|Friuli's importance as a wine producing region continued, in no small way due to its geographical location, at an important crossroads and as an important gateway for eastern and western Christianity. More recently,
Friuli was an important vineyard for the Austro-Hungarian empire.
A defining characteristic of Friuli is the large number of varieties grown, many of which are indigenous, and the dominance of white varieties. Blended wines are common, the result of the large number of varieties.
Vines are grown across the Friulan plain and cover as much of the hillsides as the aspect, climate and soil types will allow.
Today, white varieties account for more than 70% of production from hillside vineyards, while on the plains, there are more or less equal plantings of white and red varieties.
Until the 1970s, much of the wines produced were made in quite an old fashioned style, but then a few producers, including the redoubtable Josko Gravner introduced modern winemaking techniques, making much use of stainless steel and temperature-control to retain the freshness of the fruit, and the use of new oak barriques rather than old botti. More recently, Gravner has moved back to more old-fashioned techniques, but the modern style still holds sway for most producers.
The Super Whites project was inspired by Slow Food's wish to bring to wider attention the quality of the white wines made in Friuli by the large number of small, almost artisinal producers
The large number of varieties means that blends are common. Are blended wines better than those made from a single grape variety? That's a difficult question to answer: I attended a workshop which sought to provide some answers. The workshop took us through a number of single varieties and then some blending practice.
Single varietal wines can have more purity and can well be compared to the work of a modern composer; while blended wines can be better compared to the work of a classical composer, with greater texture and complexity. Single varieties emphasise the unique characteristics of the grape variety and the variations in climate and vintage. There are also international benchmarks for single varietal wines, at least those from the more international varieties. Blended wines, by contrast, show more consistency from year to year, and emphasise the characteristics of the producing region and the house style of a particular winery (the latter are all particularly important in Champagne!). The grapes we were playing with in this workshop were:
wine 1: 2004 Ribolla Gialla Turian, Collavini
A mid green straw. Slightly vegetal gooseberry and green apple nose, rather reminiscent of sauvignon blanc. The palate is rich and full, and clearly not sauvignon. Quite direct, with really good concentration. Lovely fresh acidity. Very good finish. Immense length. Very Good Indeed. 91/100
wine 2: 2005 Tocai Friulano, Ronco del Gelso
A deepish bright gold. This is just a touch dull on the nose: quite butter with some fresh, unripe peaches and green banana skin notes. Very easy, round, open palate with nice interesting flavours. The wine has a good weight to balance the freshness. There's a spicy, bitter nuttiness on the finish. Very Good Indeed. 89/100
We then blended these wines in roughly equal quantities. The result was a wine with a more complex nose, and a palate that was much better than the sum of its parts. The Ribolla lacks the acidity of the Tocai, but adds richness, producing a more robust wine. I'd probably give it 91-92/100
|wine 3: 2005 Bianco Sesto, La Tunella
A commercial 50:50 blend of Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano, fermented in large oak barrels, without any malolactic fermentation. A bright, lemony straw colour. On the nose there are some apple notes from the ribolla and some peach from the tocai along with just a hint of honey: very attractive and fairly rich. The attack is lovely and fresh. This is very clean on the palate with a good body. Very smooth and easy, but with complex and elegant layers. There is some lovely fruit on the palate. Excellent. 93/100
The wine made as a blend exhibits much of the character of mixing the glass of ribolla and the glass of tocai friulano, but is altogether more integrated and together, with better balance than the hand-made version.
wine 4: 2005 Pinot Bianco, Princic Doro
This has a pale yellow straw appearance. The nose is creamy with floral blossom and agrumes. Rich on the palate. A bit simple overall, but very attractive and floral. Very Good Indeed. 89/100
wine 5: 2005 Malvasia Istriana, Villa Russiz
This has a very bright straw colour. The nose is fabulous with loads and loads of superb highly aromatic floral notes and some talcy minerality. There are fresh, delicate flavours on the palate, but with a creamy backbone alongside fine acidity. Very elegant, characterful finish with great length. Excellent. 95/100
|wine 6: 2005 Fossarin, Ronco dei Tassi
The pinot bianco was fermented in oak, while the tocai and the malvasia were fermented in stainless steel. It has an oaky peachy nose, just a bit too heavy on the oak. Super palate: full, combining elegance and power. Silky smooth and very integrated for a wine so young. Lovely flavours combine fruit, richness and acidity. Very balanced. Utterly enormous length. Excellent. 94/100
This was a very interesting workshop, and it was quite exciting to see how the character of the blends reflected, and then built on the component wines - and also how small variations of the quantities could change the style of the resulting blend quite dramatically.
It would have been nice to have had much more time (and more wine and more glasses) to do further experimentation, and to have been able to do it with a more scientific approach.
The quality of the single varietal wines stood out as very high indeed, though the wines made as blends were not merely a useful control to my own efforts, but also showed for me that the blends are one of the real strengths of Friulan winemaking.
|A classicist and ancient historian by training, Andrew graduated with first class honours from King's College London before completing
his PhD on Aulus Gellius and Roman Antiquarian Writing. Andrew let's his favourite fridge-magnet sum up his vinous philosophy: "Life is too short to drink bad wine". His other
great passion is food and cooking. For this piece, Andrew reports on a tasting and workshop on 'Friuli's great white wines' selected by the Slow Food movement, held in London in July 2006.