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Italy

Northeastern Italy

  • Friuli is a large and heterogeneous area that produces many types of wine. The quality level varies enormously as well, and some of the finest wines of all Italy are produced here, as well as some of the most insipid.

    Friuli at its best is known for its high tech, temperature-controlled reductive winemaking style, called the ‘metodo friulano’ elsewhere in Italy. It is a region best known for their white wines of delicacy and nuance, although of late there has been a renaissance of the red, and Merlot is the most widely planted wine in the area.

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  • The most successful grapes in this part of Italy are the international varieties. Merlot, Cabernet Franc (either by this name or as Cabernet Sauvignon) and Pinot Nero are all popular and widely planted, and Merlot is actually the most widely planted black grape in Friuli. International white wine grapes include the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and the less well-known Silvaner, as well as more aromatic varieties such as Gewurztraminer, Muller Turgau and Riesling.

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  • Other black varieties produced in Friuli include Tazzelenghe (literally the 'tongue-cutter'), a high acid, high tannin grape, Pignolo, Raboso and Shioppettino. Another important grape in the area is Refosco, grown throughout northeastern Italy. It can produce wine deeply colored and full-bodied, with high tannins, alcohol, and extract. It is often described as “tarry and spicy”.

    Indigenous white varietals for the region include Tocai Friulano. This grape has nothing at all to do with Hungary, but is the most widely planted white varietal in Friuli, producing a wine that is medium to full in body, with balanced acidity, and fairly neutral fruit with a floral, almond, nutty edge. Other grapes include Ribolla (now in decline), Garganega (blended with Trebbiano in Soave), Vespaiolo, Torcolato, Nosiola, Malvasia, and Verduzzo (both the Verde and Giallo clones).

    Prosecco is another product of the region, and is the name of the grape as well as the name of a wine. It is produced in sparkling, semi sparkling, frizzante and sometimes still styles. Another specialty is the very characterful Picolit, which is difficult to grow because of susceptibility to coulure, but produces lovely wines that are best known in their passito style.

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  • Collio is the highest quality subregion of Friuli, furthest to the east. It is followed in geographic and qualitative terms by Isonzo. The soil in these better areas is composed of ponka, or friable marl, which gives the wines weight and body. Many of the less-expensive Friulian wines originate from the Friuli Grave, where deep gravel beds drain the water too quickly and the vines suffer water stress as a result. It is only where these gravels are tempered by a bit of clay as at Vistorta that the wines become very successful. The climate is still influenced by Adriatic Sea, which provides a moderating influence.

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  • West of Friuli is the Veneto, where the wines are often based on Corvina, which produces wine that can be lightly fruity, with red berry fruit aroma, crisp acidity, low tannins and light color. A separate clone, Corvinone, gives deeper-colored wine higher in alcohol and tannin. This variety is most often blended with Rondinella and Molinara, which are easier to grow and yield more regularly.

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  • The Veneto is most known for four wines all produced from the same grape blend: Bardolino, Valpolicella, Amarone, and Recioto. The region where these wines are produced is north of Verona and east of Lake Garda. The Classico zone is composed of hillside vineyards with better concentration while the “Normale” is grown on a geographic extension of this region to the plain. The grapes here can be overcropped and dilute.

    The wines vary from light ruby with earthy raspberry/cherry fruit to the Ripasso style, made by passing the wine over lees of Amarone, provoking a slight refermentation, and adding body, aroma and complexity. Amarone is made from the same grape varieties, but the grapes are dried on mats prior to making the wine. Finally, Recioto is made in the same way as Amarone, but it does not ferment to dryness. Dried figs, prunes, raisins along with chocolate are the aromatic hallmarks of these styles.

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  • The best white wine of the region is Soave, made from Garganega with some Trebbiano, although some producers are now legally adding up to 30% Chardonnay. Recioto and Spumante versions are also made.

    Another white is Bianco di Custoza, which is a blend of the same grapes plus Tocai and Cortese, produced around Lake Garda. Other DOCs in the region concentrate on either similar blends or international varieties, while Prosecco is produced in the zones of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano.

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  • West of the Veneto lies Trentino to the south and Alto Adige to the north. This is the area that until recent times was the southern extension of Austria rather than the northern extension of Italy. German is still widely spoken, and the wines can be fairly Germanic in style as well. Trentino is a wider valley, with hillsides that are less steep and less of a swing in temperature between day and night. The result is wines of a more even ripening.

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  • The Alto Adige, also known as Sudtirol or South Tyrol, was long famous for the production of Schiava and Lagrein, but much of today’s production is focused on the omnipresent Pinot Grigio, which is grown, along with other international varieties, throughout the Alto Adige and Trentino.

    Indigenous grapes in the Trentino include: Teroldego, grown on the Campo Rotiliano plain to the north; Lagrein, a late ripening grape that can sometimes be slightly sweet but has very dry, cherry pit flavors and an extremely dry finish like Teroldego; Schiava and Trollinger. Well-regarded producers are much more well known for their international varieties, however.

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