Italy's powerhouse regions
Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia produce much of the country's top-rated wines
Hot spots: These two regions rank, respectively, are first and second in the production of Italy's top-rated wines. (Illustration by Rick Tuma)
These two regions rank, respectively, first and second in production of Italy's top-rated wines, as they are categorized in the country's appellation system, DOC (denominazione di origine controllata). Though together they make but 15 percent of Italy's total wine, they produce more than a third of all its DOC wines (and this within the presence of such prestigious regions as Tuscany and Piedmont).
Known primarily in export markets for their white wines, they also grow red wine grapes and, indeed, the people of the region drink more red wine than white.
The area is particularly historic — noted by Roman historian Pliny the Elder more than 2,000 years ago as a maker of "famous" wine; home to Julius Caesar's second-largest army after Rome's; and strategically key to Napoleon and invaders, conquerors and warriors before and after him.
The name "Friuli" comes from Caesar, after a corruption of "forum Iulii," or "Julius' forum." "Alto" Adige is the highest or northernmost stretch of the Adige River, a necklace along the foothills of the Alps. The moniker "Sudtirol" attaches itself to the region of Alto Adige in some uses due to its flip-flop ownership, from time to time, by southern Austria, the Tyrol. (It remains a bilingual area.)
The region is the birthplace of the grape gewurztraminer, from the vineyards around Termeno (Tramin, in sudtirolese), a grape associated most of all with Alsace, France, but that went to elementary school here.
What follows are notes on delicious offerings from both Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, with food pairing suggestions from the cuisines of the regions. (Because the area of Trentino, as a winemaking district, is distinct from Alto Adige , it does not appear on the label of any of the following wines.)
2010 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio "Porer," Alto Adige Sudtirol, Italy: Aromas and flavors of white peach tinged with elder blossom (like a few drops of St. Germain liqueur) carried by a round, nearly fat texture; closer to the pinot gris Alsatian style than the typical northern Italian pinot grigio, even so less costly than some of the latter; enjoy with cured ham or sausages. $23
2009 Petrucco Pinot Grigio, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy: A sip of this is like the purest, freshest juices of green apple with a spoonful of white pear and pineapple; very persistent flavors, finished by cleansing acidity; serve with dumplings filled with white meat or cheese slathered in butter. $18
2009 Tenuta Kofererhof, Alto Adige Sudtirol, Italy: Shut your eyes and you couldn't guess this out of a lineup of similar dry, full-on, tangy rieslings from either South Australia, Alsace or Austria; it blares with citrus-edged apple flavors and trap-door closing acidity; for the next platter of chilled shellfish or oysters. $29
2009 Ronco dei Tassi Friulano, Collio, Italy: The major native grape of Friuli to carry the region's name, this aromatic (orange blossom flowers, white spices) and unctuous white unfolds layers of flavors and textures as it passes through the palate; the bitter almond finish is characteristic of the variety and helpful with rich eats; enjoy with steamed or grilled asparagus with melted butter and Parmigiano shavings. $19
2010 Ermacora Friulano, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy: Orange- and rose-water-whispered top notes on peach juice, then bottom notes of minerals and crushed stone swept through at finish; as textured as pulpy fruit juice, too, with long, persistent flavor; delicious with Friulian prosciutto of San Daniele served with ripe figs. $20
2010 Dorigo Ribolla Gialla, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy: Another indigenous grape to the region, this is marked by a big nose of flower petals and minerals, wave on wave as you sniff it; the color of a ray of afternoon sun; enjoy with a Friulian dish of tempura-like fried fish and shellfish. $21
2006 Mayr-Nusser Lagrein Riserva, Alto Adige Sudtirol, Italy: Lagrein is a very old grape native to the area; with extra aging, as in this wine, the full force of the grape's full-on red fruit character comes alive; gorgeous, wide open aromas of dark cherries and wild raspberries, with chewy (but not tannic) texture and a juicy aftertaste; perfect for enjoying with nuggets of any grana-style cheese. $32
2010 Kellerei Kaltern Schiava Auslese "Pfarrhof," Alto Adige Sudtirol, Italy: Despite the renown of the region's whites, the red grape schiava grows here more than any other, by a large measure; it makes delightfully ebullient wine such as this rendition, spicy and inviting with little tannin, snappy acidity and a tongue-juicy finish; for hearty, filling dishes such as pasta with beans. $18
If your wine store does not carry these wines, ask for one similar in style and price.
Bill St. John has been writing and teaching about wine for more than 30 years.