If you enjoy Pinot Grigio, and are interested in experiencing a more complex and richer version of this very popular varietal than is found in the well-marketed labels and inexpensive wines by the glass at restaurants, try the ones from Collio. The Collio is an appellation in northeastern Italy in the region of Friuli that borders and extends into Slovenia (where it is known as Brda).
“This is the finest white-wine area not only in Friuli but in all of Italy.” That observation about the Collio is from Italian Wine for Dummies, actually an excellent resource. The mild climate buttressed by the nearby Adriatic and the protective mountains to the north plus hill-laden vineyards atop unique, mineral-rich soil help provide nearly ideal conditions for several white varietals; and, excellent conditions for several red ones, too.
South of the Julian Alps, its rolling hills are layered with rows of vines topped with villages. Lush forests and lines of cypresses provide verdant interludes. Its coastal plains are filled with prosperous towns with a proper Mediterranean look. It is all stereotypically, beautifully Italian. Signs bearing Slovene place names along with the Italian are not. Neither are the tough-too-miss monuments to the First World War. Much of Collio was proudly part of the Vienna-ruled Empire for centuries. That Austrian legacy is present, if much more subtly than so that of the Slovenes who inhabit both sides of the border; certainly, in the widespread ability to satiate the historic Germanic taste for white wines.
The whites from Collio are generally quite rich and fuller-bodied than the typical Italian whites, often with evident minerality and vibrant acidity. Many have the ability to age. These are serious wines, even the usually forgettable Pinot Grigios. Winemaker Roberto Felluga said that his reserve Pinot Grigio “can keep for a minimum of ten years,” something that you certainly should not try with a Pinot Grigio plucked from the supermarket shelf.
Though the wineries are prouder of wines made from the native (Tocai) Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Malvasia grapes and efforts with Sauvignon (Blanc) and Pinot Bianco, it is Pinot Grigio that helps pay the bills. “Pinot Grigio is what changed the economy here” for grape-growers and wine-makers a few decades ago according to producers at Livon. It was famed food and wine writer Luigi Veronelli who recognized the area’s potential for Pinot Grigio. These wines then began to find popularity in markets around the world.
Several wines found in Houston might be found in other large cities include: Livon Pinot Grigio ($20), Marco Felluga Mongris Pinot Grigio ($20), and Livio Felluga Pinto Grigio ($25). Another is Jermann Pinot Grigio ($28). Though the winery is in Collio, Jermann sources their grapes beyond the area and it does not carry the Collio appellation. The wine is impressive for a Pinot Grigio. The areas near Collio are also very good for white wines, especially the neighboring Colli Orientali del Friuli.