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Friuli: Home of Italy’s Best White Wines

Friuli: Home of Italy’s Best White Wines

Friuli can be a difficult place to wrap your head around. If Italy is shaped like a boot, then this remote, hilly region is the back of the knee. Located in the far northeast of the country, Friuli borders Slovenia and Austria, with Slavic, German, and Italian influences showing themselves in the culture, food, and wine. Those wines are made from a bunch of different grape varieties, from the most common - like pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc - to the most esoteric - like ramandolo and picolit. The best wines are made with a white grape that’s somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum, a local variety called friulano. These textured, slightly nutty wines are not only the best whites in the region, but in all of Italy.


The Grapes

There’s a bunch of pinot grigio made in Friuli, and the majority of it is, well, pinot grigio. More interesting are the wines made from grapes like ribolla gialla, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc (just called sauvignon in Friuli). Some producers, most notably Josko Gravner, use those varieties to make the most complex, age-worthy orange wines on earth.

And then there’s the region’s trademark variety, friulano. It can be fruity and crisp when aged in stainless steel, or it can be made in a richer style when producers use concrete or old oak. Either way, the wines should have the refreshing acidity of sauvignon blanc or gruner veltliner, along with floral, nutty notes you might expect from White Burgundy. It’s a combination that yields bright, complex wines that are extremely versatile with food. Friulano is a good option with hard-to-pair dishes like roasted veggies, and it’s unmatched alongside its more famous Friuli counterpart, Prosciutto di San Daniele.


The Producers


Borgo del Tiglio

After beginning his professional life as a pharmacist, Nicola Manferrari took over a small plot of land from his father in the early ‘80s. In shockingly short order, he established himself as one of Friuli’s most important producers. His friulano-based white blend is a thirst-quenching alternative to chardonnay.


Mitja Sirk

When any 11 year-old makes their own wine, it’s a sign that they can probably skip 5th grade science. But when Mitja Sirk did it, it was a sign that Friuli would soon have another highly noteworthy winemaker. Mitja made that wine and six other vintages under the guidance of legendary producer Josko Gravner. With lessons he picked up from Gravner - as well as stints with Conterno, Dujac, and Roulot - Mitja started making wine on his family’s estate a mile from the Slovenian border in 2016. He solely works with friulano, producing a dry and refreshing white wine that’s a great alternative to Sancerre.


Ronco del Gnemiz

Along with phenomenal sauvignon blanc, Serena Palazzolo and her sons produce a supremely balanced friulano. They make use of cooling breezes from the Adriatic Sea and the Alps in order to help the wines retain freshness and crispness.


Ronco del Gnemiz

Along with phenomenal sauvignon blanc, Serena Palazzolo and her sons produce a supremely balanced friulano. They make use of cooling breezes from the Adriatic Sea and the Alps in order to help the wines retain freshness and crispness.


Josko Gravner

Gravner farms a few rows of vines that extend across the border into Slovenia. Bored with the conventional winemaking of Napa and Europe that defined the 1980’s, Gravner led a group of farmers to experiment with extended macerations (aka skin contact) that lasted months, resulting in deeply colored, powerfully textured whites, that have since become known as ‘orange wine’. The rest is history.


Miani

Enzo Pontoni is a rare breed. He gets miniscule yields from old vines in the fog-drenched hills of Friuli, which he tends with maniacal attention to detail. His Friulano sees no malo, but it’s still rich and nutty, balanced by crispness and intense floral notes. The only problem is, his wines are just about the rarest whites in all of Italy.





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