I returned only late last night from a week in Northeastern Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia, one of my favorite wine-travel destinations, so The Wine Advisor resumes publication with a relatively brief edition today.
If you're receiving our HTML/graphics edition, you'll see at the top of this page a "post card" photo of the hilly vineyards of Collio, on Friuli's eastern edge where Italy and Slovenia meet. If you get the text edition (without pictures) or if you would like to view or download a larger photo, click to our Wine Country Wallpaper section online,
Two nations in a single picture: This is one of the things that makes Friuli-Venezia Giulia particularly interesting to me. This historic region situated between the Alps and the Adriatic has been an international crossroads since the times when early humans traded along the Amber Route from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. Julius Caesar's legions built fortresses here and attached his name to "Venezia Giulia" ("Julius's Venice.")
Slavic and Italian culture blend in Friuli with a hint of Germanic flavor left by the Austo-Hungarian empire, making for a more diverse cultural mix than you'll find in many parts of the world. Often torn by war, devastated in World War I and divided by the Iron Curtain after World War II, Friuli is at peace in modern times. It's a compact, scenic region where you can drive from sunny Adriatic beaches to snow-capped Alps within an hour or two under a gentle European climate that fosters excellent vineyards.
The local fare adds a Middle European flavor to Italian cuisine, featuring hearty dishes and more rice and polenta than pasta; orzotto, a risotto-like dish featuring barley in place of the usual rice, is a seasonal specialty of late winter.
And the wines are consistently appealing. Friuli may be best known for its whites, but it would be a mistake to judge the region by the river of modest Pinot Grigio that pours from its flatland regions. There's wine of real character here, both white and red. Many Friuli producers seek an international market with standard varieties including Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Franc; while others stay true to less familiar - but often exceptionally interesting - local grapes including the white Tocai Friulano and Ribolla, the red Refosco, Pignolo and Schiopettino, and the sought-after dessert wines Picolit, Verduzzo and Ramandolo.
As soon as I get my notes and photos together, I'll put a full Friuli Wine Diary 2003 online. Watch for the details.
And now for something completely different: One of my fellow travelers in Friuli was the genial Bob Lindo, who was visiting the region as a wine writer for Cornwall Today but whose full-time job is owner and wine maker of Camel Valley winery in Cornwall, a British winery that is developing an excellent reputation.
Bob shared a sample of his Cornwall Brut sparkling wine, and a memorable sample it was. Made by the traditional fermented-in-the-bottle method from the Seyval Blanc grape, a hybrid variety widely used in Great Britain and the Eastern U.S., it is a wine of exceptional quality, worth seeking out. (It's available in the UK from the winery Website and selected merchants, but might be difficult to find in the rest of the world ... with one odd exception: It is on the wine list at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas.)
Sparkling wine was actually conceived in Britain, not France, Bob observes with tongue-in-cheek pride, pointing out that a Christopher Merret presented a paper titled "How to Render Wine Sparkling" to the Royal Society a generation before Champagne was invented. "We render our wine sparkling by the traditional Merret method of 1662," he says.Camel Valley 2000 Cornwall Brut (£14)
Clear pale gold, with a good mousse and persistent stream of pinpoint bubbles. Fresh appley fruit and delicate bread-dough aromas lead into a crisp green-apple flavor, creamy and fine, with tart, cleansing acidity in the finish. (March 7, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Enjoyed as an aperitif, but it would be a good food match in any setting where quality sparkling wine is appropriate.
VALUE: A fine value, more than meets the competition at this price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Fine now and ready to drink, although its balance and structure suggests that it will keep well under cellar conditions.
WEB LINK: Camel Valley's Website is online at
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French Wine Explorers: Join us in Bordeaux!
We still have two openings left in the Best of Bordeaux tour that I will be leading on May 11-17 with Lauriann Greene and Jean-Pierre Sollin of French Wine Explorers; and a few spots are still available in a group with a similar itinerary that Lauriann and Jean-Pierre will lead in July.
Based in the historic heart of beautiful Bordeaux, we'll enjoy VIP visits and wine tasting at an all-star list of top properties including Margaux, Latour, Mouton Rothschild, Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Lagrange, Cos d'Estournel, La Conseillante, Belair (St. Emilion) and Chateau l'Evangile (Pomerol) and quite a few more, as well as dining at highly rated restaurants in the region.
The remaining spaces will go on a first-come, first-served basis, so don't delay! For full information or to make a reservation, send E-mail to email@example.com or call 1-877-261-1500 (toll-free in the U.S. and Canada).
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
Because of my travel schedule, The 30 Second Wine Advisor was published only on Monday last week. The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Thinking inside the box (March 3, 2003)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, March 10, 2003