Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Felluga Tocai, Friuliano, Colli Orientali del Friuli, 2003, $28

One of the great joys of wine is discovering the different flavors coming from different grapes grown in different places. The world contains about 8,000 varieties of vine. Not all produce grapes that make good wine, but a lot do. If you know only the most familiar ones — chardonnay, cabernet, merlot and the like — you’re missing out on a great deal of fun.

Tocai Friulano is native to Friuli in northeastern Italy. The nomenclature can be confusing, because the variety has nothing at all to do with Tokaj from Hungary or Tokay d’Alsace, a puzzling and soon to be phased-out synonym for pinot gris in that part of France.

Tocai Friulano also grows here and there outside of Italy, most notably in Chile under the name sauvignonasse (more confusion there), but nowhere else does it produce wines of such high quality.

Good examples of this wine, and Livio Felluga consistently produces some of the best, tend to be quite subtle, with hints of apple, peach or pear fruit and a palate-cleansing, mineral-tinged zip in the finish.

This rendition, from last year’s extremely hot vintage, tastes richer and fuller than usual. Still very much in balance, it has bright fruit flavors; a creamy texture; and a suggestion of sweet spice in its long, satisfying finish.

This is an extremely sophisticated white wine, worthy of being poured at an elegant dinner party. Serve it alongside light seafood such as grilled shrimp or steamed mussels, or with the classic northern Italian summer appetizer of thinly sliced prosciutto draped atop a wedge of ripe melon.

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