1. I got interested in Friulian wines back in the '70's at the urging of DarrellCorti. Particularly
TokaiFriuliano (now just Friuliano...thanks Hungary) and RibollaGialla and SauvBlanc for the whites
and Schiopettino and Refosco for the reds. I try as many as I kind find that come down the pike.
An under-appreciated area of Italy. And right across the (very porous) border is Slovenia, where some truly superb wines are also being made, now that the shackles of Tito's Communism have been discarded.
It turns out that there is gentle swell (hardly what you'd call a tsunami) of interest in these varieties in Calif. The ringleader of this movement (if you'd call it that) is GeorgeVare
(http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/09/10/FD0L1FB88H.DTL), who's so passionate about Ribolla that he shares the small crop from his tiny vnyd with a number of other vintners who share his interest. These include PaxMahle/WindGap, Duncan&Nathan/Arnot-Roberts, DanPetroski/Massican (www.Massican.com), Enrico&Letezia/ArbeGarbe (www.ArbeGarbeWines.com), and Steve&Jill Matthiasson (www.Matthiasson.com). There's probably some other ones lurking out there as well, I suspect. It's a pretty ragtag bunch w/ no real organization, but they all seem pretty passionate about what they're doing. Mostly the emphasis seems to be on the white varieties.
2. Ribolla/Tokai: These are rather interesting varieties to me. I'm not real sure that I have a good handle on the varietal character of the two. There used to be a lot of SauvignonVert planted in NorthernCalif where it made a lot of lowly-regarded fairly neutral wines. Don't think I've knowingly had an varietal SauvVerts. The grape was subsequently shown to be one in the same as TokaiFriuliano; so there is suddenly a lot of interest in some of these old vnyds. I suspect we're going to be seeing a lot of Calif TokaiFriulano (where it's still legal to use the Tokai name...at least for now...until the friggin' Hungarians catch wind of it). Dan's Tokai comes from an old Nichlini vnyd up in ChilesVlly. Right in front of the home on Larkmead vnyd is a beautiful old block of Tokai. The grapes once went to StonyHill, but are now made by Dan at LarkmeadWnry.
Can Ribolla/Tokai make great wines and overthrow the Chardonnay paradigm in Calif?? Well...probably not. But I think they have enough varietal character that they can make some very interesting wines. Who knows... maybe great?
One of the attractions of Friulian whites is they go so well w/ much of the Friulian cusine. Another
attraction is that they're relatively inexpensive (w/ exceptions mentioned below). You can get some very pretty/delicious Friulian whites, but serious wines, in the low/mid-$20's. The NapaVlly is a pretty high-rent district. I think one of the challenges will be to make these wines at a price-point that they won't price themselves out of this limited niche-market. People will only pay so much for unique wines...as the vonStrasser Gruner has shown.
3. Refosco: Correctly known as Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, Refosco w/ the red pedical, or Refosk in Slovenia. I've probably had some three dozen examples by now. Very interesting red. It has a strong black cherry/black cherry cough syrup/cola slightly tarry/earthy character that can be quite lovely. And sometimes a bit rustic at times. The kind of grape Dolcetto would be if it could. It (and Schiopettino) should be pursued more in Calif, where I'm convinced they can make the world's greatest Refoschi.
For many years, people were convinced that Friuli's Refosco was the same grape as Savoie's Mondeuse and it was distributed by Davis folks as such. But later DNA typing indicated that the two grapes have no relationship. When PieroAntinori annd DickPeterson planted AtlasPeak way back then, they put in a small block of "Refosco".Darrell made a few vintages of Refosco/ Mondeuse back in the early '90's from those grapes. Since it is now known to be Mondeuse, that block was pulled after the '09 vintage. So sad. The Matthiasson's have probably now the only authentic planting of Refosco in Calif at their small estate vnyd. Both TobinJames and
BonnyDoon make a Refosco, but their authenticity is open to question.
Down in Deming, NM, Paola d'Andrea has a small planting of Refosco that goes to VivacWnry in Dixon. This is a quite hot growing area and not an ideal place for growing great wines. Many of the reds from his vnyd often have a slightly herbal hint that resembles sagebrush and chamisa. I got hints of that in this '07 Vivac, at a low enough level to make the wine interesting. Wonder of chamisa/sagebrush put out an oil into the air like eucalyptus? If Paola got his cuttings from Calif (which I suspect he did some 10-15 yrs ago), rather than import them himself...he probably has Mondeuse down there.
4. Frasca: Most of the above mentioned folks fell in love w/ Friulian varieties with a trip to Friuli and enjoying the wines with their cusine. It's magical, so people tell me. Any mention of Friulian wines/cusine would be remiss w/o a mention of BobbyStuckey & Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson's Frasca restaurant in Boulder. Truly one of the great Italian restaurants in the USofA, with an incredible wine list. And their Berkel is a thing of beauty.
5. OrangeWines: No discussion of Friulian whites would be complete w/o a discussion of the orange wine movement. These are white wines made like reds; skin contact and lees contact, sometimes quite lengthy; sometimes slightly oxidized. This movement seems to have come from Friulia/Slovenia and led by Radikon/Gravner/Simcic/Movia and a few others.There appears to be a growing interest in this genre from Calif winemakers as well; probably partially fueled by the high $$'s some of thos winemakers get for their wines. There also seems to be more appearing from
Georgia, where this traditional winemaking technique has ancient roots.
Is orange wine the wave of the future?? I have my doubts. But certainly these wines have their fans. I think there's definitely a niche market out there for them. I find some of them to just be plain weird. Are people willing to pay $100 for an orange wine. Apparently they are. They're not a wine that appeals to everyone. Several yrs ago, Susan & I had dinner at Perbacco. Nearby was a table of obvious wine geeks. They ordered the Gravner from the wine list and it was duly decanted at table and poured around. To a person, they wrinkled up their nose after the first sniff and hardly any of them took more than a first sip. I had the Somm take them a big glass of my Marzeminno and they reciprocated w/ a generous glass of the abandoned Gravner. It was rather oxidized and weird; but it had some amazing stuff going on in it and great complexity. As they say, you gotta think outside the box when you have orange wines. And serve them at a not-too-cold temperature so they tannins are not so fierce.