There’s nothing like hopping in the car, getting on the open road and driving, driving, driving. I love the freedom, anticipation and excitement of the journey. I’d decided on a fun little trip from Venice, heading east towards the border with Slovenia. The Adriatic Sea to the south and the snow-capped mountains of the Alps to the north. I was on a mission to buy some superb Friuli wine from the Colli Orientali (Eastern Hills) an area of gently rising land that separates Italy from Slovenia. The hills here are a patchwork of green, even in winter, and are dotted with vineyards, woodlands and the occasional church bell tower. Today these hills are producing some of the finest, high quality, dry white wines in the Italian peninsula.
Clearly they weren’t expecting visitors on a sunny day in January when I drove into the village of Brazzano, just about 4 kms from the Slovenia border. The town was deserted, there was not a breath of life in the air. Not even an arthritic old dog occupied the street. I didn’t want to park the car until I’d actually seen someone to talk to, so I drove past the church and along a single track lane, that followed the shoulder of the hillside. It was bordered by vineyards on one side and a massive, dilapidated stone wall on the other. There was still no sign of life. To my right the imposing stone wall continued, I was curious to know what was on the other side. A huge castle perhaps or a vast country house?
An archway embedded in the wall allowed me a glimpse of the terrain beyond – sloping uphill towards Slovenia. The land was manicured, rows upon rows of vines, all pruned and staked and ready for the new season’s growth. There was a young man tidying the vines. I stopped the car, stepped into the vineyard and wished him a good day. He asked me what I wanted and in a competent, but not very friendly manner asked me to follow him. He trotted off back down the lane on foot, I followed in the Mini. He directed me to park by the church and then beckoned for me to enter a village house with a shiny, brass plaque on the door. The sign said ‘Borgo del Tiglio’ which means Village or Hamlet of the Lime. This vineyard and it’s neighbours have been producing top quality white wines for the last twenty years. Rich, rounded wines to rival the very best Sauvignons of New Zealand.
I was invited into a spacious hall, filled with antique wooden furniture. The floor was a shiny polished stone, probably at least two hundred years old. I was told to wait, so I waited. I waited, patiently, and I waited. It was quiet in the hall, silent, peaceful. I waited and I waited and I continued to wait. I glanced a selection of tourist leaflets on the table, I surveyed the contents of the shelves in the corner. A few books, a random selection of ornaments. Still I waited. I peered out of the front door which remained ajar in a slightly menacing way. I did a couple of circuits of the room and still I waited. I hadn’t made an appointment, I was an unannounced caller, so patience was required. I continued to wait.
Finally I heard footsteps on the stairs and a smartly dressed gentleman greeted me and asked me what I wanted. I explained that I’d sampled some of the Borgo del Tiglio wines in Venice and was very impressed. Consequently I’d driven several hours east to the vineyard to purchase a couple of dozen bottles. He produced the wine list and prices, he advised me on a selection and I bought probably about 24 bottles. I would have liked some further discussion on which wines to purchase, but clearly that was a bridge too far, so I contented myself with a selection. I can always come back I thought once I know which wines I like best.
I purchased four types of wine; Collio Bianco, Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Malvasia. A nice selection of the wines of this area, produced lovingly and professionally by a third or fourth generation wine man. These wines are the modern evolution of the Tocai wines grown and bottled on these hills with little or no regard for quality, for generations. Then in the late 1980s everything changed. Production shifted from volume to quality. A new generation of farmers brought in new grape types, sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot grigio. At the same time wine-makers were employed and a renewed respect for the ‘terroir’ of this unique corner of Italy led to the creation of some truly spectacular wines.
As I loaded the boxes into the boot of the Mini I felt pleased with my purchases and I inspected the buildings around me. The church to my right and the chained wrought iron gates to my left, revealing a courtyard within. Still the village was empty, not a sign of life. The wine man had disappeared back inside his house. The clock tower of the church struck 12 and a ‘for sale’ sign flapped from an upstairs window. The combination of emptiness and silence was growing a little heavy now – time to move on and head towards the coast. I hopped in the Mini and off I went.
As I was leaving the village I saw a sign to Livio Felluga, another excellent producer in these hills. I smiled to myself, I’ve always loved dry white wines and I seem to have an instinctive ability to home in on the very best…My jaunt to the Colli Orientali to purchase some fabulous Friuli wines was certainly a great success. Who would have thought these Italian wines could have matched my beloved New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs but they have……………..
My next stop was Aquileia, an important Roman town two thousand years ago. I intended to stop at Cantina Ca’Tullio, a modern vineyard producing decent quality, every day wines ……I didn’t quite make it there, but I did have a delicious sandwich lunch over-looking the Basilica of Aquileia. After lunch a quick visit to see the Roman pavement mosaics underneath the medieval church was an essential cultural experience. These mosaics are quite exceptional. After all you can’t have a Mini adventure in Italy without food, wine and a bit of culture!
Maps to orient and inform:
Notes & Practicalities:
- The Friuli wines I am discussing are produced in the Colli Orientali – just a few miles from the border with Slovenia.
- Borgo del Tiglio – this is probably my favourite – I just love these wines, a little more expensive than others, however they produce a superb range of whites. From about € 25 a bottle. www.borgodeltiglio.it
- Lasclusa – another vineyard in the Colli Orientali at Spessa, just north of Brazzano. In terms of price:quality ratio they are superb wines. From about € 16– a bottle. www.lasclusa.it – fabulous sauvignon – much less expensive € 8-10 per bottle and also Corte San Biagio (agriturismo) looks great – c. € 80– pn
- Livio Felluga are great producers too – based in Brazzano, virtually next door to Borgo del Tiglio. From € 18– a bottle for a Friulano – dry white.
- Jermann Vineyards produce an excellent Sauvignon priced at about € 25– a bottle. They are based in Ruttars, Colli Orientali.
To read more from the Educated Traveller I’d suggest:
- Aquileia – spectacular Roman mosaics
- To learn more about a modern, organic vineyard in a Palladian villa setting – The five sisters of Villa Angarano – Bassano, Italy
- A Geographical Tour of Greece via it’s wines. Santorini to Thessalonika – A Tour of Greece from vine to wine
- Happy degustazione……
10th August 2020