Fascinating friulano

Quealy Friulano (Photo: Toni Paterson)

There used to be a saying that a wine wouldn’t sell if people couldn’t pronounce its name. However, with the recent explosion of new varietals on the market, it seems that the time has come to throw that adage on the marc heap.

I must confess that friulano is still a term that causes me to stumble. Though if one adopts a rhythmic Italian accent it is a tad easier. The French synonym, sauvignonasse, is also quite a mouthful.

Quealy pioneered friulano in Australia, planting a vineyard on their Mornington Peninsula property in 2004. Today, they produce two varietal friulanos plus a mixed field blend called Pobblebonk.

In the 2016 Quealy Amphora Friulano (AUD $25), low cropping results in highly flavoured grapes, which undergo pre-ferment skin contact before draining into tank, and amphorae, for ferment. The wine remains on lees during malolactic fermentation and is bottled shortly after.

The wine has a highly unique sensory profile with aromas of soursobs and raw almonds. The palate tastes of melon, lemon and freshly crushed greens, the latter element being a hallmark of the variety. There’s a slight marine undercurrent, in the form of a tang, plus a very faint oyster-like undertone. The phenolics are measured, creating a pleasing framework for the wine.

What surprised me about this wine was how stable it was after opening. I tasted it over some days, and again after another week under argon gas. It retained its freshness and appeared not only to integrate but improve. No wonder sommeliers are fans of skin contact wines.

Although the Quealy Amphora is an extremely well-made wine, it is quite distinct and unusual and will require an open mind, plus a plate of food, to fully appreciate its depth and diversity. Perhaps some Prosciutto di San Daniele and fresh figs would be in order? Or even some roasted chicken with sage and parsley?

Quealy’s Turbul Friulano (AUD $30), is very different in style, named as such for is slightly cloudy nature. After destemming, slow fermentation of the whole berries occurs and, after draining, the ferment continues in large format barrels. The wine has a beautiful, engaging aroma with ever-so-faint honeysuckle and blossom scents with an overlay of fresh herbs. The palate is textural and refined, with subtle lemon, faint stone fruit and celery leaf nuances. Despite the presence of these fruit flavours, the overarching character is distinctly savoury. The phenolic profile is outstanding, framing the wine and creating a gently drying finish.

Along with Quealy, other Australian producers making friulano include Billy Button Wines and Pizzini. No doubt others, despite the viticultural challenges, will follow suit.

In Italy, friulano is planted widely in the north-east, within the regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto. Previously, the variety was known as tocai-friulano, until it was renamed to prevent confusion with Hungarian Tokaji. From 2008, the term ‘tocai’ was banned from all Italian wines sold within and outside Italy.

The character of Italian friulano varies considerably, though the best wines display a characteristic green edge and a textured mouthfeel. You can find light, bright fruit-driven wines or complex, weighty examples, either as straight varietals or as blends. Sometimes stone-fruit, and even tropicals, are present. Oak is also used, as is skin contact, to add phenolic complexity and texture. There is significant clonal variation within the plantings, with the age of the vines having a major impact on the characters expressed.

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