Friuli is no longer synonomous only with white wines – its reds are getting better and better, and the dessert wines are a well-kept secret. Discover the region through the wines of these top names, urges RICHARD BAUDAINS
Friuli is a region of grower-producers, hands-on winemaking and a diversity of grape varieties and wine styles. It is famous for its dry whites, but is also getting serious about reds. Its best-kept secrets are the micro-productions of unique, traditional dessert wines. The wealth of talent in the area means that there are at least two candidates for every place in a list of top wineries. This selection of upcoming and established names is representative, but far from exhaustive.
Bressan NEREO, Farra d’Isonzo
This independent-minded producer is a real discovery for anyone whose taste buds are crying out for a break from global-village winemaking. Do not expect early-drinking styles. Fulvio Bressan’s whites mature for two years in oak, and his reds for up to six, before he considers them ready for bottling.
Bressan uses the now generally abandoned blend of Tocai, Malvasia and Ribolla for the intriguing Carat, and is one of the few producers in the area to make a dry, white Verduzzo. The reds include a blend of Pinot Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon and Schioppettino (rather enigmatically named No 3 Vintage), and a monovarietal Pinot Nero that, in the current vintage, has few equals in Italy.
Pick of current releases: Verduzzo Friulano IGT 2002; Pinot Nero IGT 2001; No 3 Vintage IGT 2000
Contact: +39 0481 888131
Villanova di Farra
Founded in 1499 and under the same family ownership for the past 75 years, Tenuta Villanova is not exactly a newcomer. What is new and exciting at Villanova are the wines, the product of an ambitious restructuring programme that aims to lift the 105ha (hectare) estate out of a rut and reposition it among the high flyers. The long-term strategy focuses on replanting but, meanwhile, changes in the vineyard management and winemaking are already making an impact. The structure, fruit and aroma emerge across the whole range, from the good-value Isonzo Bianco to one of the best Sauvignons released this year.
Pick of current releases: Friuli Isonzo Bianco 2004; Friuli Isonzo Tocai 2004; Collio Sauvignon Ronco Cucco 2004
Damijan Podversic, Gorizia
There is no conventional label for the type of wine that Damijan Podversic makes. Inspired by amphora-wine guru Josko Gravner, Damijan pushes non-interventionalism to its limits, reducing the winemaking process to the bare essentials, and leaving the rest up to nature. He believes, like Gravner, that extract is indispensable for whites as well as reds. His white wines are macerated for 30 days at cellar temperatures, and matured for two years in wood before being bottled, unfiltered, with their lees. Conventional wisdom suggests that white wines made in this way would be oxidised, volatile and loaded with unpalatable tannins. In fact, they are as fresh as a daisy and irresistibly drinkable.
Pick of current releases: Kaplja Bianco IGT 2002; Ribolla Gialla IGT 2002
Contact: +39 0481 78217
Borgo del Tiglio, Cormons
Tasting new Borgo vintages, you have the impression of peeling away layers of aroma and never getting to the heart of Nicola Manferrari’s wines. The producer is reticent about his methods. The one thing he does talk passionately about is terroir. And when you get around to the older vintages, it is the terroir flavour that stands out, the element that Manferrari has spent the past 25 years studying. Borgo del Tiglio wines are complex, concentrated and long-living.
Pick of current releases: Collio Bianco Ronco della Chiesa 2003; Collio Malvasia 2002; Collio Rosso della Centa 2001
Contact: +39 0481 62166
Girolamo Dorigo’s eclectic production, which consists of no fewer than 18 different wines, reflects dual poles of attraction. On the one hand, Dorigo makes Friuli’s only serious Champagne-method sparkler, a Burgundy-inspired Chardonnay and a classy Bordeaux blend. On the other, he makes full-on and totally authentic-tasting versions of the traditional wines of the Colli Orientali. He is the leading producer of the legendary dessert wine Picolit, and the long-living Pignolo, which he was responsible for saving from extinction. The arrival of Dorigo’s son, Alessio, as winemaker has ironed out the occasional lapses of style of the late 1990s, and the polished range now offers admirable consistency as well as diversity.
Pick of current releases: Colli Orientali del Friuli Pignolo 2001; Colli Orientali del Friuli Sauvignon Ronc di Juri 2003
Lis Neris, San Lorenzo Isontino
Lis Neris is known principally for the series of white varieties produced by Alvaro Pecorari through the 1990s. The new developments are wines that go beyond the monovarietal dimension towards Alvaro’s personal expression of the terroir of the upper Isonzo. Lis is a late-harvested blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, while Confini challenges preconceptions with the union of Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Traminer. Depth and mellow, aromatic complexity are the key notes of both cuvées. And Alvaro’s Pinot Grigio (called Gris) remains Italy’s most refined example of a grape variety that only the most talented producers manage to lift above the level of commercial banality.
Pick of current releases: Pinot Grigio Gris IGT 2003; Chardonnay Jurosa IGT 2003; Lis Bianco IGT 2003
Livio Felluga, Brazzano
Livio Felluga laid the foundations of this top Colli Orientali winery with far-sighted vineyard acquisitions, in a period when large-scale direct growing was rare in Friuli. Still family-owned and run today, the 135ha estate guarantees a size of production that gives its elegant labels a visibility denied to many of the region’s smaller wineries. Intelligent restyling has shaken off the conservative image that followed the company through the 1990s, and given the wines wider appeal. Terre Alte, one of the historic white cuvées of the region, remains the stand-out, although it has been joined by the oak-fermented Pinot Bianco Illivio.
Pick of current releases: Colli Orientali del Friuli Rosazzo Bianco Terre Alte 2003; Colli Orientali Rosazzo Rosso Riserva Sassò 2001
Russiz Superiore, Capriva
Marco Felluga is the indefatigable elder statesman of Friuli wine, a driving force in local institutions and head of a family firm that is one of the traditional leaders in the region. Felluga owns and manages three different properties, each with its own production. Castello di Buttrio concentrates on the DOC varietals of the Colli Orientali while, at Gradisca, they grow an extensive range of red and white wines for the Marco Felluga label.
Russiz Superiore is the prestige estate. Located in the heart of the Collio hills at Capriva, its wines demonstrate the structure, balance and longevity that puts Friuli into top international class. Sauvignon and Tocai are the focus varieties, but the Pinot Bianco and the Collio Bianco Disôre are also excellent.
Pick of current releases: Russiz Superiore Collio Sauvignon 2004; Russiz Superiore Collio Pinot Bianco 2004
A gentle wind of change is blowing at the estate that Carlo, Giorgio and Maria Angela have inherited from their father, Mario, one of the founders of modern winemaking in Friuli. The familiar, long- necked Rhine bottles have gone, and the range has been rationalised. Schiopetto used to produce 17 different wines. Now, by eliminating minor varieties, the range has been streamlined to eight. Terroir studies have led to replanting and new site selection for key cultivars like Tocai and Pinot Bianco. As for style, consultant oenologist Donato Lanati has added a touch of depth and complexity, while maintaining the canons of elegance and varietal character established by the late Mario Schiopetto.
Pick of current releases: Collio Tocai 2004; Blanc des Rosis Bianco IGT 2004
Vie di Romans, Mariano del Friuli
Gianfranco Gallo was one of the group of talented young producers dubbed locally as the ‘Isonzo Boys’ who, in the 1990s, brought passion to winemaking in this previously sleepy DOC zone.
Ten years on, Gianfranco has not tired of new challenges. Having helped create the reputation of new-wave Isonzo for Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, this year he returns to more local varieties with new releases made from Tocai and Malvasia Istriana.
Pick of current releases: Friuli Isonzo Chardonnay Vie di Romans 2003; Friuli Isonzo Pinot Grigio Dessimis 2003; Friuli Isonzo Malvasia Istriana Dis Cumieris 2003
Richard Baudains is based in Friuli.
Written by Richard Baudains