We’re Not in Kansas Anymore Toto
Some of you know I’m stationed with the US Air Force in the Friuli Region of Italy (60 miles north of Venice). But I didn’t begin my career here. I began my career near Eldorado, Kansas. And Eldorado’s “claim to fame” is that it is near the home of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
In the movie, there is a scene where Dorothy and Toto have landed “over the rainbow” when Dorothy looks at her little dogs and says “Were not in Kansas anymore, Toto.” Well, neither am I.
About a year and a half ago I moved to the Friuli Region of Italy (from Cambridge, England). Most American’s have little experience with Friuli, since there are so few wines from this region that make it to the States. In fact, Friuli as a Region is always referred to as part of the “F-V-G” Region (Friuli-Venezia-Giulia). Only in Northeast Italy do they divide up the region into its three smaller groups. There is a LOT of wine produced in EVERY region of Italy and the FVG is no exception. But the only D.O.C.s in the F-V-G Region are for two dessert wines, Picolit and Romandolo. I’m sure those names rolled off your tongue!
Unlike France who uses the AOC to identify “appellations,” the Italians use DOC (and DOCG) to designate areas where specific grapes grow best. For example, you can have a DOC for Refosco, in the same soil as a non-DOC for Merlot. So DOC is NOT appellation, but the regions wine authority’s having designated where the specific grapes grow best. Using the Italian DOC/DOCG system with an American example; Napa Valley could be a DOCG for Cabernet Sauvignon, a DOC for Merlot, and an IGT for Chardonnay, all grown in Napa valley. So DOC, does not equate to AOC. (The Italians won’t do anything similar to the French!!)
The F-V-G Region runs from the Austria, and Croatia borders, to the Adriatic Sea and from Trieste to near Venice (which is actually in the Veneto Region). The F-V-G region is home to the town of Prosecco, even though most of the world’s prosecco is produced in the Veneto Region.
In the F-V-G, they produce a LOT of jug/house wine. It is the common replacement for water at most meals. And it cost about the same as bottled water. If you take your own jug to the local winery, they will fill it up with a hose from the tank for about 3 euro ($5) per gallon. At the local restaurants the bottled water is 3 euro a liter, and the house wine is 3 euro a liter (sodas are 3 euro for a 1/3rd liter bottle/can).
They say there are 2000 different types of grapes in Italy. That’s probably true. Each region has dozens, if not hundreds, of wine grapes you have never heard of. In the F-V-G, some of our most common wines are made with Refosco, Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Schioppettino grapes. Yes, there are Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, but those are not the most common, or most popular grapes. Those grapes are considered French imported grapes.
And although the best grapes in this Region do come out of the foothills to the Dolomite Mountains (and area called the Colli Orientali del Friuli) , 90% of all the wine from the F-V-G are grown in the rich, fertile, soil of the river bottoms (where quantity is the measure of success).
It is important to remember that MOST wine in Italy is bought fresh out of the tank weekly, drank out of a water glass, and is not something special. It is the safe substitute for water to drink at meals. Wine in Italy is a liquid you drink with your meals. The idea of going out for a glass of wine without a meal is very American, and very anti-Italian. And no one drinks their wine out of stemware, unless you are at a fancy restaurant.
But, please don’t think ALL wine in Italy is jug wine. Most of the wine that 60,000,000 people drink on a daily basis is basic jug wine. But there are also the most incredible, wonderful, marvelous Italian wines (just not in the F-V-G). 10 miles from my house, I am in the Veneto Region. The home of prosecco, valpolicella, and amarone. These are incredible wines sold for a faction of their international value at the local gas stations.
West of my house, the cost of a glass of prosecco at a local bar is 2 euros, and they throw in the “bar snacks” for free. “House wine” (valpolicella) is 4 euro a glass, or 10 euros for a bottle at the local market. And amarone which can easily sell for $100 a bottle in the US, is $30 a bottle at the local wineries.
The point being, there is a big difference in wine as you travel through the northern regions of Italy. There are incredible dessert wines in the F-V-G, and incredible red wines in the Veneto. Only 60 miles apart. The same can be said about Washington, Oregon, and California.
The study of Italian wines can take a lifetime, or it can be broken down into its simplest form. To most Italians, wine is just wine. You make it, you drink it, and you go get some more.
I spent 5 years in Kansas, and I have been in Italy less than two years; and you know, I’m glad I’m not in Kansas any more.
Until next time, drink good wine
Addendum: If you’re looking to add some Friuli wines to your cellar, look for vintners such as Schiopetto, Jermann, Livio Felluga, and Bastianich. JS