Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bound For Italy: Friuli

Tonite, I board a plane to Italy, to the region of Friuli–Venezia Giulia.  I'll land in Trieste and will primarily explore the Collio Goriziano DOC.  This trek is part of a journalist trip, with a number of other writers from across the country. We will explore the wine and food of this region, as well as seeing various other sights, including historical ones.

Friuli–Venezia Giulia is Italy's most northeastern region, and its capital is Trieste. The region borders Austria to the north, Slovenia to the east, the Adriatic Sea to the south and the Veneto border to the west. The region has passed through various hands throughout the centuries, so it has been influenced by different countries, including Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia.

This area was originally settled by the Veneti and Celts, eventually being conquered by the Romans. Around 181 B.C., the Romans founded the outpost Aquileia, which was used to defend against the Gauls. Aquileia would later become a center of mercantile traffic, well known for its mosaics and great wealth.  In 177 B.C., the city of Trieste would also join the Roman Empire. 

In 50 B.C., the Romans founded Forum Julii, a city which is now known as Cividale, in the Friulia region.  Forum Julii would also be the origin of the term "Friuli."  When Augustus Caesar came to power, he eventually divided Italy into eleven regions, and the Friuli region became known as Regio X Venetia et Histria, with Aquileia as its capital.

The region has a rich and vibrant history and I look forward to learning much more about it. I am also eagerly anticipating the food and wine I will experience there.

The cuisine of Friuli is varied, a consequence of its many influences.  You may find items like cevapcici (a meatball dish of Trieste), cialzons (ravioli with various fillings, and often a blend of sweet and salty), stinco (ham hock or veal shank), grubana (cake filled with nuts and golden raisins) and strudelPolenta is very common, and you will find it prepared many ways throughout the region. Like Spain, pork is also king, and you will find plenty of salami, sausages, pancetta and more.  Plus, it is the home of the famed prosciutto del San Daniele.  Another famed product is the Montasio cheese, a cow's milk cheese that becomes sharper in flavor the longer it is aged.  Beans are also popular and Trieste is known for jota, a bean soup, which was traditionally prepared with beans and sauerkraut.

The wines of Friuli are primarily famed for their whites, yet they make some excellent reds too.  Wine making extends at least as far back as ancient Roman times,and wine making remained very important throughout the centuries afterwards. There are ten DOCs in Friuli, including:: Carso, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Collio Gorziano, Friuli Annia, Friuli Aquileia, Friuli Grave, Friuli Isonzo, Friuli Latisana, Lison-Pramaggiore, and the Ramandolo DOCG. 

The Collio Gorziano DOC, where I will spend the most time, was established in 1968 and currently has about 4000 acres of vines. More than 80% of the wines they produce are whites though some sources claim that Merlot is the most planted grape, constituting about 20% of the vineyards. Other sources claim that Friuliano is most planted grape. Their regulations allow for 18 wines to qualify for DOC status, including twelve whites, four reds, and two blends.

In Friuli, the white grapes include Chardonnay, Friuliano (once called Tocai Friuliano), Malvasia Istrianna, Muller-Thurgau, Picolit (used for honeyed sweet wines), Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Ribolla Gialla, Riesling Italico, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminer, Traminer Aromatico (Gewurtztraminer). and Verduzzo. For reds, you will find Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot, Pignolo, Pinot Noir, Refosco, Schioppettino (the “black” version of Ribolla Gialla; its name neans “gunshot”), Tazzelenghe (“tongue cutter”), and Terrano (a Refosco clone used in the Carso).

I am already a fan of numerous wines from the Friuli region, such as those of I Clivi, Vodopivec, Josko Gravner,and Edi Kante.  So I have high hopes of finding other excellent wines from this region.

In Friuli, you'll also find some excellent Grappa, a type of brandy, which has been produced there for about two thousand years. I have very little familarity with grappa, and am not even sure we will taste any on our trip, but I would like to do so.  It is an intriguing niche beverage, and I do know that V. Cirace & Sons, in the North End of Boston, has maybe the most extensive selection of grappa in the city.

I should return with plenty of interesting stories and photos of my trip to Friuli.


RhodeyGirl said...

stinco! ha!

My mom and her family is from Trieste (she moved when she got married). My relatives, including my Nonna, still live there and we are going to visit this March. I haven't been in a few years.

Buona vacanza! I can't wait to see how much you love Trieste & Friuli in general! Make sure to have a cappuccio anywhere you go.. it is a mini cappuccino, just a shot of espresso with a touch of foam! Enjoy!

Sharon said...

Richard: I spent some VERY happy days in Udine and Cividale last spring--wine & food are amazing. When I was in Cividale ( you take a toy train from Udine to get there)there were no other tourists, except Italian school children. It was a lovely day alone in the churches and monuments.
I stayed at the exceptional Hotel Astoria in Udine--GREAT dining room. Looks very stodgy and traditional, but the guys know their wine and their food. My. I am jealous of your trip.

jason said...

Have a great trip! Look forward to hearing all about it when you get back!