A Brief History
Friuli-Venezia-Giulia lies in the North East of Italy, bordering Austria in the north, Slovenia in the east, Trentino and Veneto in the west, and the Adriatic in the south. Its capital is Trieste, once an important free port of the Austrian Empire. Its population consists of the Italian Friulani, (who speak Friulan, a Romance language, derived from the Latin spoken by Roman soldiers), as well as some small German and Slav communities.
Its history goes back thousands of years; its first inhabitants were the Celt, Venetian and Illyrian tribes; Friuli was colonised by the Romans in the 2nd c BC, who founded Aquileia in 181 BC, which became the capital of the tenth Italic region of Venetia and Histria. Aquileia was one of the most important economic centres of the Roman Empire, reaching a population of 200,000 in its heyday. With the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the low Carso mountains offered easy access for the Barbarian invasion, causing devastation to the region; Aquileia was sacked by Theodosius in 452 AD and vandalised by Attila the Hun, after which it never fully recovered its former importance.
Albion, king of the Longobards, conquered Friuli in 568, establishing his first Duchy there. The capital was transferred to Forum Julii, (the city founded by Julius Caesar in 50 BC), which later gave the name to the whole region. It became a semi-autonomous duchy, enjoying a certain degree of stability. In 774, Charlemagne, king of the Franks, defeated the Longobards, and annexed Friuli to the Frankish Empire. He changed the name Forum Julii to Civitas Austriae, city of the east, known today as Cividale. The Franks introduced feudalism to the region and gave land rights to the Church. They established the Patriarch of Aquileia, which became one of the most important authorities of the Church in the Middle Ages, receiving a ducal title from Emperor Henry IV in 1077. Under Otto of Northeim, the Patriarch seat came under the influence of the German nobility, and oversaw the distribution of land to German families. The Venetian Republic was growing in strength, and it gradually incorporated large parts of Friuli, taking over the whole region in 1420. The Venetians encouraged the immigration of slavs to farm the land, and today the two communities live side by side, intermarrying. Over the years some slavs have completely integrated into the Italian culture, and others still maintain their Slovenian language and culture. However, Venice deliberately excluded the local nobility from both public office and the military, and as a consequence the region declined, and never took part in the renaissance enjoyed by other Italian regions.
In 1516, the eastern part of the region, including Gorizia and Trieste came under the influence of Austria, with Trieste, a prosperous and sophisticated city, becoming the important imperial port. In 1866 Friuli was unified with the newly born Kingdom of Italy, with the exception of Trieste and Gorizia, which in addition to Istria were unified after World War I. Later after World War II Italy lost part of its eastern territory, including Istria to Yugoslavia. With the boundaries being redrawn, many people had their properties halved, and special permits had to be issued enabling them to farm their land across the border. Now that Slovenia has become part of Europe, the boundaries have relaxed greatly, and the two communities are beginning to reintegrate.
The cuisine of the region has its roots in its Celtic ancestry, with dishes such as minestre ( thick soup with pulses and or cereals) being the most popular daily meal; a traditional soup Jota (pronounced yota) consisting of beans, sauerkraut and sometimes barley and pork, was one a peasant dish, but is now a regional speciality. Cured and smoked meats of which the Celts were masters, are prized in Friuli. A thriving artisan industry produces Prosciutto San Daniele, known all over the world, as well as Prosciutto di Sauris and various types of salami, smoked game and duck. Pork is the most common meat, eaten throughout the year, with a huge variety of dishes; musetto is a traditional boiled sausage, made of ground pork, flavoured with red wine, pig snout and seasonings. Huge cornfields dominate much of the landscape, providing corn for the staple polenta, an alternative to bread in some areas.
Exotic combinations and unusual tastes abound: in the North, a strong Austrian influence is visible, with indiscriminate use of sugar, butter, cheese, fruit jams and mustards in many dishes from starters to desserts; a typical dish is cialzons di Artu, which is a ravioli filled with potato, chopped apple and pear, crumbled biscuits, lemon balm, basil, marjoram, raisins, salted ricotta cheese, plum jam, sugar and cinnamon. Another dish would begnocchi di susine filled with plum and served with cinnamon sugar (also found in Polish cuisine.) The goulash is a traditional dish - a reminder of its Austro-Hungarian past, as well as sauerkraut and brovada - turnip fermented with discarded grape skins used for winemaking.
Along the coast, the cuisine has a Venetian influence, with a variety of seafood dishes, many of which can be found in the neighbouring region. Eel is particularly popular amongst locals. Minestre are popular as well as risotto and polenta, an influence from Veneto. Trieste has never forgotten its Byzantine past, with the popular riso alla greca.
Montasio is the traditional cheese – a cow’s milk cheese either eaten fresh or aged 6-12 months for a mature taste, and often grated like Parmesan. Wafers of cooked Montasio cheese are called Frico.
Desserts have a Germanic or Austrian influence like the apple strudel or Venetian ring cake cuguluf, and a traditional cake gubana is made with dried fruit and raisins.
One feels overwhelmed by the different styles of cuisine coexisting together, and wonders how certain unimaginable combinations can work. But somehow, looking at its history, it all makes sense: many cultures and ethnic groups have touched this land. Today Italians, Germans, and Slovanians all Friulani,are proud of their heritages, and happy to live in harmony with all their differences.
Friuli Grape Varieties
Friuli has had an uninterrupted wine making tradition; the Celts, the first to make wine, learned it from the Etruscans. However it was under the Romans that winemaking in the region became a proper industry, and these wines were appreciated throughout the empire; Pliny the Elder tells us that Augustus’ wife Livia Drusilla Claudia attributed her longevity to the wines from Aquileia.
Despite Friuli’s long history of invasions, the winemaking legacy was never completely destroyed; the Lombards, Avars, various Germanic tribes, Slavs in the Middle Ages, and then the Venetians, French and Austrians all valued and enjoyed its wines and each added to the wine tradition. Today Friuli is a dynamic wine region, producing some of the most outstanding white and red wines not only in Italy but in the World. Used to constant change, it has adapted quickly to the market trends, introducing new grape varieties and techniques to its traditional ones.
This grape variety, typical in the eastern hills of Friuli Venezia Giulia and Slovenia (known as Rebula) has been grown since time immemorial and the oldest historical document that mentions it dates back to the late Middle Ages. The Italian poet, Boccaccio listed the indulgence of Ribolla wines as one of the sins of gluttony. It is also found on the Greek island of Cephalonia, where it was introduced by the Venetians. Once very popular, it was abandoned in favour of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. A truly great indigenous grape, it has now been re-evaluated and replanted by local winemakers.Ribolla Gialla finds its best expression in the hills of Carso, Collio and Colli Orientali Del Friuli where it produces expressive wine with great ability to age.
Tocai Friulano now Friulano.
This grape is believed to have originated in the Veneto region from where it spread to other Italian regions, especially Friuli, where it has been cultivated since 1600. The grape has been known as Tocai or Tocai Friulano for centuries, even though it has no known relation to any of the grapes used in the Hungarian wine Tokaji; however, there is a story that following the wedding of the Venetian princess Aurora Formentii to the Hungarian Count Batthujany in 1632, some vines of Tocai Friulano were taken with the princess to Hungary. To better distinguish the wines and to protect the Tokaji name, in 1993 the European Union established regulations prohibiting the use of names too closely associated and easily confused with Tokaji. Winemakers in Friuli elected to refer to the grape simply as Friulano. The grape is also planted outside Italy in the Goriška region of Slovenia, especially in the Vipava Valley and Brda where it has always been known as "Tokaj". After the European Union decree, the Slovenian wine producers changed the name of their wine to Sauvignonasse or Zeleni Sauvignon (Green Sauvignon). It is also known as Sauvignon Vert in Chile.
Ampelographers believe that the Malvasia family of grapes are of ancient origin, most likely originating in Greece. The name is generally thought to derive from Monemvasia, a Venetian fortress on the coast of Laconia, known in Italian as "Malvasia". Malvasia Istriana is widely grown in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, the name coming from the Istria peninsula spanning over Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. The vine was introduced to the area by Venetian merchants who brought cuttings from Greece, and the wine produced has a floral and citrus character with hints of acacia and apricot
This grape is believed to be a cross between Prosecco (Glera) and Malvasia, and is found in the Carso area of Friuli and Slovenia. Planted for its resistance to the strong Bora wind, it produces minerally-driven wines with subtle flavour, elegant and creamy.
Verduzzo has a long history in northeast Italy, with the first written record of the grape dating back to June 6, 1409, in a list of wines served at a banquet in Cividale del Friuli in honour of Pope Gregory XII. The Verduzzo grape tends to thrive on hillside vineyards with good exposure to the sun, which give this mid to late-ripening variety ample time to achieve full phenolic ripeness. The grape tends to be very resistant to botrytis and grey rot, and lends itself well to the production of late harvest wines. Only 60 hectares of Verduzzo Friulano are planted today, producing a remarkable dessert wine Verduzzo di Ramandolo DOCG.
There is also a Verduzzo Trevigiano but DNA analysis proved it to be a different grape variety altogether.
The origin of the grape unknown, it is most commonly associated with sweet dessert wines, often made in the passito style. Historically planted in poor and infertile vineyards, the grape gets its name from its small bunches and small grapes, which in Friulian language is called pecolèt or pecolùt. The grape had a worldwide reputation in the 18th century, when it was drunk in Royal households from Great Britain to the Russian Empire. Although it experienced cult wine popularity in the 1960s & 1970s, Picolit's extremely small yields have always made it economically difficult to grow, limiting the number of plantings. Picolit’s finest expression has its own denomination: Picolit Colli Orientali del Friuli DOCG.
In the last 50 years the region has witnessed an influx of international grapes that have helped to put it on the world map as a great white wine producing district. The most popular are:
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco. Other grape varieties can also be found, on their own or in blends, such as: Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Rhine Riesling, Muller Thurgau.
Orange wines are wines made with white grape varieties that undergo long maceration with the skin, leaving the wine with a coppery/dark orange tinge. This practice, historical in eastern European countries (Armenia, Georgia, Slovenia and Croatia), was first adopted in Friuli by Jasco Gravner, who became disillusioned with modern wine making and looked to the ancients for inspiration. ‘Orange’ wines also happen to be great food wines, as the tannin from the grape skins cleanses the palate and provides the elements to pair wines exceptionally well with a number of foods. That said, the wines can be challenging for consumers who aren’t quite prepared for this style. The best way to experience these wines is to decant bottles several hours in advance, use glasses suitable for important red wines and serve the wines at cellar temperature. Friuli’s top producers in this school are Gravner, Radikon, Princic, Vodopivec, Zidarich and Damijan.
White is the wine of choice for the majority of Friulian people whether they are having fish or meat. Collio DOC, Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC and Carso DOC are the source of some of the finest Italian white wines.
Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso
Indigenous to northern Italy, it is widely planted in Friuli, producing deep-coloured wines with crushed berry fruit aromas and good acidity level. The grape was first mentioned in 1347; related to the Marzemino grape, it was a favourite of Casanova. Today it is found in a number of styles, from the simple and fresh to the oak-aged that can be rich and complex. Miani produces a mythical and rare Refosco Calvari in Colli Orientali Del Friuli, sadly almost impossible to get hold of.
Terrano, grown on the hills of Carso as well as in the Istrian Peninsula is related to theRefosco, where it acquires a distinctive character because of the red soil here. Its appeal is in its lively crushed berry fruit with lively acidity, a suitable match for cured meats and pork dishes of the area.
Schioppettino, meaning "gunshot" or "little crack" is also known as Ribolla Nera, (no relation to the white grape of the same name. It is grown predominately in the Friuli Venezia Giulia area and is believed to have originated between the village of Prepotto and the Slovenian border, where records of Schioppettino wine being used in marriage ceremonies dates back to 1282.
The grape was nearly lost to extinction following the phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century because vineyard owners decided against replanting the variety in favour of international grape varieties. Today with many producers replanting the grape, the best examples come from Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC where it produces aromatic, medium-bodied wines with Rhône-like qualities of deep, dark colour with violet, raspberry and pepper notes. In addition to thriving in the Prepotto area, Schioppettino also seems to do well in the Buttrio-Manzano area.
Found predominantly in Friuli, it was rarely replanted after the phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century, due to its low yields. The Pignolo roots can be traced back to the vineyards of the Rosazzo Abbey, where it was probably originally planted by the Benedictine monks. The name derives from the shape of its bunches which are small and firm, reminiscent of a pine cone (pigna in Italian). Its presence in the region has been documented since 1398, when Francesco from Carrara requested a permit from the Serenissima (as the Maritime Republic of Venice was known at the time) to ship 20 barrels of Pignolo from Rosazzo in Friuli to Padua, for his own use and well-being, following the advice of his doctor. Pignolo is a remarkable indigenous grape variety, which planted on the right sites can produce truly, great wines. With great aromatics and inner perfume, it produces dark full-bodied wine with tons of extract and fruit, and remarkable ageing potential. Amazing results are being achieved with this grape variety by an increasing number of producers in Colli Orientali del Friuli.
After the phylloxera epidemic, viticulture was slow to recover. Many of the less productive grape varieties were abandoned in favour of more reliable Merlot and Cabernet Franc. In the 70’s and 80’s, with the high demand for quality wines, planting of international grape varieties increased with experimentation in Cabernet Sauvignon Pinot Nero.
Most Friulian wines are sold under the name of the grape variety, followed by the district of origin.
Friuli Recipe - Faraona alla Birra (Guineafowl cooked in beer)
INGREDIENTS - Serves 4
1.2 kg guineafowl
2tbs olive oil
3 shallots diced
3 stalks celery diced
1 med carrot diced
salt and pepper
1 33cl lager/beer
1. Cut guineafowl into 8 pieces
2. Sautee celery, carrot and shallots until they start to colourand put aside
3. Sautee pieces of guineafowl in olive oil until goldenin a large saucepan
4. Add vegetables and thyme and sage and mix together
5. Add beer
6. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 10 mins
7. Transfer to oven dish and put in oven for 30 mins at 180C
8. Serve with soft polenta or mash
Monday - Thursday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 22.30
Friday & Saturday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 23.00