Delicious Friuli white
Ask me my favorite wine region to visit, which may or may not be a different thing than my favorite wine region for tasting, and my first response is likely to be, "The place I toured last and remember best."
I'm also constrained by a strong natural instinct to shun naming favorites, preferring to sample widely and joyously in a world filled with so many good things.
But when I slow down and think it over, it's hard to imagine a wine place that I like much better than Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
This smallish region on Italy's far northeastern corner may not seem like an obvious choice. It produces only 2 percent of Italy's wine, most of it white and an unfortunate share of it forgettable, overcropped flatland-grown Pinot Grigio. It isn't really known for any of the great, collectible wines that have become iconic in more famous Italian regions like Tuscany and Piemonte.
But it's just such an easy, amiable place to visit and get around in, full of small, welcoming wineries and eateries where any visitor quickly feels right at home. Its major city, Trieste, is manageable in size, and its smaller towns, from regional capitals Udine and Gorizia to memorable villages like Cividale, provide the kind of off-the-beaten-path memories that travelers love to tell about.
Perhaps best of all, Friuli - like its border neighbor Slovenia, one of the former Yugoslav republics and now an independent member of the European Union - boasts that it provides the traveler an experience of "Europe in miniature." From sunny harbor towns on the Adriatic, one can drive quickly through plains, meadows and forests, up toward the hills (perhaps in quest of memorable San Daniele ham) and, within a couple of hours, come within sight of the Alps.
And vineyards? You'll find them just about everywhere. But for my money, take me to the hilly country along the Slovene border where Slovene is almost as widely spoken as Italian - from Trieste up past Cividale, in the regions called Collio ("Hills") and Colli Orientali ("Eastern Hills") - and chances are I'll be happy with the wine. Pinot Bianco, Friulano (formerly known as Tocai), Verduzzo and sweet Picolit and even, in these quarters, Pinot Grigio, make white wines of fresh, steely and complex flavor that are well worth coming back for.
I particularly like Friuli white blends, and for today's tasting offer a recent discovery that's particularly amiable. Marco Cecchini 2008 "Tové" Colli Orientali del Friuli Bianco is an odd but effective mix of Tocai and Verduzzo with a touch of Picolit. A real value in the middle teens, its scent is all about tropical fruit, with a crisp, food-friendly flavor that turns the conversation to stones and steel, white fruit and a hint of bitter almond.
At this point it appears to be a new import; I hope it soon becomes more widely available. My tasting notes are below.
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Today's Tasting Report
Marco Cecchini 2008 "Tové" Colli Orientali del Friuli Bianco ($16.99)
Transparent straw color. Subtle but delicious scents, typical of Friuli: pears, fresh green figs, a whiff of honey and a touch of almond. Crisp and dry, flavors follow the nose, framed by food-friendly acidity and rational 13% alcohol, with a hint of pleasant peach-pit bitterness in the finish. U.S. importer: Vanguard Wines LLC, Columbus. (April 2, 2011)
FOOD MATCH: Based on my happy recollections of travels in Friuli, I'd think first of shellfish from the nearby Adriatic with this rich, appealing white, but it would be fine, too, with veal, pork or poultry. It made an excellent pairing with a simple variation on bouillabaisse made with bluefish, onions, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes and a bit of saffron.
WEB LINKS AND FINDING THIS WINE ONLINE:
I haven't had much luck finding sources for this wine at Wine-Searcher.com, but try this link for a wide variety of Friuli white blends.
The U.S. importer may be able to point you to retailers in your region; and here's a glowing review of Tové from 3Cups Wine, a shop in Chapel Hill, N.C.
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