Like Alto Adige and France’s Alsace, Friuli is a region whose turbid past has endowed it with a fascinating cultural diversity. Nearing Italy’s border with Slovenia, road signs are written in both Italian and Slovenian; even the architecture points to a notable Slavic influence. Friuli also boasts a complex viticultural heritage: La Viarte’s well-exposed marl and sandstone terraces are home to a number of native heirloom varieties. Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso—a sub-variety of Refosco named for the red color its stalks acquire at ripeness—prospers in the Colli Orientali district, a series of foothills between the Alps and the moderating Adriatic Sea. Six years after the vintage, the pronounced tannins and acidity of this 2009 have melded into a thing of elegance, with mouth-coating fruit that hints at plum and blackberry. You will appreciate it best alongside a hearty autumn feast.
From a young age Giuseppe Ceschin had a great passion for wine, studying enology and traveling around Italy gaining experience working for wineries in various regions. Alongside his wife, Carla, he followed his dream to Friuli, purchasing 35 ha in Prepotto, near the Slovenian border. They chose the Friulian word for springtime for their estate signifying a new era in their lives. Giuseppe and Carlas son Giulio and his wife Federica later expanded La Viarte to 41 ha. After decades managing La Viarte, Giulio sold the estate to Alberto Piovan, bringing in outside management to ensure the future of the property. Alberto has continued the focus on local varietals, such as Friulano, and has embraced the passion of the Ceschin family.
Friuli may be forever tied to its bland, acidic Pinot Grigios, which at one point saturated the export market, but a deeper look reveals a captivating array of unique grape-growing sites, distinctive indigenous varieties, and passionate small growers keen on preserving a rich tradition of winemaking.
Here in Italy’s northeast corner, the region is shared between the Julian Alps in the north and plains leading to the Adriatic Sea in the south, bound by the Veneto to the west and Slovenia to the east. While it is one of the wettest regions of Italy—and all of Europe, for that matter—Friuli benefits from the push-and-pull of cool air currents from the mountains meeting warmer breezes from the Adriatic. A crescent-shaped slice of foothills, where both play a role, tends to produce the region’s finest wines.
Nothing is more emblematic to Friulian wine than a crisp, peachy Ribolla Gialla served with thinly sliced prosciutto San Daniele, a local specialty. And yet, this only begins to tell the story: high-acid, mineral-driven whites from a number of local varieties including Tocai Friulano, Pinot Grigio, and Malvasia range from light and crisp to powerful and age-worthy, complementing Adriatic shellfish, hearty mountain cheeses, and everything in between. Native reds like Schioppettino, Terrano, and Refosco all have something unique to say, while there has even been significant success with French varieties like Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot, all long established in the region.
Friuli’s diversity is its strength, and it keeps us coming back for more. In fact, Kermit imported one of the region’s first organic growers toward the start of his career; our more recent collaboration with producers like Vignai da Duline is a testament to the enormous potential when devoted artisans put their hearts into Friuli’s fascinating terroir.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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