Sounds good to me. Wine fans dream of drinking a good Pinot Grigio, but they usually end up with a glass of something as generic as your standard-issue Côtes-de-Provence rosé. Anyway, it was below zero degrees Fahrenheit when this California native landed in Munich, and after the short hop to Venice, I couldn’t take a water taxi to my hotel because the lagoon was frozen. Imagine that. There was, however, a bright side—I had Venice pretty much to myself, because hardly anyone else ventured outside. How rare is that? Venice without the mobs. How wines are discovered can be of interest, I hope. The wines of Hubert de Montille, for example. I was tasting at Romanée-Conti back in 1975 and André Noblet told me he considered de Montille the best winemaker in Burgundy. Henri Jayer? I saw his name in a little list of gold-medal winners at the Mâcon wine fair. Leonard Humbrecht? In 1981 he strode largely into my hole-in-the-wall wine shop in Albany, California, bearing samples. And Vignai da Duline? At a restaurant in Venice one painfully frozen night seven years ago, two pals and I were the only clients. When the proprietor poured Duline’s Pinot Grigio into my glass, I almost yelled Eureka! or Hallelujah! I didn’t, however, because that’s not my style. But there I was, on a cruel night, drinking the best Pinot Grigio of my life. It was what I’d dreamed Pinot Grigio could be during forty years of endlessly entertaining trips to the Friuli. Vignai da Duline is on my all-star team. I found gold in those beautiful Friuli hills— finesse, touch, and class. Delicious and interesting.
In the late 1990s Lorenzo Mocchiutti and wife Federica Magrini inherited a few hectares of vines from Lorenzo's grandfather. These vineyards, mostly neglected for decades, were planted primarily with old vines of local grape varieties like Tocai Giallo, Malvasia Istriana, as well as common varieties like Pinot Grigio, and Merlot. This husband and wife team sum up their respectful, holistic approach to vineyard management best: We believe our wines can convey our respect for the delicate balance of our environment, the care and personal attention we afford to every stage of the production process, and our pursuit of the highest quality wine and viticulture. The grapes carry a memory of the earth they grew in.
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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