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Tocai Friulano

Tocai Friulano, or simply Tocai, was the local Friulian synonym for the white wine grape Sauvignonasse. As a result of a European Union ruling, producers in Friuli can no longer use the term due to potential for confusion with the Hungarian wine Tokaji. Today, producers have adopted the term “Friulano” to refer to these wines.

Sauvignonasse, itself sometimes known as Sauvignon Vert, is a relative of Sauvignon Blanc. Its wines are typically fuller in body than those produced from Sauvignon Blanc, with less pronounced aromatics. At its best, it has high acidity and zippy fruit flavors.

The wine known today as Friulano comes from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy’s northeastern most wine region. Under the name Tocai Friulano, the Sauvignonasse grape has been cultivated here since at least the 1600s. Typically, its wines are pale in color, offer intense floral aromatics, are light in body and have a distinctive green-almond character. The wines are quite dry.

Friulano wine is produced in all of Friuli’s major Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) zones, namely Colli Orientali del Friuli, Collio Goriziano (often known simply as “Collio”), Grave del Friuli and Friuli Isonzo.

Of these zones, Collio DOC is known to produce some of Italy’s best white wines, in which Friulano plays the starring role. Within the Collio DOC, the Capriva di Friuli subzone is particularly highly regarded. The Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC boasts some especially strong subzones of its own, particularly Buttrio, Manzano and Rosazzo.

Outside of Italy, the grape once known as Tocai Friulano is notably grown in Slovenia and Chile. In Slovenia, the grape is now known as Zeleni Sauvignon (meaning “Green Sauvignon”) or Jakot (effectively the word “Tokaji” backwards). The key growing region is Goriška, specifically Goriška Brda and Vipava Valley. Given the high quality of these wines, the region’s proximity to Friuli is not surprising.

In Chile, the Sauvignonasse grape was long mistaken for Sauvignon Blanc. Upon discovery of the difference, many growers uprooted their Sauvignonasse (known locally as Sauvignon Vert) plantings in favor of the more commercially appealing Sauvignon Blanc. Young Chilean Sauvignonasse has distinct flavors of green apple.

Neighboring Argentina also cultivates some Sauvignonasse, and it is a classic though very scarce Bordeaux grape variety.

Tocai Friulano should not be confused with Tokaji wine or the Tokaj region. There is no known connection between this grape and any of those used in Hungarian Tokaji production. Nor should it be confused with the term Tokay d’Alsace, an outdated (and no longer permitted) synonym for Pinot Gris. -WE

Cellar 503 selections

Cooper Mountain Vineyards 2021 Tocai FriulanoFebruary 2024: Founder Focus