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Italy’s Super White Wines Are Turning Critical Heads

White wines from Friuli are rocketing into the prestige category

Jacopo Mazzeo By June 7, 2022
view of Le Monde Winery
Le Monde Winery is a sustainable winery in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Photo courtesy of Jacopo Mazzeo.

Squeezed between Veneto, Austria, Slovenia, and the Adriatic Sea, Friuli is quintessentially Northern Italian. All neighboring peoples played a part in defining Friuli’s subcultures, its numerous languages, and its wine-growing diversity too.

“In our region, we make anything from cheap Pinot Grigio to orange wine and Prosecco,” says Friulan consultant enologist Christian Patat, “but when it comes to quality, our whites have been known for decades.”

Whites are Friuli’s pride. Between the ’80s and the ’90s, at a time when Super Tuscans were rapidly growing in popularity, some of Friuli’s best wines were dubbed “Super Whites.”

“The concept of Super White originated alongside that of Super Tuscan,” explains Massimo Furlan, director of Le Monde winery. “This was dictated by contemporary trends but also by mere facts. Simply put, Super White is a subcategory that defined the best white wines of Friuli, and at the time of Italy itself.”

A closer look at the Super Whites

The wines that fit the Super Whites bill tend to boast a medium to full body and are generally of high quality and long lived. White blends such as Jermann’s Vintage Tunina, Vie di Romans’ Flors di Uis, and Livio Felluga’s Terre Alte have benchmarked the category since its inception, and are still some of Italy’s highest-regarded — and often most expensive — whites.

“The idea was to create a synergy between all the white varieties that define our region, like Ribolla Gialla and Friulano, but also Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling, which arrived here centuries ago and had plenty of time to adapt,” says Laura Felluga on the origin story of her family’s Terre Alte white blend. “We wanted to show that our region could provide the same complexity and longevity as Italy’s best-known red wine regions like Tuscany and Piedmont.”

Laura Felluga portrait

Laura Felluga, granddaughter of Livio Felluga of Livio Felluga Winery. Photo courtesy of Jacopo Mazzeo.

Like its overlapping cultural strata, Friuli’s Super Whites range widely in style, including blends and monovarietal expressions, some displaying considerable oak character, others a more aromatic profile. While the Super White category’s inclusivity makes for a diverse grouping of exceptional labels, its heterogeneity has been challenging to communicate. The term struggled to take hold as a result.

 

“They’ve always been wines of great quality, even before the term appeared, but they lacked a proper stylistic uniformity,” says Patat. “The term could never really establish itself.” 

White renaissance

The category, however, has recently been injected with new life. Last year, Cantina Jermann — along with its famed Super White, Vintage Tunina — was acquired by Marchesi Antinori, the influential Tuscan family responsible for acclaimed Super Tuscans such as Tignanello and Guado al Tasso. The deal represented a significant endorsement of Friuli’s Super Whites.

Later in the year, Borgo Conventi winery wrote a new chapter in Super White history with the release of Luna di Ponca, a blend of Friulano, Chardonnay, and Malvasia. “The Luna di Ponca is designed to give an idea of what a modern Super White can be,” explains enologist Stefano Gava. “We launched it in Italy last summer, last fall in London, and the wine will land in the United States in October.”

outside view of Tenuta Borgo Conventi

Tenuta Borgo Conventi, the winery known for introducing a new Italian Super White — Luna di Ponca — is perched on a hilltop village. Photo courtesy of Jacopo Mazzeo.

Like all Super Whites, Luna di Ponca offers complexity, depth, and the promise of longevity, yet it’s fresher and more linear than some of the more muscular wines that drove the category at its inception. Luna di Ponca’s personality won’t make Super Whites any less multifaceted, but beyond quality, structure, and longevity, the category has been defying homogenization since its inception.

“In a world that keeps trying to simplify things, we rather celebrate the complexities of our region. We have lots of grape varieties, our soils are extremely diverse, and so is our history,” says Felluga. “In Friuli, you travel 15 miles and encounter a different language — the Friulian dialect changes every seven miles. We speak German, Ladin, Slovenian, and Istro-Venetian dialects. Our Super Whites just represent all of that.”

Like its people, Friuli’s best white wines are stylistic individuals. They are — literally — super.

3 Super Whites to try:

bottle of Jermann Vintage Tunina Venezia Giulia 2019

Jermann Vintage Tunina Venezia Giulia 2019 (~$52)

The most iconic of all Super Whites, a real benchmark for the category first made in 1975.

It’s a field blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, and a small amount of Picolit, all picked about two weeks later than usual. The wine is full-bodied and complex, and the later harvested grapes contribute a rich, ripe, fruit character. Excellent both in youth as well as after a few years of cellaring.

bottle of Vie di Romans Friuli Sauvignon Piere 2020

Vie di Romans Friuli Sauvignon Piere 2020 (~$23)

While Flors di Uis is Vie di Romans’ best-known Super White, Gallo’s stunning Sauvignon says as much about today’s Friuli superior whites as his illustrious blend. Early in its life, Piere is elegantly citrusy, with a touch of tomato leaf and sage. Wait eight years or so, and it develops candied lemon notes, honey, and gentle aromas of fern and moss. As Gallo puts it, “In its youth, Sauvignon is extreme boredom. It gives the best of itself once it gets older.”

bottle of Livio Felluga’s Terre Alte

Livio Felluga Abbazia di Rosazzo 2017 (~$43)

Abbazia di Rosazzo, created in the late 2000s, is a field blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon, Malvasia, and Ribolla Gialla obtained from the vineyards of the namesake abbey. Fresh citrus notes mix with more indulgent aromas of dried tropical fruit and candied lemon, and hints of elderflower and acacia blossoms. Medium-bodied and waxy, with a marked saline finish.