Friuli: Italy’s Next DOC?

UPDATE, July 21, 2016: The Italian government has approved the Friuli DOC for the 2016 harvest. It will take some time before formal EU approval is granted, but there is no reason to doubt that it will eventually be given. Look for Friuli DOC wines on the market by early 2017.
Posted May 9, 2016

In Friuli–Venezia Giulia, there are currently six denominations that include the word “Friuli” in their name. There may soon be one more.

465343665-Santa Maria di Barbana, Grado, FriuliFriuli–Venezia Giulia, the small region in Italy’s far northeast bordering Austria and Slovenia, is beloved by cognoscenti for its native grapes—varieties such as Friulano, Verduzzo, Ribolla Gialla, and Refosco, or even rarer ones like Picolit, Pignolo, Vitovska, Terrano, Schioppettino, and Tazzelenghe. However, those are not nearly as familiar to most consumers as its international varieties, particularly Pinot Grigio, or its contribution to the ocean of Prosecco. Thanks to those latter two categories, Friuli has the highest proportion of white wine to red of any Italian region. The denominations of Friuli–Venezia Giulia are not well known internationally, although Collio Goriziano DOC and Friuli Colli Orientali DOC, which are in hilly areas of the pre-Alps above the coastal plains that define southern Friuli, have gained a toehold in export markets.

Now, this relatively undiscovered region has published a draft disciplinare (set of wine regulations) for an overarching, region-wide denomination called Friuli DOC or Friuli Venezia Giulia DOC. It will not replace the existing Friuli Annia, Friuli Aquileia, Friuli Colli Orientali, Friuli Grave, Friuli Isonzo, and Friuli Latisana DOCs, but rather will sit on top of them as an alternative denomination. Collio Goriziano and Carso DOCs, which lie just to the east of the existing Friuli denominations, initially tried to remain separate, presumably afraid that the reputations they had built for themselves would be diminished by being associated with the much larger zone. However, the regional government wouldn’t allow that. The Friuli DOC therefore includes the entire southern half of Friuli–Venezia Giulia—the northern half of the region being Alpine mountains that are too high in elevation for viticulture.

The Friuli DOC, as proposed, will produce white, red, and sparkling wines. White varietal wines will be made from Chardonnay, Friulano, Gewürztraminer, Malvasia Istriana, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, or Verduzzo Friulano. Red varietals can include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Nero, or Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso. Sparkling wines, made by either metodo classico or the tank method, will be either varietal Ribolla Gialla or a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and/or Pinot Nero.

Most of these wines are already possible under the rules of the current Friuli denominations. The biggest twist is the addition of sparkling Ribolla Gialla, which is not permissible under the rules of any existing DOP. Styles that are noticeably missing from the Friuli DOC include frizzante, rosato, and dessert wines. There is no provision for superiore or riserva in this disciplinare, either, nor for some of Friuli’s lesser-known but interesting grape varieties such as Pignolo, Schioppettino, or Tazzelenghe.

You might be thinking, if collecting all the winegrowing areas of a region together under one denomination is a good idea, why not more than one region? In fact, there are negotiations in progress with the goal of creating the largest denomination yet: Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC. It would essentially offer the possibility of raising Pinot Grigios of IGP delle Venezie to DOP level. Like the IGP, this denomination would cover all of Friuli–Venezia Giulia and Veneto, as well as Trentino province. However, with three regions and untold numbers of producers involved, these talks are going very slowly and are not expected to reach an agreement for at least a year, if ever.

As of now, the Friuli DOC is just a proposal, and it is possible that its application will be rejected, but that’s not too likely. The details of the disciplinare could well change, but with the weight of the entire regional government behind it, it would be hard to derail it entirely. Expect to see wines from this denomination—the country’s 334th—beginning with the 2016 harvest. We’ll continue to follow this process and post updates as necessary.


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