Body: Medium to full
Dry / Sweet: Dry
Age: Drink while young; within two years of release. The very best wines can improve for up to five years or more.
Aka: Also known as Tocai Friulano, Sauvignonasse and Sauvignon Vert.
Friulano (free-oh-LAH-noh) is the white grape most closely associated with the northeastern Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, usually just called Friuli (free-oo-lee). This region, located in the top right hand corner of Italy, borders Austria to the north, Slovenia to the east and to the south forms part of the Adriatic coastline that includes Trieste, which was once the main port of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Friulano was known as Tocai Friulano until a European Court ruling, protecting the famous Hungarian sweet wine name “Tokaji”, prohibited its use in 2007. There was much concern at the time and the decision was eventually taken in Friuli to simply use the name Friulano, which actually means “of” or “from Friuli”. Although Friulano has a long history in Friuli – and is often referred to as an indigenous grape variety – it is actually the Sauvignonasse grape, which originated in southwest France.
In the early nineteenth century it was introduced to Friuli and later acquired the Tokaji / Tocai name, most likely to leverage the fame and reputation of the great Tokaji wines of Hungary. While the original name of the grape, Sauvignonasse, suggests a close relationship with Sauvignon Blanc this is not supported by DNA analysis. The vine leaves and berry clusters of Friulano do look very similar to Sauvignon Blanc, however the wine it makes has a different flavor profile and is generally fuller in body with less pronounced acidity. It is a very productive vine, so yield management (the lower the yield, the better the quality) in the vineyard is particularly important if Friulano is to display its full varietal character.
Aromas of wild meadow flowers, almond blossom and ripe white fruits are followed by flavors of pear, peach and tropical fruits, with some citrus notes, a touch of honey and a very typical almond finish. It can also display mineral notes, as well as nutty elements, herbs and a little spice. Acidity is generally medium, but can be less if the wines undergo malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation which converts sharp Malic acid into softer Lactic acid). The body is medium to full with a very appealing soft and silky texture. Some producers use oak during the wine making process, but contact is normally light (using older barrels) in order to preserve the delicate flavors of the grape.
Friuli is without doubt one of the top white wine regions in Italy and although much of the Friulano produced here is of a good standard quality there are many excellent producers who take their wines to a higher level. By controlling yields, picking at optimal ripeness and lees aging for six months, they develop great elegance and complexity in the wine. These wines can be very full bodied, especially if some of the grapes have been allowed to over-ripen, and will certainly appeal to fans of Rich style whites. The best of these wines (look out for those from Borgo del Tiglio, Jermann, Livio Felluga, Miani and Schiopetto) are superb and amongst Italy’s finest.
Friulano is also blended with other varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling or the indigenous Ribolla Gialla. Excellent wines are also produced in the western region of neighboring Slovenia, which shares the same traditions and physical geography as Friuli. With the exception of Chile, where immigrants brought over vines from France in the nineteenth century, there is very little Friulano grown around the world. It is no longer grown in southwest France. There are just a few plantings in the USA, but it seems that most of the vines called Sauvignon Vert (another synonym for Friulano) in California are actually the Muscadelle variety.
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