Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Rethinking white wine

Named after Julius Caesar, Friuli-Venezia Giulia has made people rethink Italian white wines.

Friuli’s soil has a varied minerality and the 10 sub-zones that include the DOCG Ramandolo — and the prestigious zone of Collio — play host to a multitude of grape varieties. On the white-wine side, the indigenous grapes of Ribolla Gialla, Picolit and Tocai Friuliano share the spotlight with sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, pinot blanc, riesling, chardonnay and others. You will find a lot of single-varietal wines but blends are also common. Traditionally, the wines were vinified dry, and no oak or Slovenian oak was used. These days, there are myriad styles — including fermentation and aging in barrique, skin fermentation and the use of open top fermenters. The result is that Friuli is making not only some world-class white wines but also offering a diverse selection for different palates. Here are three white wines that are exceptional and distinct.

La Tunella Bianco Sesto, 2007: This family-run estate in Colli Orientali del Friuli is not well-known, but every one of its wines I’ve tasted has been a hit. Bianco Sesto is a blend of equal parts Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friuliano. The grapes are fermented whole-cluster and aged in Slovenian oak barrels. Minerally with hints of citrus and white peach, this wine has fantastic acid balance, good weight and a superb, long finish. Suggested retail: $25

Radikon Oslavje, 2001: Stanko Radikon is one of the original mavericks in Friuli. He uses extended maceration, Slovenia oak barrels and little to no sulfur. By the time release date comes around — usually about five years after the vintage — the wines have gathered a cloudy, golden color and developed a mysterious and intense bouquet. The Oslavje, a blend of pinot bianco, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, is a full-bodied, textured matrix of dried apricot skin, lime peel and roasted hazelnuts. It is a singular wine in many respects and definitely worth the splurge. Suggested retail: $65

Guerra Albano sauvignon, 2006: This is a winery to watch. The Albano family has been growing grapes for several generations but it was not until 1992 that they actually began to bottle the wines. I’ve tasted a couple, leading me to think that there is great potential, but this sauvignon blanc has already arrived. Medium-bodied with herbal, coffee-grind overtones and a crisp minerality underscoring peach, grapefruit and guava fruit, it is extremely pleasant and typical of sauvignon blanc from the area. Suggested retail: $25

One more wine: 2005 Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot, Cold Creek Vineyard

Chateau Ste. Michelle’s merlots just seem to get better and better. This full-bodied, structured wine has plenty of backbone but is also accessible now. It should age well in the next decade, gaining in complexity and fragrance. It offers intense and pure black-cherry fruit and hints of chocolate and herbs. It’s one smooth wine that really shows the difference between merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Retail price: $26

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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