An Unexpected Italian White Wine: Friulano

From the organic Aquila del Torre Winery in the extreme northeastern region of Italy

Imagine a wine that is layered and deep, echoing the soil and the hillside terroir where it is grown. And this is a white wine – perhaps not exactly what you might be expecting, since more red wines than whites are described this way. This is Aquila del Torre’s Friulano wine.

The small, family-owned winery of Aquila del Torre was established in 1996 by a grapegrower in the Italian region of Friuli, a few hours’ drive northeast of Venice. It is currently run by his grandson, Michele Ciani. Since the family lives and works on these vineyards, some years ago they decided to farm organically, for the health of the people as well as the earth. 

Michele is an agronomist by training, and he continues to lead the winery toward further sustainable and biodynamic-style methods of wine growing and production. He is also a member — and fervent supporter — of the expanding group of Italian independent winemakers, FIVI, which helps establish and promote responsible farming and winemaking practices for smaller wineries.

The wine I mentioned earlier is made with the most well-known, indigenous white grape of this region: Friulano. (The name of this grape has a contentious past; but that’s a story for another time.) At this winery, Friulano is grown in vineyards layered with clay and minerals from the bottom of the ocean. Eons ago, this now-hilly soil was under the sea. 

The Aquila del Torre winery is located in the furthest eastern hills of the Friuli, in the delimited region of Friuli Colli Orientali. It is also so far north that without the warming influence of the Adriatic sea to the south, and the Julian Alps’ protection from northern winter weather, it would be impossible to grow grapes here. So it’s not surprising that the winery’s vineyards face south, toward the Adriatic.

When the Friulano grapes are harvested, they are fermented with indigenous yeast. The wine is kept on the lees for at least a year. Instead of stainless steel tanks, the wine spends time in large, egg-shaped concrete containers where it experiences a natural, continuous motion. This results in a wine with marvelous aromas and a big mouthfeel.  The minerals in the soil also provide a quality of freshness in the wine, so it finishes cleanly on the palate.

Though every vintage is slightly different, the aim of the winery is to emphasize these qualities in their Friulano wines. It was certainly apparent when I tasted their 2019 AT Friulano. This is only one of the wines from Aquila del Torre; at the time of this writing it was the only one available in the US, though additional wines are hopefully coming soon. 

Aquila del Torre’s wine labels are easy to spot. Each one has an image that shows a human figure melded to a wine-related symbol such as a grapevine, local animal or corkscrew. At first I thought these illustrations were too fancifully weird; now I like the images…as well as the wine.