Laughter. Incredible food. Wonderful wines. History everywhere. My visit to Friuli in March offered all those things and more. I awoke at Agriturismo I Comelli on an overcast morning, spring not quite fully in place. A simple table was set with breads, tangerines, cheeses and strong Italian cappucino was brought to the table. We bade farewell to the most hospitable Comelli family and set off for Pitars Winery.
Pitars is located in San Martino and is a rather modern facility that they call The Wine Castle. Nicola Pittaro welcomed us and took us through the castle where we enjoyed sweeping panoramic views from upstairs. We walked over to the ultra modern production facility where gleaming stainless steel tanks share space with ancient barrels. We returned to the castle and sat around a large rectangular table in a room with floor to ceiling windows. We were served three wines paired with four cheeses, Montasio that had been aged three, six and forty months and a Formadi Frant. Ribolla Gialla is a grape you see prevalently featured in the Friuli region, but I had yet to taste it as a sparkling brut . Crisp and delicious and a great match for the cheese. Next was the Tureis, a dry blend of Friuliano, Chardonnay and Semillon. We finished up with an ’07 Naos, a blend of Refosco, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. I thoroughly enjoyed the wines from the region and Pitars is producing some elegant examples.
When we arrived at Tenuta Fernanda Cappello, snow capped mountains looked close enough to touch. Owner/winemaker Fernanda Cappello and her son gave us an enthusiastic welcome and took us around back to their immense production facility. We entered the extremely modern tasting room and then made our way upstairs to the restaurant, again featuring spectacular views of the mountains and vineyards. We were presented with one incredible dish after another, a soupy polenta topped with charcuterie from Dorth, a firm who’s been making the stuff since 1931. That was followed by polenta gnocchi with shreds of aged cheese, then a risotto dish, sliced duck breast with a citrus glaze and roast potatoes and to finish a tort typical of the Pedemontana region with dried figs, fennel seed, raisins and walnuts. Suffice it to say I did not go hungry. An aromatic 2011 Traminer, a 2012 Sauvignon and a 2011 Cabernet Franc from Tenuta Fernando Capello accompanied the food and they were superb. It’s clear their wines are made to be paired with food.
As the clocked ticked down on our visit to Friuli, we headed for Spilimbergo on a sunny day with brilliant blue skies. The town’s castle and cathedral are magnificent examples of living history dating back to the 11th century. Ilaria Vignando was a passionate host who was clearly excited to show us all she could about this unique town, telling us the history of paintings in the cathedral and pointing out things we otherwise would surely have missed.
Our next stop may have been the most interesting of the entire trip. Guecello Di Porcia met us at the entrance to the Fattoria di Azzano, the tasting room and shop of Principi di Porcia. After tasting wine and eating (more) prosciutto, we strolled across the property to where the cattle were feeding. It turns out that 100% of the energy they use comes from bio-gas resulting from the fermentation of cereals grown on property and solar panels. Principi di Porcia has embraced the green movement heart and soul. They produce so much power they are able to feed the grid with enough electricity for more than 2,800 people a year. Done with the tour, we proceeded back to the tasting room where we enjoyed 2011 Verduzzo Friuliano, a 2011 Sauvignon and an ’06 Torre Colomberra, a Cab Franc, Merlot and Refosco blend, absolutely elegant and refined.
Dinner time found us in the town of Sacile at Trattoria Cavour, a small and charming restaurant where we met and shared dinner with Anna Brisotto from San Simone Winery. Our host Mara Bravin arranged a very special “last supper” for us, beginning with crostini with chicken liver paté paired with San Simone Cuvée Blanc de Blanc. Sformatino, similar to a croquette was next, paired with a 2011 Pinot Grigio. A lovely pappardelle with asparagus and pancetta was paired with San Simone 2011 Friuliano. Finally a brandied guinea hen with polenta accompanied by a 2009 Refosco and for dessert, delicate pastries with 2010 Verduzzo Friuliano. It was the perfect setting for our last evening of a magical trip.
We checked into the Hotel Dall’Ongaro as the evening wound to a close. Tired, we waited for the skinny elevator to carry one person at a time and their luggage to their floor. The following morning, we made our way to the Venice airport and bade each other a fond farewell. If Friuli-Venezia-Giulia isn’t currently on your radar, it should be. A visit to http://www.vinoesapori.it/en/home/ will leave you in most capable hands.