Friuli-Venezia Giulia: A Primer

Posted on May 31, 2023

Friuli-Venezia Giulia is Italy’s foremost region for producing white wine.

Northern Italy wine region

A fabulous region to visit on all fronts.

Pronounced free-you-lee venn-eat-see-uh Julia, it is often referred to as simply Friuli for short. The region, located in the northeastern corner of the country is truly an undiscovered gem; a picturesque producer of world class wines sold at very fair prices and without the heavy tourism that seems to have taken over much of the wine world.

The defining characteristics of the region are the alps of Slovenia and Austria to its north and the Adriatic Sea to its south.

A map showing the DOCs [Source:]

The cooling influence of these mountains is tempered by the warming influence of this northern inlet of the Mediterranean Sea. The result is a variety of micro-climates showing cooler characteristics further inland, and more moderate climate nearer the coast.

Overall, Friuli’s moderate temperatures during the growing season accompanied by lots of sunshine make this a particularly good region for growing white grapes, which account for 77% of all plantings.

Also helping to define the wines of Friuli are its unique soils.

friuli vineyard

A vine in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy.

The locals call them “Ponca” (from the Friulian dialect) and these soils are a combination of marl (chalky clay) and sandstone. The Ponca is hard but easily crumbled which allows the vines to probe to depths of up to 15 metres which adds to the resulting wines’ complexity. These calcareous soils (high in calcium carbonate) are prized throughout the wine world as they also help the vines resist disease, retain and distribute water, and provide good acidity at harvest—a signature of Friulian wines.

Friuli has both international and indigenous grape varieties grown on its soils. International whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay grow well in Friuli, but we found the local varieties of Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istria and Vitovska were the stars of the show.

Friuli venezia giulia

The Vitovska variety was a standout among the white wines.

Friulian whites have high acid structures that are redolent of apple and stone fruit flavours with notes of citrus and grapefruit. Red International grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grow well there and make wines lighter in body and generally more tannic than when grown in their homeland of Bordeaux. The local red varieties of Refosco, Pignolo and Schiopettino show similar characteristics to the Bordeaux varieties and can be distinguished by their high acidity.

Winemaking in this region is characterized by a hands-off approach; a common mantra in winemaking circles these days, but this has always been the practice in Friuli. The naturally high acid, leaner profiles and fruitiness of the wines are generally not enhanced by busy or very active winemaking.

Friuli Venezia Giulia

Larger foudres are preferred in Friuli.

Consequently, new oak barrels are less in evidence than well-used, larger foudres and clay amphorae. These vessels when used to age the region’s wines add a bit of texture but generally not a flavour to the finished wine, the desired expression from the winemakers that we talked to.

Friuli is developing a reputation for producing some notable “orange wines”. These are wines made from white grapes that have taken on an orange or amber hue, the intended consequence of leaving the grape juice in contact with the grape skins for longer than normal amounts of time.

Conventionally, white grapes are pressed and immediately taken off their skins and placed into closed fermentation tanks where there is minimal ingress of oxygen.

Friuli’s reputation for Orange wine is growing [Source:].

This no oxygen (or frequently referred to as “reductive”) environment generally results in a fruitier expression. By leaving the grape juice in contact with the skins for a longer time, anywhere from a few days to a month, the juice will incorporate oxygen and extract flavour compounds, tannin and colour from the skins. These compounds that infuse orange wines also have the effect of stabilizing the wine. The enhanced stability reduces the need for adding external stabilizers, such as sulphur, to the wines. This has allowed for a close association between the orange wine movement and the natural wine movement, a winemaking ideology that advocates minimizing any adding to or taking from the wine.

A map showing the DOCs [Source:]

Like the remainder of Italy, Friuli is broken down into sub-regions that fit within a hierarchy of quality that descends from DOCG to DOC to IGT. There are 4 DOCGs, 12 DOCs and 3 IGTs in Friuli. Two of the highest quality sub-regions that we visited are Collio and Colli-Orientale. As colli means hill in Italian, these regions with their steeply terraced vineyards are appropriately named. If you are looking for quality wines from Friuli, these two sub-regions make a great place to start. Also notable on the quality scale, and ground zero for the orange wine scene, is the sub-region of Carso.

Friulian wine Jermann Chardonnay

One of the very best producers in Friuli.

Wineries of note in Friuli include Jermann, Miani and Radikon. On our trip to the region we tasted at Jermann, which will become the subject of a future article. Jermann is, in the opinion of many, the most praise-worthy estate in the region. Add our voice to that chorus.

It was recently acquired by the Antinori Group, the highly regarded collection of wineries mostly from Tuscany that includes such storied estates as Solaia and Tignanello. A Friulian acquisition by an estate with the stature of Antinori is a significant validation for the region. Another excellent Friulian estate is Miani. We were not able to visit that winery, but we did taste some of their white wines provided at a Friuli Wine Masterclass we attended while we were in the region. To us, they were the wines of the tasting. Friends of ours who we travelled with in Friuli had spent a few nights in Venice first and at a restaurant there they ordered a Mialani Merlot which had received a 97-point score and was one of the best wines this knowledgeable collector had tasted.

Friuli Venezia Giulia

The beauitiful Jermann winery recently acquired by the Antinori Group.

Most of the wineries in Friuli are smaller in size, less than 10,000 cases produced annually. Much of this production is consumed by the locals. The quality producers we mentioned above do export and can be found within international markets, if only in small quantities. Prices for these top-quality wines are very fair; they sell for a fraction of the prices of the top wines from Tuscany and Piedmont, the two reference-point Italian regions and the same can be said relative to Burgundy as well.

Michelin restaurant friuli

The gastronomic scene in Friuli is world-class.

If you find them on the shelves of your local bottle shop, buy them. Better still, find a reason to visit the region. We stayed in Trieste, about a 90-minute drive from Venice, and a charming seaport town with beautiful sites and easy access to the local wineries. Wine country in Friuli is a lush patchwork of green rolling hills, as pretty a wine region as anywhere. The gastronomy, a mix of Italian, Austrian and Slovenian influences, is incredible. Great wine paired with great food and great scenery – what more could you ask for?



    Playing catch-up! Thanks for a nice overview (great review for me). I’ve not tasted Jermann or Miani yet but may soon. We had a sudden curveball and now have July to explore. It might be in Fruili.

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    • Highly recommend the region…beautiful, terrific white wines and so few tourists!

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    • Thanks so much Martin! Knowing your love for the wines of the region, we take that as a great compliment. Cheers!

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