At the heart of the lovely Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in Italy’s extreme northeast, Udine is a handsome, authentic city with eye-catching architecture that’s a reminder of more than 350 years of Venetian rule.
The small region, framed by the Alps and the Adriatic sea, and bordering Slovenia and Austria, is home to some of Italy’s best-known wine producing areas. Udine’s many historic wine bars are wonderful places to enjoy the superb local wines.
Places to visit
Piazza della Libertà, with its striking loggias, winged lions and clocktower, is a prime example of Udine’s Venetian legacy. From here, a slope leads up to grassy Piazzale Castello, which has sweeping panoramic views.
Opposite the ‘castle’ – actually a Renaissance palazzo with some of the city’s many works by Giambattista Tiepolo – is Casa della Contadinanza, a scenic spot serving regional wines and traditional specialities including cjarsons: potato pasta with an intriguing filling of greens, herbs, ricotta, cocoa and spices.
Cividale del Friuli, which has a glorious riverside location and rich heritage dating back to Roman times, is central to Colli Orientali. Nearby, Rosazzo Abbey, which has always played a major role in the region’s wine scene, is the focus of the tiny Rosazzo DOCG, where some of the region’s great white blends are made (minimum 50% Friulano, plus Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco and/or Chardonnay, and Ribolla Gialla).
Nowadays the abbey’s historic vineyards are managed by leading producer, Livio Felluga. Views from the garden, which has an impressive rose collection, are stunning and it’s a good area for walking.
Just a short stroll away, the Torre Rosazza winery is based in a striking 16th century palazzo surrounded by vines. Time your visit to enjoy the sunset over the hills while tasting the impressive range, which includes a memorable white blend, Ronco delle Magnolie (the 2020 vintage was a DWWA 2023 Gold Medal winner).
The adjacent Collio area also has a tradition for exceptional white blends, and a small group of wineries including Cantina Produttori Cormòns and Edi Keber has launched a project to create a firm identity using the area’s classic trio of Friulano, Malvasia Istriana and Ribolla Gialla. Try some with an informal tasting at Enoteca di Cormòns.
Rosazzo Abbey was also fundamental to the survival of native red Pignolo (subject of a book by Ben Little) when the variety, together with tannic Tazzelenghe and spicy Schioppettino, was literally outlawed in favour of more productive grapes.
Schioppettino has the Rapuzzi family of the Ronchi di Cialla winery to thank for its return to popularity. The family has an extraordinary story dating from the early 1970s, when novice winemakers Paolo and Dina moved to the country and dived into Schioppettino production, defying regulations with cheerful perseverance and far-sightedness. Book for a vertical tasting of the incredibly fresh old-vintage Schioppettino plus other wines, and enjoy a genuinely warm welcome at the beautifully-restored farmhouse overlooking vines and densely wooded hills.
Where to eat and drink in Udine
Atmospheric osterias dot Udine’s appealing piazzas and porticoes. They’re informal, sociable places with wooden tables, where locals pop in any time for wine and snacks, such as canapés with local San Daniele ham, or dishes including frico (potato and cheese), polenta or musetto e brovada (sausage with pomace-fermented turnip).
A structured white Friulano or characterful red Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, both perennial favourites, are ideal with such tasty dishes. Ribolla Gialla is another go-to white wine, and spumante versions are gaining in popularity.
The local wines and foods are celebrated throughout central Udine each September with the Friuli DOC festival, while in mid-October around 100 top international chefs convene for several days of dinners and tastings during the Ein Prosit festival.
Thanks to its position, Udine makes a perfect base for exploring the region’s wine areas, especially Grave to the west, and Colli Orientali with its beautiful terraced hillside vineyards just east of the city.
There’s a homely feel to the six cosy en-suite bedrooms decorated in warm colours, with ceiling beams and kettles. Downstairs, the osteria serves local wines, canapés and a small selection of typical dishes.
This attractive farmhouse restaurant at Fagagna, just west of Udine, has garden tables and open fires. Enjoy gnocchi made with Ribolla Gialla grape-seed flour and pestàt, a tasty Slow Food-protected sausage speciality.
An excellent cheese shop selling the region’s famous Montasio, tangy Formadi Frant, and rare specialities like Asìno, a cow’s milk cheese aged in perennial brine. Try too the crunchy snack version of frico (fried cheese).
Osteria da Michele
One of Udine’s traditional osterias with a relaxed market-place vibe, wooden tables and a brick-vaulted ceiling. Order a glass of Friulano and frico, or the oysters and off-dry Verduzzo combo.
The lunch menu is traditional but décor is contemporary at this enoteca, which specialises in innovative picks from small producers, including some orange wines, always available by the glass.
Book in advance for an in-depth tasting experience and insights into the local wine scene at the headquarters of the Friuli Colli Orientali e Ramandolo consortium, housed in 18th century Villa Nachini Cabassi.