Friulano – Friuli’s Favourite, Collio DOC
Of all the many authorised grape varieties in the Collio DOC, only Tocai Friulano is grown by all, accounting for a relatively large 15% of the vineyard area. Some of the most outstanding examples of varietal Friulano wines are from the hillsides of the Collio DOC, and it’s usually an essential contributor to the Collio Bianco blend.
What’s in a name? Some readers may recall that the wine made from the Friulano white grape variety was once known as Tocai Friulano. However, since 2008, Tocai has been legal only for the historic Hungarian Tokaj wines. Hence, the Italian wine is now known only as Friulano. However, the grape variety is still lawfully registered in Italy as Tocai Friulano. It’s also found across the Slovenian border in neighbouring Brda, known as Zeleni Sauvignon. Some call it Jakot – which is Tokaj spelled backwards!
Nevertheless, Friulano is held in high esteem throughout the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, and there are also plantings in Veneto and Lombardy. Tocai Friulano is an Italian native grape, but DNA testing shows it’s identical to Sauvignonasse (aka Sauvignon Vert). Hence, it came from southwest France, where it’s now a rarity. However, that was around 200 years ago, in the early nineteenth century. Friulano also thrives in its adopted homeland in a way Sauvignonasse never did in France (or, for that matter, anywhere else). It’s worth pointing out that there is no relationship between Friulano and Sauvignon Blanc, either in DNA or in flavour profile. This is an important distinction given past confusion (notably in Chile) and because Sauvignon Blanc is also noteworthy in the Collio DOC, with a slightly larger 18% of the vineyard area.
What to Expect
Friulano is a dry white wine that’s usually green or green-yellow. It’s full-bodied, rich and fleshy thanks to relatively low acidity and high glycerin content. Typically, notes of sage, almonds and herbs bring complexity.
In the Collio, the Ponca soil adds minerality, often showing as salinity, especially in hot vintage years. Friulano can accommodate wood, so there are lightly oaked and unoaked versions. Many examples benefit from another year in the bottle after release and can further develop over 5-10 years. They also take time to open up in the glass, perhaps 5-10 minutes, so decanting and patience can be beneficial.
The Varietal Wines and Producers
The introductory article about the Collio DOC is here, which helps set the scene. The Collio DOC producers featured below are all Consorzio members and offer a representative snapshot of Friulano’s excellence from the warm 2021 and 2022 vintages. All the wines here are 100% Friulano but with different expressions according to terroir and winemaking style. Though some are unavailable in the UK, prices and stockists are given where appropriate.
The Interactive Map below shows each producer; click the individual wine glass icons for links to the producer’s website.
Skok, Zabura, at San Floriano del Collio, 2022. 13.5%
Single vineyard wine. Greenish-yellow. Grass and sage nose, initially. The palate shows ripe pears, then some peach and apricot fleshiness. It opens up and becomes more floral, with a persistent, leesy mineral finish.
Sturm, at Cormons, 2022. 13%
Organically certified, 65 year old vines. Pale green. White flowers on the nose and ripe pears on the palate. It is a lighter, crisper style with an attractive lactic note, showing an underlying savouriness. An excellent saline persistency finishes things off. Theatre of Wine, £19.90
Fruscalzo, at Ruttars, near Dolegna del Collio, 2021. 13.5%
Mid-yellow. A more honeyed tone in aroma and flavour yet retaining freshness – late harvest? Soft, rounded, leesy, apples and pears before a pleasingly bitter almond finish.
Pascolo, at Ruttars, near Dolegna del Collio, 2021. 14.5%
SQNPI sustainability certified. Nine months on the lees and then three months in the bottle. Yellowish, leggy. There is more alcohol here, a soft body, but not flabby. Plenty of power, concentration and balancing acidity. Aromas of green apple, elderflower, and hay. Lime fruit over savoury salinity. Long, slow farewell.
Tenuta Stella, at Dolegna del Collio, 2021. 13.5%
Organic, old vines, minimal intervention. Spontaneous fermentation with natural yeast in stainless steel. Lees ageing and secondary, malolactic fermentation. Yellowish. Honeyed aromas take 5-10 minutes to open up, so wait. Fabulous nose – acacia, almonds, maybe Broom/Gorse flowers? The palate has spiced apple, peach and apricot with a mineral tension: excellent balance and a silken texture. Passione Vino, £27.00
Kurtin, at Cormons, 2021. 14%
Greenish. Outstanding balance and silken texture. Stunning aromas of a wildflower meadow. The citrus palate is like a soft pillow with a subtle almond depth. Harmonious.
Tenuta Borgo Conventi, at Farra d’Isonzo, 2021. 13.5%
They are owned by Villa Sandi (of Prosecco fame). A different expression from a warmer microclimate. Yellow-gold. Tropical fruit, with sage, almonds and salinity present. Excellent balance of fruit, alcohol and acidity, bitter almond finish. Tannico, £18.38
Livon, Manditocai, at Ruttars, near Dolegna del Collio, 2021. 14%
Single-vineyard. Ferments using 50% stainless steel and 50% Hungarian oak barrels before eight months in the barrel. A distinctly different personality. Yellow-gold colour. Orchard blossom nose. Citrus fruits mixed with nutmeg and ginger. Rich and opulent, with silken acidity and a clean, bitter almond finish. It’s a great demonstration of how to use wood subtly. Xtrawine, £23.64
Terre del Faet, at Cormons, 2021. 14.5%
Low intervention, 10-15% aged in wood. Ripe and rich. Greenish yellow, floral nose, with orange zest. It opens slowly into a powerful expression, softly textured, with a depth of white fruit (peach, apricot), then the salinity and bitter almonds kick in on a long finish. Vinissimus, £20.40
Draga, Miklus, at San Floriano del Collio, 2018. 14.5%
Draga makes a traditional “classic” white and Miklus orange wine range. This is a dry orange wine from 70-year-old organic vines with 30 days of skin contact. Work is according to moon phases, without temperature control, fining or filtering. It has long aged in wood and bottle, with 2018 being the latest release.
Highly distinctive, though varietal character is largely absent. A dark amber, there’s a big honeyed acacia nose, slightly smoky and spirity. The palate shows honeycomb, sultana, dried orange peel and an oxidative note with just enough acidity to offset dry tannins. Extremely persistent, slightly warming from the alcohol, an excellent example.
Food matching Friulano
Friulano is a versatile white wine that matches all the usual suspects, from fish and chicken to pasta and risotto. However, pictured here are two local dishes that make memorable matches for Friulano, sampled at Vineria Vencò del Collio in Dolegna, a perfect terroir for Friulano.
At the back is Filetto di Trota. The rivers of the Collio are alpine, so cold, clean, clear, and full of Trout. The thin slivers of Trout fillet were in a dill marinade and served cold with sliced zucchini – exquisite!
In the foreground is Frico. This soft, fried golden patty combines hard cheese (typically the local Montasio PDO) with potatoes and sometimes onion. This is Cucina Povera – sometimes accompanying other dishes like salami.
Finally, Friulano is also an excellent foil for Prosciutto di San Daniele DOP, one of Italy’s great regional hams.
Friulano from the Collio DOC is a gastronomic white wine worth discovering!
If you have not yet discovered Ribolla Gialla from Collio DOC, you can read about it here.