Italy was about noon on a sunny fall weekday when I walked to the Enoteca di Cormons, expecting to get directions to a local winery. I had sought out the city’s wine bar after a yearlong railway journey in Venice, in which I had been living while writing a book.
A Venetian restaurant I frequented had served me a Pinot Grigio is an Italian area named Friuli Venezia Giulia, located to the east, alongside Slovenia, therefore clarified the waiter. The wine, produced by a small winery called Venica, was so yummy I decided I need to visit it. This was the sole aim of my trip into Cormons 25 decades back. I wasn’t prepared for almost any deeper discovery. I wasn’t seeking to change my entire life.
The wine bar, which doubled as the Italy’s visitor center, was amazingly crowded during the hour. Its patrons were Austrian tourists, together with different ruddy-faced fellows with thick palms whom I chose to become farmers before recognizing that they had been winemakers. I was the sole American at the Enoteca, however, that I was lost in the convivial mess of girls in furs and somewhat over-served guys who brayed lovingly while their little dogs hoovered prosciutto from the ground.
The wines available were from Cormons vineyards–many of these miniatures in scale, unknown to the external world. Some of these bore labels with Slovenian monikers: Keber, Prinčič, Picéch, Drius, Magnàs. I asked one of the bartenders to get a glass of Venice.
She clarified in Italy–which winery was in Bologna, eight kilometers off. The Enoteca served just neighborhood wines in Italy,” she explained. She subsequently poured me a glass by a little winemaker who lived a few miles down the street named Edi Keber.
It was a white wine composed of 3 vague indigenous blossoms: Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, and Ribolla Gialla. I took a sip. The wine was aromatic, both saline and peppermint in taste, owning a sort of nutrient power since it coursed down my tongue. It had been the very remarkable white wine I’d ever attempted appeared almost secondary to a more encompassing revelation: A wine could describe a location in a sense that no word or image could.
This was then. I have since made a second home from this Enoteca di Cormons, as well as the Friuli region Generally. Its wine is essential to our connection. The Alps looming to the north east-west, the Adriatic Sea to the south, as well as also the mineral-rich rolling hills in between all conspire to make an exquisite all-natural balance for individual encounter and, for that matter, grape-growing.
Twenty-five decades since my very first trip, Friuli stays strangely under-touristed. I guess there are good explanations. Being on the border with Slovenia and Austria, its own culture and nomenclature are not straightforwardly Italian. Its capital town, Trieste, just became part of Italy following World War II.
A proud winemaking heritage in Italy
Friuli has its remarkable Roman ruins and fine castles, and of course a number of the nation’s most significant war memorials; however, it lacks a world-renowned art museum or a leaning tower to draw busloads of gawkers. And even though it rivals Tuscany and Piedmont since Italy’s most important wine areas, these two are a lot more famous for a very simple reason: They concentrate on red wines, white.
Friuli is where I have discovered that white wines aren’t only to be chucked down, but rather deserve one’s total attention. Since Cormons’ preeminent manufacturer of Malvasia, Dario Vaccaro, stated to me years before, with attribute intentness, “Robert, tu sai che io sono Bianchi sat”–significance, “you understand that I am a manufacturer of whites,” a joyful vocation unto its own in Italy.
The titles Raccaro, Keber, Venica, and Toros predominate Italy’s award competitions annually (and thankfully, are available from the United States) since there’s rigor and character behind each classic. The area also offers an abysmal canvas for expressing land with precision.
Winemakers such as Keber close Cormons, by way of instance, grow their blossoms in marlstone, which yields bracingly fresh wines which stand well with a minimum of human intervention. That is even more true from the higher-altitude village of Dolegna only a few miles off, in which the Venica winery that drew me into the area produces wines that are supernaturally aromatic and apple-crisp, kindred into the cold-climate Austrian wines one hour’s drive northwest.
About the Isonzo plains, the website of a few of World War I’s bloodiest struggles, the persistent vulnerability to sun yields Sauvignon Blancs that rival those of Sancerre or Marlborough. Closer to Trieste and the Adriatic, the rocky limestone soil on the Carso plateau is just another world, one where artisans such as Beniamino Zidarich and Edi Kante have generated marvels in the indigenous grape Vitovska that attain a stony elegance and so struggle a casual Chardonnay quaffer’s idea of what type of wine could be.
I saw Kante’s winery back in 1998. A tall, obstinate genius, he’s exactly what the Italians call un gran personaggio, a legitimate personality –although also a generous person, devoting a late day to a broad tasting of his wines before directing me into a backwoods trattoria I’ve never since been able to discover.
In the same way, the beautifully manicured Josko Gravner, that ferments his Ribolla Gialla grapes in Georgian amphorae buried underneath the ground, received me in his winery in 2000 and after that, by way of describing where he had been coming out of both literally, drove me around the boundary to stand together with his grandma’s grave in Slovenia in Italy.
Now, when I see the Enoteca di Cormons, I am liable to run to a Bianchi sat such as Franco Toros or the amazing wine pro-Roman Rizzi who, following a boisterous hug, always signals to get a jar of his earning to be sent our way. Their affability, indigenous to Friuli’s peasant customs, masks a devotion to their craft that has just deepened over successive generations in Italy. Really, since my very first trip to Friuli, progeny such as Giampaolo Venica, Luca Vaccaro, and Kristian Keber have assembled on their dads’ work with advanced approaches to avocado mixing and fermentation.
Drinking from the background in Italy
The area’s bianchiste will probably not stray far from what’s given them creative satisfaction, in addition to small renown. Of Friuli’s twenty thousand acres dedicated to vineyards, over three-fourths of its generation is wine. (In Tuscany, the ratio is almost precisely the contrary.) However, it should surprise no one the very same winemakers can work wonders with blossoms too.
I was reminded of the 1 day a couple of years ago, once I chose a 45-minute push from Trieste to fulfill an older friend at Locanda Devetak 1870, a restaurant about a mile from the Slovenian border. The narrow, unlit, and rarely marked state road leading there foreshadows the unpretentious, tradition-bound location it has been for over 150 decades. However, thanks to its patriarch, Augustin Devetak, the nation trattoria also boasts one of the most impressive wine cellars in Friuli.
Giulio Colomba was awaiting me at our desk in Italy. A biologist by training, Colomba co-founded the Slow Food gastronomic motion in 1989 and has been for several years that the Friuli wine critic for Gambero Rosso, the honored yearly manual of Italy finest wines.
In my first days in Friuli, I’d encounter Colomba in wine bars and restaurants. It shortly became my custom to request anything that bespectacled guy with the mustache was drinking. For somebody who learned, I discovered him to be refined, inquisitive, and always up for a battle. This time I needed both people to spend a day drinking just the area’s red wines.
It was a chilly January night, created for broiled venison and ravioli filled with porcini mushrooms. The chef and matriarch Gabriella Devetak was in her customary form, serving meals that have been unfussy but yummy. Augustin materialized out of his basement with four bottles–each of reds, a decade or so older, representing distinct corners of the area.
One of these showcased the local grape called Terran, by convention a rustic accompaniment to wild boar and gnocchi. But at the hands of Beniamino Zidarich, the wine has been persistent. Much more memorable was a Pignolo, a grape which has been rescued from extinction a couple of decades ago and can be regarded as Friuli’s noble response to Cabernet.
However, for me, the area’s definitive red wine has ever been its interpretation of Merlot: much stronger and deep than the often-cloying variant in America. So it was the day when Colomba and that I dropped into a rhapsody on a 20-year-old deep crimson jewel called Rubrum, created by the soft-spoken Franco Sosol of Il Carpino, by the large boundary village of San Floriano a dozen kilometers off. We both moaned in amazement as the very first sip of Sasol’s Merlot went. The wine critic then only explained, “The victor of this evening “
Hardly for the very first time, I believed Friuli’s capability to surprise. “An individual could come here,” I discovered, “and thankfully just drink red wines” in Italy.
Colomba smiled softly. “You can,” he explained. “But why do you?”