Italy, Part 2 – Northeast Italy – Tre Venezie (DYWK Country Series)

Triveneto! … or Tre Venezie! … or Three Venices!! This is what the northeastern part of Italy is called and what we will explore here, briefly, on W2WK’s Country Series on Italy (part 2 of 5).  The Tre Venezie includes (as you may have guessed) 3 key sub-regions:

  1. Friuli-Venezia Giulia
  2. Trentino-Alto Adige
  3. The Veneto

In the Part 1, W2WK had a poll from readers on who had heard of the various Italian wine regions.  Hardly anyone had heard of Friuli-Venezia Giulia or Trentino-Alto Adige.  And the Veneto seemed to be slightly more well-known than the other two, but not by much!  So hopefully, once you’re done reading this, you can confidently walk into the Italian wine aisle and pick out a northeastern Italian white wine and have a general sense of its expected characteristics.

Where is it? As you may have already guessed, the Tre Venezie is in Northeast Italy.  But for those rusty on their European geography, that means it borders Austria.  When I think of Italy – I think sun and warmth.  When I think Austria, I think of the Von Trapp family hiking through the Alps in the snow. Wine Know Take-Away: The Tre Venezie is on the colder side of Italy’s weather range.

What does colder weather mean for winemaking?  White wine grapes grow better in cooler weather than red wine grapes.  Therefore, this region is known for its white wines – many of considered “world class” or highly rated. That said, the Tre Venezie produces both white and red… and some of its reds (including Amarone and Valpolicellas) are very well respected as well.

General Characteristics of Tre Venezie White Wines: Given that this region borders Austria, much of its culture – including its winemaking practices – is more similar to Austria and Germany than it is to Italy. (And, you’ll find that many wines from Trentino Alto-Adige are actually labeled in Italian and German.)  For winemaking, that means a lot of structure and precision in its winemaking.

Grapes: There are lots of different grapes grown all around Italy – some are very familiar to us Winos, and others are far less familiar.  Single-varietal wines (made from one type of grape) may be labeled by the grape name, but others are known from the appellation in which they are grown (this is the whole DOC/G, IGT, or VdT thing that we talked about in Part 1). This is why, I think, a lot of us avoid these wines all together – because we have no idea what a wine from the Veneto, for example, is going to taste like. At least that’s why I used to avoid them.  Some of the key grapes grown in NE Italy include:

  • White Wine Grapes: Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Moscato, Prosecco, Friulano (formerly known as Tocai), Chardonnay, Trebbiano, Garganga, Traminer (related to Gewürztraminer)
  • Red Wine Grapes: Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Nero, Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, Negrara

White Wine Characteristics: White wines from NE Italy are primarily dry, unoaked and have a lot of natural fruit flavor and acidity (therefore, they will not have that buttery or oaky flavor). The acidity gives these wines a bit of a spicy, earthy, and/or mineral characteristic, while having a noticeably fruity flavors such as green apples and peaches. Many wines, particularly from Friuli, will have an almond or vanilla flavors as well. Prosecco, the famous sparkling wine from the Veneto, has a touch of sweetness.

Red Wine Characteristics: The cooler weather of this region tends to produce lighter, fruitier red wines that can be quite refreshing and sometimes even a bit bitter. (These are the kinds of wine I love for a hot afternoon happy hour with some light food.) Reds from the Veneto will have some cherry flavors and can be a bit spicy.

  • Amarone: The exception to this light, fruity generality is Amarone. This wine is made in the Veneto and is an intense, sometimes syrupy wine that is made from over-ripened grapes. They are picked later in the harvest and then laid out on racks to dry out even more. This allows the sugar and flavor of the grape to become more intense (as the grape loses its water). Amarone will be very rich, have flavors of licorice and dried cherry.

The Tasting Double-Take: As I indicated in Part 1, I had not tried many Italian wines before starting to work with some Italian wine-focused companies. And while I like white wine very much, I tend to drink red wines more often. That said, the Italian whites that I’ve tried from northeast Italy make me think they can be a red wine drinker’s white wine. They are more interesting in that there is a different level of complexity to them.  Do you ever get that “flat” flavor from some white wines (and red wines too, for that matter)? … The ones that taste a bit like fruit juice with an injection of alcohol?  These wines aren’t like that. They develop while you’re tasting them. Like a wine sip double-take…. You know how you sometimes have that reaction to wine – the initial reaction is “oh yum”, and then about 4 seconds later as that sip of wine has made its way through your mouth, your reaction changes to “Ooooh yu-uuuummmm.”  Well, that’s what I mean when I say the wine develops as you drink it or when I think it is “interesting”.

On The Label: Because many wines are not labeled by grape varietal, you’ll see bottles with the names of the region.  For wines from NE Italy, you can look for one of the 3 sub-region names (such as “Veneto” or “Trentino Alto-Adige” or “Friuli-Venezia Giulia”).  Or look for one of these:

  • Friuli
  • Terlano
  • Prosecco
  • Soave
  • Bardolino
  • Valpolicella
  • Amarone

The below image shows all the regions that are qualified “DOCs”. Any wine that is labeled with one of these terms will be a wine that is true to the characteristics of that particular sub-region within the Tre Venezie.

Northeast Italy (Tre Venezia)

Northeast Italy (Tre Venezia)

If you come across an Italian wine store, you’ll find a much greater variety, but I found that even here at my local Total Wine, the selection of northeast Italian wines is fairly limited with the exception of the pricey Amarone and plenty of selection of Valpolicella.

Coming up!! Later this week I will post a new Virtual Wine Pairing Dinner Party that will include food pairing to wines from northeastern Italy!  Hopefully this will get us all out to experience this wine together!!

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