The source of some of Italy’s best and most distinctive white wines, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is where Italian, Germanic and Slavic cultures converge. The styles of wines produced in this region of Italy's far north-east reflect this merging of cultures. Often shortened to just “Friuli,” the area is divided into many distinct subzones, including Friuli Grave, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Collio Goriziano and Carso. The flat valley of Friuli Grave is responsible for a large proportion of the region’s wine production, particularly the approachable Pinot grigio and the popular Prosecco. The best vineyard locations are often on hillsides, as in Colli Orientali del Friuli or Collio. In general, Friuli boasts an ideal climate for viticulture, with warm sunny days and chilly nights, which allow grapes to ripen slowly and evenly.
In Colli Orientali, the specialty is crisp, flavorful white wine made from indigenous varieities like Friulano (formerly known as Tocai Friulano), Ribolla gialla and Malvasia Istriana.
Red wines, though far less common here, can be quite good, especially when made from the deeply colored, rustic Refosco variety. In Collio Goriziano, which abutts Slovenia, many of the same varieties are planted. International varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc are also common, but they tend to be Loire-like in style with herbaceous character and mellow tannins. Carso’s star grape is the red Teranno, notable for being rich in iron content and historically consumed for health purposes. It has an earthy, meaty profile and is often confused with the distinct variety Refosco.
Showing a unique rosy, purplish hue upon full ripeness, this “white” variety is actually born out of a mutation of Pinot Noir. The grape boasts two versions of its name, as well as two generally distinct styles. In Italy, Pinot Grigio achieves most success in the mountainous regions of Trentino and Alto Adige as well as in the neighboring Friuli—all in Italy’s northeast. France's Alsace and Oregon's Willamette Valley produce some of the world's most well-regarded Pinot Gris wine. California produces both styles with success.
Where Does Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio Come From?
Pinot Gris is originally from France, and it is technically not a variety but a clone of Pinot Noir. In Italy it’s called Pinot Grigio (Italian for gray), and it is widely planted in northern and NE Italy. Pinot Gris is also grown around the globe, most notably in Oregon, California, and New Zealand. No matter where it’s made or what it’s called, Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio produces many exciting styles.
Tasting Notes for Pinot Grigio
Pinot Grigio is a dry, white wine naturally low in acidity. Pinot Grigio wines showcase signature flavors and aromas of stone fruit, citrus, honeysuckle, pear and almond. Alsatian styles are refreshing, expressive, aromatic (think rose and honey), smooth, full-bodied and richly textured and sometimes relatively higher in alcohol compared to their Italian counterpart. As Pinot Grigio in Italy, the style is often light and charming. The focus here is usually to produce a crisp, refreshing, lighter style of wine. While there are regional differences of Pinot Grigio, the typical profile includes lemon, lime and subtle minerality.
Pinot Grigio Food Pairings
The viscosity of a typical Alsatian Pinot Gris allows it to fit in harmoniously with the region's rich foods like pork, charcuterie and foie gras. Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, with its citrusy freshness, works well as an aperitif wine or with seafood and subtle chicken dishes.
Given the pinkish color of its berries and aromatic potential if cared for to fully ripen, the Pinot Grigio variety is actually one that is commonly used to make "orange wines." An orange wine is a white wine made in the red wine method, i.e. with fermentation on its skins. This process leads to a wine with more ephemeral aromas, complexity on the palate and a pleasant, light orange hue.