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Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Friuli-Venezia Giulia is a wine region in the far north-eastern corner of Italy, its landscape characterised by coastal flatlands, mountains and plateaux. The region is bound by the borders with Austria and Slovenia (to the north and east respectively), which follow the contours of the eastern Alps. The most significant mountains in this area are the Julian Alps, whence the Giulia appendix in the region's name. To the south lies the Gulf of Trieste (the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea), and the winelands of Veneto spread for miles to the west.

The region's wines stand out noticeably from other Italian wines: they are made using mostly non-traditional grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Bianco, but also some quintessentially Italian grapes such as Pinot Grigio and the region's own Picolit. The resulting wine varies depending on whether it's made in the Mediterranean climate in the south or the alpine continental climate in the north; typically it is fresh and fruity in style, as might be expected from a cool-climate wine zone. Friuli's signature white grape Friulano creates classic example of these refreshing wines. It was once known as Tocai Friulano but misleading associations with Hungary's prestigious Tokaji wine prompted a change under international law (it is now simply called Tai). Another indigenous grape used to create crisp, lively wines styles is Verduzzo, which is used widely around the region.

In terms of terroir, the most important influence on Friuli-Venezia Giulia's vineyards is their position between the Alps and the Adriatic. The mountainous topography in the north and east lifts many vineyards above the low-lying cloud that is sometimes trapped between the hills and the coast. This allows the vines to bask in bright sunshine without overheating, allowing the grapes to develop full phenolic complexity and aromatic depth before their sugar levels peak. Lower down and closer to the coast, maritime conditions moderate the diurnal temperature variation and create more stable, reliable weather, offering local vignerons the luxury of choice in their terroir.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia's reputation as a wine region essentially depends on a select group of quality-conscious, small-scale winemakers – large-scale production is not on the agenda here. Proud of its idiosyncrasies and diversity, Friuli's trump card is its mosaic of local grape varieties, although these are now increasingly being joined by international grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and even the Bordeaux stalwarts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Sparkling wines, generally made in the Charmat method, have started to emerge alongside the still wines, and the region is also responsible for a large quantity of Prosecco wine every year.

The region is home to three DOCG titles, all for white wines. The Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit and its Ramandolo enclave in the region's eastern hills produce sweet whites from Picolit and Verduzzo grapes. They were joined at this highest rank of Italian wine classification in December 2010 by the dry, Verduzzo-based wines of Lison.

Complementing the three DOCGs are ten DOCs; Friuli-Grave is the most important in terms of quantities produced. This DOC covers a substantial portion of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, stretching from the Colli Orientali right to the border with Veneto. Its name is a reference to the gravels which characterise the land there, the result of many millennia of alpine erosion by the Tagliamento river. South of this lie the coastal DOCs Lison Pramaggiore, Friuli Latisana, Friuli Annia and Friuli Aquileia. Further east along the coast are Friuli Isonzo and the Colli Goriziano, covering the hills just south of the Colli Orientale. Italy's easternmost DOC, stretching around the Gulf of Trieste onto the very tip of the Balkan Peninsula, is Carso. This long, thin DOC is sandwiched tightly between the Adriatic coastline and the Slovenian border, stopping just short of the regional capital Trieste, less than 12 miles (20km) from Croatia.