We have driven east across the billiard-table flat Friulian plain to arrive in the foothills of the Julian Alps; more precisely we are in the beautiful, lush, and green (even on an early spring day) Judrio Valley in eastern Friuli Venezia Giulia. On the far side of the valley the cultivated land quickly gives way to forest as it climbs towards the mountains. Here, the landscape has a certain timeless and otherworldly quality. It is a land that is concerned with its own affairs and those of the outside world have no place here. In fact, we are so far east that if we cross the river we will find ourselves in Slovenia.
We may still be in Italy but the name of the Judrio river tells us that something is not quite completely Italian. The Italian alphabet does not have a letter J; instead Italian uses ‘gi’. The Italian alphabet has only 21 letters eschewing J, K, W, X, and Y. If one of these letters finds its way into Italian it means that it either comes from a foreign word that has entered the language such as ‘jeans’ or, as in this case, it has come from a local dialect or language of which there are several in this area.
So as you drive through the countryside be prepared for some very unItalian spellings. However, linguistically, the tiny village of Prepotto has a very comforting Italian ring to it and this is our ultimate destination, for this is the home territory of the local red grape, Schioppettino. The wines produced in this area come under the Colli Friuli Orientali DOC but the local producers feel so strongly about their wine that in 2002 they formed their own association, Schioppettino di Prepotto, with its own rules for production. In 2008 the first wine bearing this label was released.
The Denis Pizzulin winery is an archetypal artisan business. From 11 hectares of vines they produce 30,000 bottles of wine, both white and red, per year. The vineyards for the white wines are on the valley floor whereas those for the reds are on the hillsides where the terroir is very different- so different, in fact, that our guide around the cantina, Elisabetta, showed us a glass jar with layers of the contrasting soils. On the valley floor the earth is made up of scalglia or flakes of red and yellow clay whereas the hills are made up of glacial moraine known locally as ponca. As well as the land itself the protection of the valley adds a microclimate that makes viticulture something special here.
The family have been making wine in the area for three generations but in 2007 they moved from the adjacent village of Albana into the centre of Prepotto. Here they have renovated and extended an old farmhouse so that now there is a modern winery and they also offer accommodation in a small agriturismo complex. So if the idea of a relaxing break in a verdant idyll with the pace of life of a somnolent sloth appeals then this could just be the place for you.
But we were here to sample the wines and we started with a Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented in stainless steel it then matures for eight months, again in stainless steel, on the lees. A dark straw colour, it has a bouquet of peaches, passion fruit, and pineapple. On the palate it is full of lemon with a strong salinity and is an obvious partner for fish and crustacean dishes.
Refosco dal Peduncolo is a red grape variety popular in this region and the Pizzulin family lavish great care on their interpretation of this Friulian classic. After harvesting by hand, the grapes are pressed and the resulting must is left in contact with the skins whilst it ferments. It is then aged for 30 months in new French oak tonneaux before bottling. The 2018 that I tasted was bright ruby in colour with cherries, a hint of vanilla, and pepper on the nose. It would be a perfect accompaniment for red meat roasted or grilled.
The final wine I tried was a 2018 Schioppettino. This is the grape variety that Prepotto has made its own. Again, this is a manual harvest and after fermentation the wine is aged for two years in a mix of new and used tonneaux. The colour is a bright ruby with a bouquet of raspberries and plums whilst in the mouth there are cherries with a little pepperiness and medium tannins. Again, this is a wine that will go well with red meat but also with a mature cheese.
To arrive in Prepotto and the valley of the Judrio you have to make a detour – it is not on the road to anywhere. But, in terms of travelling, it is not that far from centres like Udine and Trieste. However, when you get there you will find yourself in a very different and very pleasant reality and be able to enjoy some lovely wines.More about this vineyard