Friuli Venezia Giulia
Parts of this region of Italy did not become Italian until after the First World War. After the war a large section of what had been the Austro-Hungarian Empire was ceded to Italy who had fought on the side of the Allies. Historically, therefore, for many areas German is the first language. I certainly remember being very surprised on going into a supermarket and finding it bilingual with German as the first language. Also in the mix are two other languages, Friulian and Slovene.
In the far north of Friuli Venezia Giulia you find the stark peaks of the Dolomites, a favourite area for hiking and winter sports. In the south lies the capital, Trieste, a beautiful and economically important port close to the borders with Slovenia and Croatia. The Piazza Unità d’Italia in the city centre is said to be the largest square in Europe and faces directly onto the Adriatic Sea. In the centre of this region is the city of Udine with the magnificent Piazza della Libertà whose buildings remind you that for many years this was an important city in the Venetian republic.
The mountainous north precludes viticulture and so the wine-growing areas in this region are all in the south. There are four DOCG wines produced here. Lison, a white wine, is made from the Friulano grape and the area designated for this wine unusually overlaps with the neighbouring region of Veneto. For the best of this dry, fruity wine go for the classico produced in the oldest part of the area.
By way of contrast, from the northern edge of grape cultivation comes the sweet white wine named Ramandolo which takes its name from the village at the centre of this small and elevated area. At about 1250 feet above sea level, this is one of the coldest areas for wine production in the region so the harvest is late and the ground is also steep so the grapes are gathered by hand. The resulting wine can almost be compared to a vin santo.
Closer to the sea, we find another small wine-producing area that received its DOCG status relatively recently in 2011. Rosazzo is a blend of at least 50% Friulano grapes with Sauvignon Blanc and other permitted varieties. This an intense, mineral-rich white wine that is well worth looking out for.
Whilst this area is predominantly known for its white wine there are some interesting reds made here from the indigenous varieties Schioppettino and Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso that will reward anyone prepared to travel to the area around Prepotto in the hills east of Udine.