I wasn’t planning on going down another historical rabbit hole, I swear. Alas…

I was initially approached by the PR firm promoting Livio Felluga, a famous winery in Friuli Venezia Giulia (FVG) whose namesake is sometimes referred to as the godfather of Friulian wine for his efforts to reshape the industry after World War II. I was already familiar with the winery – mainly through their fantastic Pinot Grigio, the bottle I’ve used most often to convince skeptics that not all Italian Grigio is bland, insipid trash. (It’s bold, complex and fantastic, but that’s another story for another time.)

I was less familiar, however, with wines made from the grape Tocai Friulano, an inexcusable omission for me, considering it is the flagship white grape from arguably the most important white wine producing region in all of Italy — Friuli Venezia Giulia — and I claim to be an unabashed lover of Italian white wines. (Yes, we absolutely do exist.) I’ve written about and/or embarked on tasting journeys for Verdicchio and Fiano, Arneis and Garganega, even Pecorino and Spoletino. I’ve blasted industrial Pinot Grigio while praising the good stuff, talked white-headed stepchildren and explored vinous depths of everything from Albana to Zibbibo. But, somehow, Friulano had thus far eluded me. So, I asked if my Felluga tasting could focus on Friulano – they have several bottlings – and the winery obliged.

As I began my Friulano journey, however, I found myself falling into the grape’s origin story, which is anything but crystal clear. It is so murky, in fact, that I found myself starting to believe that this important, indigenous Italian grape might actually be Hungarian, or even… gasp… French! And, if the grape is not originally from Italy, I wondered, does that make the wine itself less Italian?

I ended up moving this history exploration into an article of its own. This level of nerdiness may not be for everyone, but I found it fascinating, and if you are so inclined, I’d be most grateful if you gave it a read:

Mysterious Origins of the Italian Wine Formerly Known as Tocai
DNA researchers have found connections to a lost French grape, but it is far more complicated than that. Read on Medium

For the TL;DR crowd, or those that want to skip the history and get down to drinking, Friulano is still worthy of exploration. It has been perhaps overlooked as a serious grape due to the fact that it so commonly fills the everyday tajut (glass) of local wine at Fruilian bars, but Friulano also makes up many of the region’s finest bottles. In the latter sense, it is known for producing wines with medium to full body that feature both rich texture and bright acidity, as well as aromas and flavors of ripe pome fruit, citrus, white flowers and almonds. In particular, it may be the grape’s deep herbal nuances or the intriguing bitterness that add the most uniqueness here.

Some bottles I tried, with notes to match:

Livio Felluga Friulano 2020: Fruit forward, citrus & pome fruit, honey, herbal notes. There’s a pronounced bitterness here – a mix of grapefruit pith, almond skin and minerals – that is borderline overwhelming on pop & pour. It mellows with air, suggesting a decant or a few years in the cellar will help this one come together. [media sample]

Livio Felluga Sigar Friulano 2019: A single-vineyard bottling that was recently added to the brand’s lineup. This one really sings… it’s dangerous stuff! Slightly reductive at first, but air brings out its resinous, herbal qualities, along with lush fruit, balanced bitter and savory notes, and a lingering finish. Delicious now, but has the stuffing to age. (Not an inexpensive wine by any means – around $65 in the US – but very good nonetheless.) [media sample]

Livio Felluga Sigur Friulano

Livio Felluga Terre Alte Rosazzo 2019: Upon initial approach, it would be natural to assume that this blend (made from mostly Friulano with Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon Blanc) gets its huge grapefruit and grass aromas from the latter of those grapes. Interestingly, however, both Friulano and Pinot Bianco from northern Italy — especially those made with intense concentration like this wine — tend to exhibit similar characteristics. As such, I’d be inclined to believe that these flavors indeed emanate from the Friulano here, although they are surely bolstered by the other two. Anyway, beyond that, there’s herbs, resin, smoke and more in this intense, complex wine. Although it drinks well now with food, to bring out its best, I’d give it a few more years on its side and drink it from 2025-2035 (or beyond). It’ll be a beauty. [media sample]

Vie di Romans Friuli Isonzo Friulano Dolee 2018: Another example of how strong the grapefruit note can be in higher-end bottlings of this grape. For me, the grapefruit just completely overwhelmed everything else in the wine, though I could tell there was further complexity to be found behind it. This one needs at least 3-5 more years in the cellar. (Tasted May ‘22.)

Azienda Agricola Borgo Conventi Collio Friulano 2020: A nice entry-level bottle, reasonably priced and easy to like, if not as complex as some of the better Friulano. A mix of herbal notes and yellow-ish tropical fruit, it’s good introduction to the grape around $20, but not for cellaring.

Krasno Sauvignonasse Slovenia 2019: Produced on the Slovenian side of the Fruili-Slovenia border, this wine uses the grape’s French name. For $16, it’s another solid entry to Friulano: signature herbal notes, lush fruit and a touch of butter.

Channing Daughters Friulano Tocai Friulano Sylvanus Vineyard 2020: I was curious to try a new world version – note they can still use the Tocai Friulano name outside Europe – so I picked up this bottle, for around $25, from Long Island, NY. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to it, especially compared to the lusher Italian versions. Drinkable, but nothing special.

#ItalianFWT

This post is part of the September 2023 Italian Food Wine Tour (#ItalianFWT) virtual event on Friuli Venezia Giulia and Alto Adige. Below are the other articles:

  • Jennifer Gentile Martin shares An Exploration of Collio: Part 1 / Vino Travels Italy
  • Robin Bell Renkin explores Trentino-Alto Adige – Trento, Bolzano and Wines of the Dolomites / Crushed Grape Chronicles
  • Katarina Andersson explains how Pinot Grigio and Refosco Show Their True Colors in Friuli / Grapevine Adventures
  • Camilla Mann is discovering A Small Sample from the Alto Adige: Whitefish Saltimbocca, Strangolapreti, and a Couple of Schiava / Culinary Cam
  • Wendy Klik is cooking up Italian Marinated Steaks with Angoris Schioppettino/ A Day in the Life on the Farm
  • Andrea Lemieux is savoring Elena Walch Schiava with the Flavors of Thailand / The Quirky Cork
  • Cindy Rynning wants you to Taste the Vibrancy of Alto Adige in St. Michael Eppan Fallwind 2021 Sauvignon / Grape Experiences