Chardonnay has a long history in Italy, and today it can be found in every region. The country’s best Chardonnays, however, are concentrated in the northeast, where cooler climate and precise winemaking allow for very interesting expressions of the grape. Even in Friuli, it takes on many forms. In the Carso district, around the city of Trieste and hugging the border with Slovenia, abundant gray limestone and a notable influence of the nearby Adriatic Sea are responsible for some truly distinctive whites. Edi Kante’s wines perfectly capture the influence of stone and salt, showing a mouthwatering acidity and typically more minerality than fruit. Kante raises his whites in neutral oak, then selects the best-tasting barrels and ages them an additional few years before release. His top selection of Chardonnay is labeled “La Bora,” an ode to the eponymous wind depicted on the label wreaking havoc on a Trieste pier. This unique Chardonnay is fresh, saline, and unexpectedly powerful—not unlike an Adriatic storm surge.
The Carso district of Friuli, just outside of Trieste, is a unique micro-climate sandwiched between the Adriatic Sea to the south, the Alps to the north, and the Balkans to the east. The temperatures are cool at night and the grey limestone is in abundance. In this near-perfect combination of climate and terreno, Edi Kante produces wines that are poised, solid, fresh, and brimming with the character of both the varietal and the limestone soil of Carso. The Kante style is born not only of his incredibly energetic, passionate, mad-scientist like personality, but also of the inherent characteristics of Carso and his deliberate decision to allow these characteristics to shine through rather than be dominated by wine-making technique.
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.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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