Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Quick Virtual Visit to Friuli

We had some friends over to the house for a casual dinner, and we wanted to put out some unusual (for them) wines, so I plucked out a bottle of Girolamo Dorigo Ribolla Gialla 2008 from Friuli.

I generally love the wines of Friuli, that region tucked up into the far northeastern corner of Italy, and especially that golden-yellow delight Ribolla, a grape that appears to be indigenous to Friuli, Slovenia and the slavic regions. This 2008 from the serious and determined Dorigo family, which has been on a thirty year campaign to improve their vineyards and their wines, is a wonderful example of the variety and the region.

Ribolla can be made in either a quick-drinking fresh style or in barriques for longer aging. I like both, but this fresh version was particularly successful with our apps and Dungeness Crab course. Since we serve our Dungeness as simply as possible to emphasize the delectable natural sweetness (steamed, cracked and served up for messy eating, and why bother with sauces when crab is this good?), the Ribolla Gialla, made in stainless steel, quickly fermented, and delivered right to the bottle without delay, was a perfect foil for the food.

The Dorigo has a delicious mouthwatering squirt of fresh lemon juice and zest, with refreshing acidity and a stony mineral layer underneath. Light and racy, it never overwhelms the crab and leaves the mouth fresh and ready for another sip or bite.

There's lots of talk these days about "food wines", probably in an attempt to convince people that all wines are food wines---even when they are over-extracted steroidal jam fruit bombs.

The Italians have a genius for producing real food wines as a matter of course however. Might be because the alcohol listed on the bottle was 12%, it was the right grape grown in the right area, and there was no effort to manipulate and sculpt the wine into something bigger than it was supposed to be? So while perfectly good as a cocktail or aperitif wine, this Ribolla Gialla really shines when the food hits the table.

And as a bonus, it's moderately priced. You should be able to find this one in the $14--20 range. Unless you live in one of the gouging states or Canada, of course. :^)

The Dorigo family makes a full range of typical Friulano wines, and they generally do a great job. Their primary parcel of land, an excellent vineyard in the Collio region called Ronc de Juris (Ronc is local dialect for hill) has been 'reconditioned' over the last thirty years to maximize quality...and they have succeeded. You should also try the Friulano Bianco (Or what used to be called Tocai Friulano there, and in other places Sauvignonasse or Sauvignon Vert; never a blockbuster of a wine, but always tone perfect for seafood dishes, and a staple of tables in the Friuli, Slovenia and in nearby Venice, this is another one of those Italian genius wines).
The Collio is a fascinating region---or half a region, I suppose we should say, for the remainder of it is across the Slovenian-Italian border it shares. This part of Italy, until the end of WW I, was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in actuality Slovenian in culture. After it became Italy, the border remained porous for the locals, so the Italo-Slovenes were able to propagate in and continue to make wine from both sides, and thus retain their unique cultural identity. And more important to this discussion, their unique vinous identity!

The Collio, and a neighboring sub-region called the Colli Orientali del Friuli (the eastern facing hillsides in Italian), remained isolated, un-touristy, and rarely exported until just recently, so they retained their natural style without benefit of 'internationalization' and global homogenization. So much the better for us wine drinkers!

Friuli has also managed to avoid much of the price shock that other temporarily trendy regions have gone through, so the wines remain readily affordable, even though they are not distributed as well as they should be. Still, discerning Italian wine buyers are always around, so these wines should be too.
If you're intrepid travellers, the Friuli would be a great destination. Go to Venice and sample the delights with the rest of the throng---and throngs you will find, I promise you. Then, when you're tired of that, rent a car and drive up a few minutes north, past the Piave and into the gently rolling hills of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. No more crowds, mostly locals, and a wealth of small towns and quaint little villages and wonderful scenery.

You're situated between the foot of the Dolomites (Alps) and the Adriatic sea. And if you go far enough, you'll find yourself in the intriguing Hapsburgian city of Trieste, which is a surprising treat. (If you're a coffee lover, this is also the home of Illy Cafe.)

But mostly you can just ramble around, enjoy the people and the countryside, and in addition to the wines you can sample the other specialities of the area...most notably some exceptional prosciutto made in a village nearby! Plus, there's no shortage of Enotecas for sampling the wines of the region. It's a great, and still fairly undiscovered and relatively unspoiled, part of Italy.

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