The Best Italian Wine Region You’ve Never Heard Of

Robert Draper of Smithsonian Magazine uncovers the secrets of the Friuli Region.

This article, written by Robert Draper, appears on

The world does not yet come to the Friuli region, and so much the better

My love affair began dubiously one night at a restaurant in Venice 19 years ago when, as Americans are wont to do, I reflexively ordered a bottle of Pinot Grigio. The waiter returned with a bottle of his choosing and poured me a glass. Drinking it was like taking the first bite into a ripe golden apple, piercingly tart. I grabbed the bottle and studied the label as if it might contain the nuclear codes.

VENICA—that was the name of the producer. Below it: COLLIO. The word meant nothing to me; the word now meant everything to me. Later I did my due diligence.

“Collio”—a derivation of the Italian word for “hill”—was the preeminent winegrowing district in the region just east of Venice, Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Never heard of the place. Truthfully, it had not occurred to me that there was any more east to go in Italy after Venice.

I caught a train to the immaculate small town of Cormons one morning in September. The trip took two hours and deposited me a mile from the city center. I closed the distance on foot and arrived at the tourist information center, which in fact was a wine bar, the Enoteca di Cormons. Several men with big red hands and redder faces were toasting and guffawing and flirting with the two women behind the bar, who in turn were pouring and fending off catcalls with practiced calm. Though I didn’t know it yet, the men were some of the region’s most illustrious winemakers, and the harvest was now behind them, though the revelry occurred year-round. I was in search of a bicycle to go visit the Venica winery. One of the bartenders, a hawkeyed woman named Lucia, spoke English and pointed me to a nearby hotel. Then she pulled out a map of the Collio wine district and traced the route to Venica in the village of Dolegna. Read more at

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