Sadly for Pinot Grigio, the grape has a history of being over-planted, over-cropped, and over-manipulated in the hands of industrial-scale wineries that have all but ruined its reputation as a fine wine of northeast Italy. For anyone looking to experience its charms when crafted by a quality-oriented producer faithful to the traditions of Friuli, where it arguably reaches its greatest expression in Italy, pay attention to La Viarte’s Pinot Grigio from the radiant green terraced vineyards of the Colli Orientali district. Not thin by any means, it is still exquisitely refreshing: bright citrus and fresh flowers, pinpoint precision, lip-smacking acidity... This is what Friulian Pinot Grigio is all about.
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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