Vines & Vittles: A hidden gem from Friuli

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Vines & Vittles

A salad of arugula, thinly sliced fennel, Vidalia onions and fresh orange slices in a dressing of DiTrapano extra-virgin olive oil, some freshly squeezed orange juice and a touch of balsamic vinegar paired wonderfully with a 2016 Bastianich Vespa Bianco.

As I have stated many times, Italy is a boot full of wine. Each of its 20 regions has multiple wine appellations within them where an incalculable number of distinct grape vines are harvested each year and produce mind-boggling amounts of vino.

When Americans think of Italian wine, most of us conjure up visions of Tuscany, where the wines of Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino take center stage. Some of us know about the Veneto region where Soave, Valpolicella and Amarone are the principal wines, or in Piedmont where Barolo and Barbaresco are highly prized bottles.

Today, I’ll tell you about a wine in the little-known region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Pronounced “Free-ull-ee Ven-eat-see-uh Julia,” the region is located in the far northeastern section of Italy, bordering Slovenia to the east and Austria to the north. The capital city of the region is Trieste, located across the Adriatic Sea from Venice.

The two most respected wine appellations of Friuli are the Colli Orientali and the Collio, both of which are located in the northeastern part of the state. While some red wine is produced in Friuli, such as merlot and refosco, the region is known primarily for whites, the most notable being the Friulano, ribolla gialla, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot grigio.

I recently tasted a wine from Colli Orientali that took my breath away, especially when paired with, as it was in this case, the appropriately compatible dishes. This bottle is produced by a family better known for its exceptional Italian restaurants than for its wines. If the name Bastianich sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen the public television shows hosted by Lidia Bastianich, the chef and founder of the family’s restaurant empire.

And if you’ve been to any of the Eataly establishments located in Chicago, Las Vegas or other major U.S. cities, or if you’ve had the pleasure of dining at Dell Posto or Felidia in New York, you understand why the Bastianich name is synonymous with great Italian cuisine. Lidia’s son, Joe Bastianich, founded the eponymous winery in 1997 in the very region of Italy where his mother was born.

The 2016 Bastianich Vespa Bianco ($30) is a medium- to full-bodied white that has ripe pear flavors with hints of honey and almonds. It is round and rich, yet crisp, with balancing acidity that should allow it to age gracefully for several more years.

If you can’t locate it in your favorite wine shop, simply ask your purveyor to order it for you. The wine is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and a local Friulian grape, picolit.

While this wine was a match made in heaven when paired it with grilled Chilean sea bass, it blew us away when we sipped the last few ounces with our salad! My wife created a salad of arugula, thinly sliced fennel and Vidalia onions, fresh orange slices in a dressing of DiTrapano extra-virgin olive oil, some freshly squeezed orange juice and just a touch of aged balsamic vinegar.

Oh my! Can you say serendipity? I know it was just dumb luck, because I probably would never have thought of intentionally pairing the wine with a salad, but I’m glad we had a sip or two remaining when we finished the Chilean sea bass. It goes to show it pays to be adventurous — or at least save a little wine for salad or dessert.

You might ask your wine shop to show you the bottles they have from Friuli. These are wines worth seeking out.

For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown’s Vines & Vittles blog at John is also an author and his novel, “Augie’s War,” is available online and at bookstores.

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