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When in Rome, look for Friuli when looking for white wines

Drinking the whites of Collio at their source
Drinking the whites of Collio at their sourceTempus Fugit Press

If you are traveling to Rome this summer, as seemingly millions of tourists are, and looking for a white wine to accompany a lighter course or seafood, or even when taking a break from the heat and crowds in thirst-quenching enoteca, look to the section labeled “Friuli” for white wines. You likely won’t be disappointed.

I was recently in Rome and most of the wine lists now sport white wines from Friuli, the most northeastern region in Italy, which abuts the Alps and Slovenia. This is the region that makes that makes the best white wines in Italy. Among the sub-regions in Friuli, look for “Collio.” “This is the finest white-wine area not only in Friuli but in all of Italy.” That observation about the Collio is from Italian Wine for Dummies (which is actually an excellent resource). The mild climate buttressed by the nearby Adriatic and the protective mountains to the north plus hill-laden vineyards atop unique, mineral-rich soil help provide nearly ideal conditions for several white varietals; and, excellent conditions for several red ones, too.

The whites from Collio are generally quite rich and fuller-bodied than the typical Italian whites, often with evident minerality and vibrant acidity. The wines are generally very well-made and approachable for most drinkers while having enough verve to excite an expert. Many have the ability to age. These are serious wines, even including the usually forgettable Pinot Grigio. Winemaker Roberto Felluga of Villa Russiz told my group when I visited a couple of summers ago that his reserve Pinot Grigio “can keep for a minimum of ten years,” something that you certainly should not try with a Pinot Grigio plucked from the supermarket shelf.

Though the wineries in Collio and Friuli are prouder of wines made from the native (Tocai) Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Malvasia grapes and efforts with Sauvignon (Blanc) and Pinot Bianco, it is Pinot Grigio that helps pay the bills. “Pinot Grigio is what changed the economy here” for grape-growers and wine-makers a few decades ago, I was told by a producer. It was famed food and wine writer Luigi Veronelli who recognized the area’s potential for Pinot Grigio. These wines then began to find popularity in markets around the world.

So, if Pinot Grigio is a must, look for “Collio” or Colli Orientali, a neighboring appellation. Otherwise, you are better served with a Ribolla Gialla, Friuliano or Sauvignon. The Friuliano, indigenous to the region, goes especially well with most seafood dishes and Sauvignon has the heft to stand up with a little heartier fare. Eric Asimov in the New York Times recently wrote about the utility and quality of Friuliano from Friuli. There is also excellent Malvasia, Pinot Bianco and a white blend simply titled “Collio,” whose mix of typically three varietals varies by producer that are almost always very good wines.

Another nice thing about the whites from Collio and Friuli, unlike the top reds from Tuscany or Piedmont, these will rarely cost more than 40 € at a restaurant in Rome, and most are much less. That is a little more expensive than a bland longtime Roman trattoria staple Frascati, but the additional tariff is certainly worth it. And, you are on vacation, anyway.

Friuli and Collio are also names to keep in mind when back at home.