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Northeast Italy - Winegrowing Areas of Friuli-Venezia Giulia

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Photo: Terraced vineyard in Colli Orientali del Friuli © Provided by DKBooks Terraced vineyard in Colli Orientali del Friuli

© Provided by DKBooks

Terraced vineyard in Colli Orientali del Friuli

Winegrowing Areas of Friuli-Venezia Giulia

soil type: sandy loam, alluvial gravel, stony marl
red grape variety: Merlot, Refosco, Schioppettino, Pignolo
white grape variety: Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Picolit
wine styles: red, white, sparkling, dessert

Tiny production, countless grape varieties, hair-splitting DOC zones, and many small producers make Friuli-Venezia Giulia (F-V G) the most complex district of Northeast Italy to grasp. The quality, however, is exceptional. Only Tuscany and Piemonte, which make two to three times more wine, pick up more prizes. Friuli-Venezia Giulia led the Italian white wine revolution at the start of the 1980s with its innovative fresh varietal styles. Since the mid-1990s it has also added super-selected, oak-aged whites and an increasingly convincing series of reds. Friuli-Venezia Giulia has nine DOC zones, all growing similar varieties. Understanding the region involves knowing the basic character of the grapes and seeing how they perform in various sub-regions. The classiest wines come from three DOCs in the east, while the south and west are known for more commercial styles.

The premium zones

The prestigious wines all come from an area that takes in the hills of the Collio Goriziano (“Collio”), the Colli Orientali del Friuli, and the northern part of the Friuli Isonzo DOC. The historic zones of the Collio DOC and Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC have hot summers and mineral-rich soils. This makes for full-bodied whites packed with fruit and aroma, with more alcohol and lower acidity than wines from other parts of the northeast. The Collio specializes in dry whites, including original blends bottled under the Collio Bianco DOC label. Colli Orientali is more focused on varietals, producing everything from dessert wines to local reds, like Refosco and Schioppettino. The northern part of the Friuli Isonzo DOC competes at the same level as the hills, but has fewer top producers. Vines here grow in a climate that particularly favors dry whites.

The plains

The rest of the region’s DOC zones, which make wines more for everyday drinking, are on flat lands along the Adriatic coast and on the central plain of Friuli, which stretches west toward the Veneto. With its 6,000 ha of vineyards, Grave del Fruili DOC grows more wine than the rest of F-V G’s DOCs put together. It is a source of good-value international varietals with zippy aromas, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

The coastal plain is divided into three DOC zones: Aquileia, Annia, and Latisana. The light sandy and limestone soils here produce mainly light- to medium-bodied wines. Friuli-Aquileia is the biggest of the three DOCs, and its tangy whites are also the most appetizing of the wines from the coast.

Often left out of the reckoning on account of its minuscule dimensions (it has less than 50 ha of vineyards), Carso is a DOC zone situated on a windswept limestone plateau overlooking the bay of Trieste. The specialties here are startlingly dry wines from the local Vitovska and Refosco (Terrano) varieties.

La Serenissima

location: via Battisti, 26, Gradisca d’Isonzo
telephone number: 0481 199598

The complexity of the DOC system in Friuli-Venezia Giulia could cause visitors to miss out on the winemaking gems to be found here. The Enoteca La Serenissima (shop and wine bar) is designed to prevent this by helping people to find the best the area has to offer. It houses a selection of Friuli’s top wines, chosen every year by a panel of oenologists under the supervision of the local government. Standards are high—to gain admission a wine must score a minimum of 80 out of 100 points. The collection averages around 300 labels and includes all the big names, as well as lots of quality small producers.

Grape varieties of Friuli-Venezia Giulia

It is not unusual for estates in Friuli-Venezia Giulia to grow 12 or more grape varieties, and bottle each separately. Some of the marginal ones are now being phased out, but the regional output remains varied.

Local varieties


This is a specialty of Collio, where it ripens to a spicy opulence and is called Malvasia Istriana. In Aquileia it makes a simpler, tangy white.


A sweet white grape from the Colli Orientali, this enjoys local cult status despite (or maybe because of) a genetic disorder called floral abortion, which is capable of devastating entire crops, and makes the wine rare and expensive.


A seriously tannic, long-aging, and expensive rarity, this red is creeping back into production in the Colli Orientali.


Packed with berry fruit and soft tannins, the classiest examples of this red wine come from the Colli Orientali. Its full name is Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, and a subvariety of it makes wine in Carso.

Ribolla Gialla:

Planted in the Collio since the 12th century, this white grape has lost vineyard space over the years, but there is currently a revival of demand for its dry, citrus flavors.


This red grape is dark and juicy with a touch of exotic aromas, and is made to be drunk young.

Tocai Friulano:

This white grape is the area’s most planted. It needs hill sites and careful handling but is one in which producers of the Collio and Colli Orientali have invested a lot over the past 10 years. Unoaked styles highlight its hedgerow aromas and dry, almondy finish.


This apple-flavored white grape from the DOC of the same name makes a reliable and affordable dessert wine. It is also the grape used for the microproduction Ramandolo DOCG.

International varieties

Sauvignon Blanc is the most successful grape, doing best in the Collio-Colli Orientali-Isonzo triangle, where aromatic, vat-fermented versions are most typical. Pinot Grigio is the flagship variety of Isonzo. Producers from this DOC were the first in Italy to put Pinot Grigio into oak. The wines are big, tasty, and built to last. Pinot Bianco makes refined wines with orange-blossom aromas and dry fruit in the Collio. Chardonnay styles range from elegant Burgundian to sunny Californian. The variety is strongest in Isonzo and Colli Orientali. Merlot ripens better than Cabernet Sauvignon and can make wines to match the best in the country.

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