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Friuli-Venezia Giulia is an important Italian wine region, situated high in the northernmost parts of the country, and close to the Slovenian and Austrian borders. As such, there is a considerable Germanic influence on the wines of this region, with varietals such as Riesling growing alongside Italian classics such as Pinot Grigio. The finest wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia are considered to be those which capture the alpine essence of the region, with its pine scented terroirs and crystal mountain waters which run down from the mountains. There are also several interesting lesser known grape varietals processed in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, which gives the region a unique wine culture which the local wine makers are immensely proud of, and which makes the region a fascinating one to explore.
Like so many of the great spirits of Europe, Grappa was born from a need to make resources go that little bit further, to eke out the last drop of flavor and potential from the crops of winemakers. Indeed, Italian vintners invented Grappa as a way to make use of the pomace - leftover grape skins, stems, pulp and seeds - which remained after the juice was extracted from the fruit needed to make wine. Over the centuries, the process was refined, and the distillation of Grappa became an art in itself. Today, top Grappa producers use a range of state of the art equipment, from continuous stills to pot stills, to manufacture a wide variety of Grappas, each with their own distinct characteristics.
Most of us know Grappa from our local Italian restaurants, where it is commonly served as a digestif. However, in the twenty first century, there is a high interest in unique, boutique Grappas, which showcase the talent of the distillers through a range of interesting qualities. Grappa can be aged in oak, in which case it takes on a beautiful golden color, quite different from the clear Grappas we are most familiar with. The high end Grappas are a world away from the harsh spirit many of us have encountered, and have a smooth, gentle quality which can be nothing short of a revelation.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' – the land of wines – so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.