Monday, May 10, 2010

The Friuli Wines of American

I wrote a small item for Tasting Table last week about a tight group of American winemakers with whom I share a passion for the white wines of Friuli. There are only four that I know of in the U.S.—Abe Schoener, George Vare, Christopher Tracy and Steve Matthiasson—so it wasn't difficult to become acquainted with them and their wines. These wines are not for the novice drinker. They challenge you and make you think more than relax. What else can you expect from a white wine that looks orange and tastes like a red?

As Matthiasson pointed out (and I was not able to fit into a 200-word article), there are differing schools of thought among Friuli winemaker. The whites that spend a lot of time on the lees, or get buried in the ground in amphoras—think the wines of Gravner and Radikon—get the most attention. How could they not? They're bruisers, yeasty and tannic and provocative. But there's another, subtler school of white, strongly mineral but crisp and refreshing, that are best represented there by Schiopetto and Villa Russiz, and over here by Matthiasson Napa Valley White.

Of the wines I list below I most strongly recommend the Channing Daughters Rosato. Unfortunately, it seems to already be sold out.

Tough Love
A small-but-fierce group of winemakers embraces northern Italy
It's easy to embrace the popular kids.
In the wine world, they're well-known regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy, which have plenty of American winemakers crafting bottles in their likeness.
But for the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in northeast Italy--known for its idiosyncratic, niche pours--acolytes are harder to come by.
Among its small-but-vociferous ranks are California vintners George Vare, Abe Schoener and Steve Matthiasson, who discovered Friuli's white wines on a trip together in 2005. Since then, the trio has experimented with native Friulian varietals and unorthodox aging methods, which have yielded robust, yeasty white wines. They are exceptional in their eccentricities.
Christopher Tracy, winemaker for Bridgehampton's Channing Daughters, is another Friuli fanatic. He's fingered Long Island's climate and soil as ideal for the production of Vino da Meditazione, a thickish, cerebral wine that has been called the best white offering in America.
Sometimes the difficult ones come out the best. Here are three bottles that make for a good introduction to Friuli, American-style:
2009 Channing Daughters Rosato di Refosco ($19) A rare and delicious rosé, this bottle is light and creamy with hints of almonds and strawberries (click to buy online).
2008 Matthiasson Napa Valley White ($32) Dominated by Sauvignon Blanc and Ribolla Gialla, this flinty, crisp wine smacks of lemon, pear and light stone fruits (click to buy online).
2008 Scholium Project The Prince in His Cave ($43) Abe Schoener's flagship bottle is a crash course in on-the-lees orange wine: tangy, spicy, yeasty and a feast for those with an adventurous palate (click to buy online).

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