The “Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit” DOCG area spreads throughout 19 municipalities in the central-eastern part of the province of Udine, close to the border with Slovenia.
The municipalities involved, even only with small parcels of land, are: Attimis, Buttrio, Cividale del Friuli, Corno di Rosazzo, Faedis, Magnano in Riviera, Manzano, Moimacco, Nimis, Povoletto, Premariacco, Prepotto, Reana del Rojale, Remanzacco, San Giovanni al Natisone, Tarcento, Tricesimo e Torreano.
The territory includes a variety of hills and plains that spread continuously along in a north-west to south-east direction, creating large areas that benefit from excellent exposure to the sun for vine growing.
The “Cialla” sub-zone, included in the production regulations, instead covers a much more limited territory, lying in the northern part of the municipality of Prepotto and bordering with Cividale del Friuli.
The soils of the “Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit” DOCG belong to the so-called “Flysch di Cormòns”, comprising alternating layers of marls (calcareous clays) and sandstone (calcified sands) with a very characteristic appearance. In Friulian (the traditional language of the region), this combination is known as “ponca”. It is easily altered when influenced by atmospheric agents and quickly crumbles into flaky fragments, which then decalcify and turn the original bluish-grey and lead-grey into a yellowish colour that then dissolves in clayey soil.
The cultivated vineyards are situated between 100 and 400 m asl. Most of them are located on terraced hills, whereas some lie on flat or slightly sloping parcels of land, but the areas preferred by winemakers are at the highest points of the hills.
Over the centuries, the profile of the slopes has been shaped by the work of generations of vine-growers; visitors can observe steps and terraces planted with vines.
Count Fabio Asquini of Fagagna, a village north-west of Udine, wrote a marketing treatise about “Picolit” wine more than 250 years ago.
The Count did not drink wine but was surrounded by an excellent group of wine-tasters and he successfully made this wine popular in the main courts of Europe. In 1762, he started trading on a large scale, selling several thousand bottles and managing to consolidate a wine, Picolit, which was identified with his region of Friuli, thus it became not only his symbol but also legendary for the entire winemaking world.
The wine was sold in the second year and, in order to test its resistance to being transported, Count Asquini once sent a crate of bottles to Cadiz and then had it sent back, with excellent results. Picolit was collocated in a highly prestigious market. The Count sent Picolit to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Russia and to many other cities in Germany, as well as to Genoa, Milan, Naples, Ancona and other places. He supplied wine at various times to the Court of France, the King of Sardinia and the Emperor of Austria, who, when in Trieste, declared it “better than any other wine”.
Several documents report that in the early 19th century an expedition even a shipment was even sent to the USA.
When Count Asquini died, this wine saw the beginning of a long and slow decline, until its rebirth several decades or so ago, mainly due to the work of the Perusini family, who owned the Rocca Bernarda in Ipplis di Premariacco, in the Colli Orientali (eastern hills) of Friuli.
Luigi Veronelli came to Friuli for the first time, in 1959, precisely to get to know the “Picolit” produced by the Countess Giuseppina Perusini, and wrote: “I do not think that Italy has a more noble wine than this…It was the true gem of Friulian oenology…; and could be the pride of Italian oenology as a whole if only one could manage to introduce complete consistency into the methods of cultivation and vinification. Its qualities would then make Picolit for Italy what Chateau d’Yquem is for France.”
At the beginning of the last century, in 1905, the Perusini Antonini couple purchased the Rocca Bernarda, and Giacomo began to work hard on Picolit vines, which he found among the devastated vineyards in Ipplis. His son, Gaetano, completed the work his father had begun.
In his work entitled Il Vino, Isi Benini supported the relaunching of what he defined as “The Arab phoenix of Friuli”: …the most unique and agreeable interpretation given to this amazing wine can be found in a saying that, perhaps, came from that endless source that is the wit of the people: The recommendation to gourmets of a certain age was: “Do not offer it to a lady or a young lady because you might run the risk of being told yes.”
Picolit, a native grape variety of Friuli, undoubtedly a very old one, was grown in the Roman Imperial age and had the honour of delighting the palates of popes and emperors. The admirers of Picolit included Carlo Goldoni, who called this wine the most wonderful oenological gem of Friuli.
The production of Picolit is very limited due to a unique feature in the growth of the grapes, which partly undergo floral abortion, leaving the grape cluster sparse with smaller and sweeter grapes. Today, Picolit is grown in the hills of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in the provinces of Udine and Gorizia. The 2006 harvest produced the first “Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit” DOCG wine: thanks to the acknowledgement of its unique prestige, Picolit is the second DOCG wine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.