano.
3. Borgo del Tiglio Collio Studio di Bianco
Mitja Sirk, one of Friuli’s top sommeliers, poured this blend of friulano, sauvignon blanc and riesling for our table recently at La Subida, his family’s restaurant in Cormon. He described Borgo del Tiglio as the “most French” of the great wineries in Friuli today— referring to the fact that the wines are fermented in cask (rather than stainless steel) and are renowned among collectors for their aging potential. But the gorgeous herbal, grassy character of this old-vine friulano is unmistakably Friulian, with rich stone-fruit flavors, herbal notes and mouthwatering minerality.
4. Bastianich Venezia Giulia Vespa Bianco
New York City restaurateur Joe Bastianich purchased this estate in 1998, and in recent vintages this wine has hit its stride. In this blend, chardonnay imparts healthy acidity and minerality while picolit delivers just a touch of sweet white fruit, but it’s the aromatic character of the sauvignon blanc—a lovely grassy scent—that makes this wine so distinctly Friulian.
5. Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte
Created in the 1980s, Terre Alte was one of the first white blends to put Friuli on the map in terms of high-end, collectible whites. A blend of pinot blanc and sauvignon blanc that’s been macerated with its skins, fermented in stainless steel and then blended with cask-fermented friulano, the wine offers a breadth of floral, fruit and pastry notes. I’ve tasted 25-year-old bottles that have impressed me with their freshness and depth.
6. Vignai da Duline Delle Venezie Morus Alba
This is an unusual blend of malvasia istriana and sauvignon blanc (malvasia is generally vinified as a monovarietal wine in Friuli). Unrelated to the myriad clones of malvasia found in Mediterranean vineyards, malvasia istriana tends to have a honeyed note. Here, it gives the wine an unctuous and creamy quality that plays against the bracing fruit and acidity of the sauvignon blanc. The alcohol can be high in this wine (a trait of malvasia istriana) but it’s never out of balance or “hot” in my experience. An extraordinary wine for the price.
This story was featured in W&S Fall 2016.
illustration by Gavin Reece