Since I’m one of the last berries on the grapevine, I’m only now catching up with the fact that, back in September, Livio Felluga, a pioneer of quality Friulian wine, celebrated his 100th birthday, an accomplishment he attributed to regularly consuming fine wine. Who am I to disagree? I hope he’s right, since I’m doing my best to follow his example – in consumption, that is, not in production.
I first met Signor Felluga more years ago than I care to accurately count, when he was just a young pup of 60-something and I was a fledgling wine journalist, writing for the still-lamented (it folded owing me money) Attenzione. I’m pretty sure that my article about Felluga and Friulian wines was among the ones I never got paid for. Such is life: I long ago decided that coming to know these wines was payment enough.
Meeting Livio Felluga was an important and, as it turned out, a delightful event for me. I was travelling with a few other wine journalists, all of us on our first visit to Friuli, and we could have hoped for no better introduction to the zone and its wines than a day with Signor Felluga. He was already back then a fount of information about the soils and districts and grape varieties of Friuli. Tasting with him through his line of wines – he worked with all the important white varieties and even, if I remember correctly, a few reds – amounted to a graduate seminar in Friulian wine, and we were all eager students.
Later, sitting around the fire in the traditional fogolar and drinking those wines while he grilled sausages and veal chops, we also discovered that had he not chosen to be a winemaker, he probably could have been a successful stand-up comedian. I have never heard anybody tell a seemingly endless succession of carabinieri jokes as well as Livio Felluga. A belated Cent’ anni di piu, to you, Signor Felluga!
Nowadays, of course, younger members of the Felluga clan are running the vineyards and winery. But the quality of the wines and the intensity of the family’s devotion to Friuli’s patrimony seem not to have wavered in the slightest. Just last week I tasted a small selection of Felluga’s new releases, and they conformed in every respect – quality, varietal typicity, balance, and elegance – to the high standards the senior Felluga established decades ago.
Pinot Grigio 2013
Medium-bodied, smooth and round, with marked floral and mineral scents and flavors. Long finishing. Elegant and, by the standards of the mass of contemporary Pinot grigios, quite substantial. In short, a real wine.
Almond and mineral nose; medium body. Lovely balance of acid and fruit, with a long dry finish. This is the wine we used to know as Tocai. In Friuli, it is a wine of all uses and is particularly popular with the salty sweetness of Prosciutto di San Daniele. Often drunk here in the States as an aperitif, for my palate it’s far better as a dinner wine, where it really shines alongside preparations of fowl, veal, or pork, and even savory dishes such as Szekely Goulash, – to which I can testify because that’s what I just drank it with. For years, Livio Felluga’s Friulano has been an informal benchmark for the breed.
Terre Alte 2011
This is Felluga’s chef d’oeuvre, a masterly blend of (usually and approximately) one-third each of Friulano, Pinot bianco, and Sauvignon. The Pinot and Sauvignon are fermented and aged in stainless steel, the Friulano in small French oak. This is one of Italy’s great white wines and is always better for at least a few years of aging. In the best vintages, it rewards much more. The 2011 is very young and still tastes a bit closed, but it already shows the substantial body, elegance and balance that earned it Tre Bicchieri and Cinque Grappoli, among numerous other awards. This 2011 Terre Alte may not live as long as Livio has, but it surely has a lot time before it. A great wine.