There are too many Malvasias in this world to count. From central Italy’s Malvasia di Candia, to Sicily’s Malvasia delle Lipari, to Sardinia’s Malvasia di Bosa, to Portugal’s Malvasia de Colares, the name recurs consistently across the Mediterranean and beyond. Thought to be of Greek origin, it comprehends a large family of white grapes to which the aforementioned examples may or may not belong. To complicate matters, Corsica’s Malvasia is simply a local name for Vermentino, and in Savoie they have taken to calling Pinot Gris by the name “Malvoisie.” There is even a red grape, Malvasia Nera, found in certain pockets of Italy. Enough already! Malvasia Istriana, native to Croatia and Friuli, is perhaps the most compelling rendition I have tasted to date. It yields this zesty, herbal white with a fascinating nose of white pepper, lavender, and pine resin. A textural wine—at once silky and faintly bitter—it presents a lithe structure and salty, mouthwatering finale. If there is one Malvasia to remember, let it be this one.
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.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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