Soil, microclimates and terroir of Friuli Venezia Guila
Bobby Stuckey, M.S., owner of Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, CO
Map of the Friuli Wine Region
Before we speak of these I want to point out that they do have a significant impact on this region and they help produce distinct and individual wines. So distinct and individual, most American sommeliers have it all wrong. How many times do we read a wine list that is divided into regions listing whites from Italy as ‘Northern Italian whites’. Sure there are many great whites running across the band of Northern Italy. But we would not blend Loire, Burgundy, Alsace and the Savoie together on a list of Northern French whites. We understand those differences and distinctions.
The terroir of Friuli Venezia Giulia ( lets say FVG) is distinct in the way it gives a richness and texture, similar to the wines of Alto Adige, Veneto, and Piemonte also naturally carry. The region is protected by a band of two Alps the Carnic and the Julian. Both of these tall mountain ranges help to protect the cold of Central Europe from racing down on these growing regions. Then you have the Adriatic at a close proximity. This moderates the temperatures, keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, which also creates a push and pull of wind between it and the two mountain ranges. This constant breeze known as ‘la bora’ helps many of the vineyards by giving them a wonderful air flow that makes farming in a bio or organic practice easier. This wind also helps in keeping fungus outbreaks lower in many vineyards. Once you factor in this part of the terroir and the diverse soils it helps one understand how the wines of FVG are so distinct and different from their other Northern Italian peers.
Friuli Grave: DOC. Just as the name says; Grave, or gravelly stones, this DOC lays on the flatter soil West of Udine. This soil is stones left by the Tagliamento river looking up at the Carnic Alps. The deep soil and well drained stones on the river plane lets the rocks and stones store heat-- not unlike what happens in the Rhone valley in the area of Chateauneuf du Pape. It is cooler here so the more delicate aromatic whites don’t get cooked by the warmth from the stones but allow crisp, clean, aromatic and ripe whites. This is an area that produces, while maybe not the most profound wines of Friuli, for sure aromatic and good value wines. Producers of Note: Out in the Grave is where we see Fantinel. Marco Fantinel and his crew also make an affordable sparkler out in the Grave which is a Friulano substitute to the prosecco’s of the Veneto. One of the great small producers that makes artisian wines in both Grave and Collio di Orientali is Vignai da Duline.
Friuli Latisana encompasses the Southern part of the province of Udine. The soil is flatter filled with clay and sand. This area makes some crisp, fresh whites. It is also very close proximity to the Adriatic, the warm breezes help the region support a lot of red wine production. Here you find a lot a value reds such as the Bordeaux varietal Merlot. Merlot has been in Friuli since Napoleon and has adapted well. In the clay of Latisana you can produce a Merlot with an herbal brightness to it.
Friuli Isonzo: Named after the Isonzo river, it not only splits the region but helps make it distinct. The river has historically flooded and given the areas on both sides nutrients and soil. White gravel on the right bank with a lot of chalk and on the left bank a more red gravel with less chalk. The winds, again, la bora, come in from Slovenia and run right down the Isonzo. I think this affects the region as much as the soil. The wines from Isonzo have an exotic aromatic ripeness, rich alcohol and fullness. In Isonzo you’ll find Vie di Romans. The wines of Vie di Romans make rich full and highly exotic aromatic whites. Their chardonnay is a wonderful way to have a California chardonnay drinker enjoy something in their rich and full bodied style. Tenuta Blasig is a producer from this region where the wines are lesss full blown and show great elagance.
Collio and Collio Orientali: Both regions make great wines, both blessed with great sloped vineyards-- and that crazy Ponca. Ponca is a soil that runs through the Collio and Collio Orientali and across the man made border of Slovenia. While the border went up in the last 100 years you could not speak of Ponca without mentioning Slovenia. In the Brda, which is the Slovenian word for Collio, they have the great slopes and also ponca. Ponca, known as Flysch, is soil that is Eocenic marl. Ponca has layers and blends of minerals; some are a grayish blue while others are blended with clay. The ponca is a marl that has large amounts of marine deposits and broken down sea bed. With this comes calcium and limestone within the ponca. This lets the wines have a richness while not feeling too weighty. They may have higher alcohols naturally than, lets say alto adige, but seem totally balanced. And in some way you feel the alcohol less in a glass of Sauvignon blanc from Friuli than from the Alto Adige. The ponca soil is what helps these wines reach full ripeness but still have that friulano minerality and tension.
Collio: This hilly area on the Slovenian border is situated just perfectly to be protected by the pre alps of the Julian mountains. The hills give great exposure and many perfect sites to ripen world class whites and reds. The soil on the hilly slopes are sandstone and stratified marl with Ponca as we just spoke of. There are many different exposures with so many hills. Looking across the man made border into Solvenia, these slopes and exposures vary with each bend of the hill. So many vineyards while they may be small may have many different terroirs and soils to influence them, all with in a few steps of each other. Just as some of the slopes in Alsace and France, many different soils in the same vineyard adds complexity. Collio with Collio Orientali you see some of the most famous and sought after wines of Friuli. Franco Torros for his Pinot Bianco, The Bordeaux varietals of Russiz Superiore. Livio Felluga has vineyards in Both Collio and Collio Orientali. This is a historic producer that achieves great heights from a fresh Friulano and to the epic Terre Alte. Giampaolo Venica at Venica is yet another. Venica is not to be missed. Sauvignon Blanc that pleases all. If you can find any of his Malvasia it is outstanding.
Collio Orientali: The Northern part of Friuli’s wine growing region. With steep hills and a soil rich in “ponca”. In the collio orientali we also see layers of sandstone mixed with red clay and limestone. The Collio Orientali has a cooler, wetter area in the north where Ramandolo is produced, a famous sweet wine from Friuli. This is also where we find not just reds but truly the best reds of FVG. These world class soils around the hill of Rosazzo and the hilly town of Buttrio produce full bodied, rich reds. While they can produce Bordeaux varietals, this is where you see the indigenous reds of Pignolo, Tazzalanghe and Schiopetino. Sharing the stage with the Collio, the Collio Orientalli host a hit parade of great producers. Ronco di Gnemiz who makes wine with richness but a spine that shows serious minerality. Her wines have a ability to age like no other. You also find Meroi and Miani both making world class wines in Buttrio. Don’t miss their reds. They prove that Friuli can make world class wine that is also red!
Carso, aka Karst: This bora wind swept terroir looking down on the Adriatic is a plateau that sits above Trieste and heads north. Let us note that while the bora blows though the neighboring Isonzo, it does not have the force or power that it inflicts on the Carso. This wind keeps yields down as the vineyards struggle with very low out put. The soil in the Carso is unique, one to itself. A red iron rich soil that is also layered with limestone and calcium. The vineyards are so distinct and rich in these minerals that in the 1890s the doctors of nearby Trieste would recommend a glass of the red varietal Terano for people with anemia. The landscape is intense and the wines are equally as intense. Malvasia Istriana has a salty mineraly note here while keeping all the great exotic fruit componants that we love from this grape. This makes it a great ‘pesce crudo’ wine, or terrific with raw fish dishes. There are some excellent wineries in the Karst. Zidarich and Kante both make spectacular wines in this wind swept plateau. Vodopivic is a winery also making wine in the Karst in the more Gravner style of Amphora and long skin maceration.