Friuli Venezia Giulia is the easternmost region in Italy, bordering Slovenia and Croatia. Not well known to Americans, the area is mainly agricultural and dotted with hundreds of vineyards and small wineries producing excellent, world class Friuli wines.
Wine Regions & Wineries
The major towns in Friuli include the central city of Udine, Gorizia on the Slovenian border and the seaport city of Trieste. The major wine regions lie east and south of Udine, among them Carso nestled between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia, Isonzo to the north of Carso, Collio running east-west along the Slovenian border and Colli Orientali del Friuli north of Collio in the foothills of the Alps. Since much of the region is near Slovenia, you will find many signs in both Italian and Slovenian and many Slovenian influences on the Italian side, everything from the cuisine to the ancestry of local residents. Winemakers from both countries sometimes own plots of land on both sides of the border, which was de-controlled in 2007, allowing for free movement from both sides.
Many of the wineries featured in this article are family-owned and practice natural means of production, believe in low yield growing, harvest by hand and minimize intervention whenever possible. Most have distribution in the United States and all are worthy of being sought out even if you don’t travel to Friuli yourself.
The region of Friuli is best known for its white wines – the native Vitovska, Malvasia and Tocai Friulano, which due to the resolution of a dispute in the EU with Hungary, is now referred to as Friulano. Some winemakers will play with this designation, such as Stanko Radikon who calls his “Jakot” (reversing the spelling). In the Carso area, the Refosco grape is made into Terrano, a medium body red wine, while Picolit, a grape dating back to Roman times, makes the region’s famous dessert wine.
International varietals such as Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are also widely grown but don’t be surprised if they taste nothing like what you are used to – Friuli Sauvignon Blanc is unlike the grassy New Zealand wine widely sold in the U.S. and is definitely one of the “wines to seek out” from the region.
A note on alcohol levels – white wines from Friuli tend to have somewhat higher alcohol, around 13-14% or more. However, the wines are so well made, you are not likely to notice it.
Carso is a rocky region (sometimes translated as Karst in English) known for its “terra rossa,” a deep red, iron-rich topsoil that is used to cover the solid limestone beneath. Cultivating land here is an intense, expensive process involving removing rock and placing a layer of soil on top. The location near the sea (about 3 miles from the coast) and the dry climate contribute a good deal to the grape growing process as well – cooling winds from the sea and mountains bring down temperatures at night and, together with the area’s fierce winter winds known as bora, keep the vines dry.
The tiny village of Prepotto just north of Trieste in the town of Duino-Aurisina (not to be confused with Prepotto in Colli Orientali del Friuli further up north), has several outstanding wineries all in walkable distance from each other. In the middle of the village is an idyllic agriturismo run by the Lupinc family (see below), open throughout the summer.
Loc. Prepotto, 1/A, Duino-Aurisina, +39 040-200255
In addition to making outstanding wines, owner Edi Kante is an artist. As you descend into his cellar, not unlike a Bond supervillian’s lair, his vibrant modern paintings adorn the walls between stainless steel tanks. Carved from the limestone, the cellar is three levels deep – each held at a different constant temperature by the surrounding rock. The distinct, unique wines (Vitovska, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc) are complex, delicious and structured with finesse – just like the artwork (which sometimes adorns the winery’s labels). Kante bottles his wines in 500ml and 1 liter bottles, as well as the traditional 750ml.
Loc. Prepotto 20, 34011 Duino-Aurisina, +39 040-200156, website
Started by Boris Skerk and now overseen by his son Sandi, a trained engineer who grew up on the farm and realized that he would never see the sun if he continued to pursue his original career, this unassuming winery overlooks several hectares of sunny vineyards. The winemaking is classic Carso – Vitovska, Malvasia and Terrano are all made here, as well as Sauvignon Blanc – producing elegant wines that show beautiful structure and minerality, the signature of the area.
Loc. Prepotto 23, Duino-Aurisina, +39 0402-01223, website
Ringing the buzzer at Zidarich, one has no conception of what lies behind the heavy wood gate. The house is flanked by other houses at the end of a tiny street just up the hill from Lupinc and it seems a surprising place to find a winery. Yet a few yards through the gate is a brand new, expansive tasting room built on the side of a hill, with fantastic views of vineyards gently sloping beyond. Beneath, the cellars have expanded too – fifty feet deep into the limestone. Here winemaker Benjamin Zidarich makes distinct wines with big personality and grace. You will find Malvasia and Vitovska, as well as Prulke, a rich, complex blend of the two with Sauvignon Blanc. Reds Terrano and Ruje, a Terrano-Merlot blend, are also terrific.
Loc. Prepotto 11b, Duino, Aurisina, +39 0402-00848, website
The welcoming and generous Lupinc family operates an agriturismo here with a wonderful restaurant and 4 comfortable guest rooms with views of the area. In the 1970s, Lupinc Farm became the first farm in Trieste’s Carso area to begin bottling wine and today they make one red and three whites. Their total production is about 15,000, much of which gets drunk in their own restaurant and pairs well with the delicious rustic cooking and homemade cured meats. Lupinc is the perfect place to stay and explore both Trieste (15 minutes away) and Carso’s wineries and countryside. Did we mention the outstanding food?
Castello di Rubbia
San Michele del Carso, b.go Gornji Vrh 40, Savogna d’Isonzo, +39 0481-882681, website
Winemaker Natasa Cernic trained as a pianist but it was a love of wine that led her and her father to establish Castello di Rubbia in 2000. With no wine making or business experience, Natasa threw herself into it, studying both marketing and oenology. She launched the label with the help of consultants but her background as a musician has had the most influence on her winemaking – for Natasa, understanding the grape is key to creating an integrated, harmonious wine. The results are impressive for such a young operation.
The Castello di Rubbia is an actual 15th Century castle on the property, which contains 13 hectares of vineyards, 170 hectares of woodlands and nearly 10 miles of trenches remaining from World War I. The castle is being restored and is planned to re-open as a hotel and resort.
Don’t miss Castello di Rubbia’s Malvasia and Vitovska, both fresh, delicious whites, as well as the deep red, full bodied, unfiltered Terrano. All the wines are aged in stainless steel.
The Collio is a series of picturesque rolling hills nestled between two rivers and the Slovenian border. Its major towns are Cormons and Gorizia, and wineries fill in the hillsides in seemingly every direction. Due to its east-west nature, the hills are cultivated with plenty of southern exposure to the sun, while the Julian Alps, just to the north, limit the cold winds that descend on the continent in the winter.
Pradis, Cormons, +39 0481-61062, website
Paolo Caccese was a lawyer when he decided to take his father’s hobby – winemaking – and make it into a real business, starting with three hectares and enlarging the estate to its present size of seven hectares. The high-wired Caccese is a charming and generous host while the quirky winery is in an old house, the cellar authentic down to the old-school ceramic vats for aging wines. Caccese makes a wide variety of whites from the local Friulano and Malvasia to Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Muller Thurgau. They are fresh, well balanced and very enjoyable. Reds include a particularly lovely Merlot and Cabernet Franc and his superb dessert wine, La Veronica, is made with Malvasia Istriana and Verduzzo Friulano.
Loc. Tre Buchi 4, Oslavia, +39 0481-32804, website
The steep hills of Oslavia are home to the Radikon family’s vineyards and winery. Winemaker Stanko Radikon, assisted by his son Sasa, makes terrific natural wines, without added sulfites, that are highly unique, distinct wines – prized by fans but not for every palate. The wines are left to macerate on the skins for an unusually long time and age a minimum three years in wood and another year in the bottle. Expect the wines to be of unusual color, body and slightly cloudy – remarkable and worth jumping in. Like Kante, Radikon also bottles many wines in 500 ml and 1 liter bottles, in addition to the traditional 750 ml. In spite of not having any added sulfites, the wines can age astonishingly well.
Venica & Venica
Loc. Cero 8, Dolegna del Collio, +39 0481-61264, website
Founded in 1930, this family winery has 33 hectares of land bordered by lush woods. The key to Venica’s wines is the soil, a mix of marlstone (lime-rich mud) and sandstone (or ponka) originating from the Adriatic millennia ago. Workers still frequently discover marine fossils in the vineyards. The winery also has guest accommodations in a lovely setting with a pool and tennis court. Venica is particulary known for its whites, one to seek out is the outstanding Ronco delle Cime Friulano.
Via Russiz, 4/6, Capriva del Friuli, Gorizia, +39 0481-80047, website
Villa Russiz’s origin is integral to the development of Friuli’s modern wine culture. A French count, Theodore de La Tour, settled down here with his Austrian wife in 1869. De La Tour was the first to realize Collio’s potential for making fine wines and he set up the estate that today is Villa Russiz, introducing new grape varietals and modern techniques from France. His wife ran the estate after his death in 1894 until the First World War, when events forced her to give it up. Adele Cerruti, a noblewoman, then took over the estate and turned it into an institute for children. Today, Villa Russiz continues to be both a non-profit foundation with all proceeds from the winery devoted to charity work for children, as well as a highly recognized winery with award winning wines from winemaker Gianni Menotti.
The vineyards are meticulously overseen by Menotti, whose father Edino had previously run the winery before retiring in 1988. In 2006, Menotti was named “oenologist of the year” by the Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso. Villa Russiz has 35 hectares of grapes and produces about 230,000 bottles a year, with a large portfolio of different wines. As with the majority of Friulian producers, only about a third of the wines are red, primarily Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The whites are clean and elegant, almost architectural in structure. In addition to the indigenous Malvasia, Ribolla Gialla and Friulano, the winery also produces Pino Bianco, Riesling and Pinot Grigio, as well as outstanding Sauvignon and Chardonnay, many of which consistently win awards and accolades.
The relatively flat area south of the Collio is named for the River Isonzo. Here the sun-soaked vineyards lie on a bed of gravel, the result of glacial melts from the Alps.
Via Gavinana, 5, San Lorenzo Isontino, Gorizia, +39 0481-80105, website
This modern winery is on a flat plain with Slovenia to the east and the river Isonzo to the South. The owner, Alvaro Pecorari, is the fourth generation winemaker in a family making wine since about 1879. In the 1990s, the winery was substantially upgraded and new vineyards were added to the family’s holdings.
Working with a few varietals (primarily Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon), Lis Neris produces wines that vary from lean and paired down to easy drinking to rich and powerful. Chardonnay does especially well, with a judicious use of oak (look for Jurosa), Picol is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, the rich and complex Confini is a blend of Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio and Riesling, holding its high alcohol (15%) well. The signature red Lis Neris (Merlot with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon) is excellent and can easily age for a decade or more.
Colli Orientali del Friuli
This region stretches west and north from Collio, up towards the foothills of the Julian Alps.
Via Verdi 26, Cergneu, Nimis, +39 0427-591511, website
La Roncaia, which dates back to the 1950s, was bought by the Fantinel family in 1998. Already well regarded, the winery was re-focused with the goal of producing the best reds in a region known for whites. La Roncaia produces 8 different wines from its 22 hectares, yielding about 60,000 bottles a year. The winery is best known for their dessert wines, the small production Picolit and Ramandolo (Verduzzo). The reds (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon) are big but it was the terrific Friulano that delighted us – beautifully balanced, rich and aromatic due to almost half the fruit being allowed to dry partially before vinification
Via Risorgimento 1, Brazzano di Cormons, +39 0481-60203, website
Livio Felluga is a living legend in Friuli, with a history dating back to when his great-grandfather made wine in the part of Italy controlled by the Austro-Hungarian empire. The outbreak of World War II took Felluga (now 96) as far away as Scotland and Africa. Upon his return, he found the hillsides being deserted by agricultural workers and he searched for a suitable location for a vineyard. In the 1950s, he found a suitable plot and built a winery. His vision has led to one of the region’s best known labels – a large operation with 650,000 annual bottles produced. Today Felluga still oversees production even as a new generation takes over winemaking, led by his spirited daughter Elda. For a wonderful experience, enjoy some of Livio Felluga’s wines at Terra e Vini, the family’s osteria and hotel, which serves some of the best food in the area.
Sharis (Chardonnay Ribolla Gialla blend) is fresh and vibrant wine and a good aperitif; Friulano – nicely balanced and a very good example of the region’s signature grape. Illivio (a blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Picolit) is a richer white, sturdy enough for heartier dishes but well-balanced and excellent for drinking on its own, a unique wine not to be missed. Felluga also makes intense, well-structured reds such as the Refosco, the velvety Sosso (Refosco, Merlot and Pignolo) and full-bodied Vertigo (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon).
Al Parco, Via Stretta 7, Buttrio
Third generation winemaker Paolo Meroi not only makes wine but cooks in his restaurant, Trattoria Al Parco, which is situated in a walled park in the middle of the town of Buttrio. It is here that most of Meroi’s tiny production (about 900 cases) is sold, and the experience is unforgettable. A few meters away, behind a gate, is the entrance to Meroi’s cellar, 16 feet below the ground and accessible by elevator. Here he likes to tell the story of how his grandfather (named Dominin) hid the best wines from the Nazis behind a wall in the old cellar. One soldier accidentally made a hole in the wall with the butt of his rifle but didn’t look through it so the wines remained secure. Meroi now dedicates his most complex and prized red to his grandfather, calling it simply Dominin. The more affordable Nestri and Ros di Buri are also Merlot-based – Meroi excels with the grape. The yields, at 500 grams per plant, are astonishingly low. The whites are also delicious but the reds steal the show in a region so famous for its white wines. Our recommendation is visit Al Parco, order pastas and any of the meat (such as puledro or young horse, or local sausages) from the grill manned by Meroi himself and enjoy one of his fabulous bottles of wine.
Viale Grado, 4 Pavia di Udine, +39 0432-675612, Winery Website
La Frasca Restaurant, 10 Viale Grado (Route SS 352), Lauzacco, +39 0432-675150, La Frasca
Valter Scarbolo has been one of Friuli’s leading winemakers for more than two decades. A native of the area, Valter found the terrain and the dark red, clay-like soil ideal for grape growing. Scarbolo believes in low yield, sustainable winemaking that ensures the future of his vines. Grape varietals are a mix of local and international types – Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Friulano, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Refosco. His cru wines include a fantastic copper-hued Pinot Grigio Ramato, delicious My Time (Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Friulano), big Refosco and the wonderful Campo del Viotto Merlot
You can enjoy the wines at his well-regarded restaurant, La Frasca, serving delicious regional specialties, from pasta to prized local Osvaldo prosciutto and salumi that are not to be missed.
Where to Taste the Wines
Wineries have tasting rooms but are generally not open to the public in the way U.S. wineries are. If there is a particular winery you are interested in, you can call or email ahead and see if they will arrange a tasting – some will and others will only do so for the trade.
However, there are many other ways to taste Friuli wines such as the restaurants listed below, or you can book a tour through the Movimento Turismo del Vino Friuli Venezia Giulia (website), which has over 120 member wineries and distilleries. Every year on the last Sunday of May, many of their members open to the public for Cantine Aperte (Open Cellars) – some also on the day before – reservations are required. Some members also open on the last Sunday of each month in the summer. Self-drive tours including accommodations start around €200 per person. A “wine bus” shuttle service is also available.
The Enoteca di Cormons in the tiny town of Cormons is owned by a cooperative of 33 area growers and farmers. You can enjoy a glass of wine and a plate of local prosciutto or cheese as well as pick up a bottle of wine to go.
Trattoria Al Parco (Via Stretta 7, Buttrio) is owned by winemaker Paolo Meroi, who also mans the grill during lunch. The setting is a park just across from his winery (his vineyards are situated on hills surrounding the town). The cooking is seasonal and while the pastas are terrific, don’t miss whatever comes off the grill.
Terra e Vini (Via XXIV Maggio 34, Brazzano di Cormons, website) in the small town of Brazzano di Cormons is owned by the Felluga family. This osteria and hotel showcases Livio Felluga’s winemaking skills. The kitchen serves a wonderful seasonal menu that pairs beautifully with the wines. The hotel has a few comfortable and spacious rooms, a perfect base for exploring the area.
La Frasca (Viale Grado 10, (Route SS 352), Lauzacco, website) is owned by winemaker Valter Scarbolo with a terrific selection of cured meats and other local products. Enjoy a meal in the rustic interior or on one of two outdoor terraces. Don’t forget to try Valter’s incredible selections of wines.