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Home | White Varieties | Friulano - Turmoil over Tocai

Friulano - Turmoil over Tocai

Originally known as Tocai Friulano [Tok-eye froo-LAH-noh], this little known Italian white grape variety has been at the center of viticultural legal wrangling for much of the last two decades.  Beginning in the 1990s Hungary has lobbied the European Union to ban the word Tocai on Italian wine labels lest it be confused with “Tokay”, the famous dessert wine of northeast Hungary.  Even though the effort was successful with a 1995 European Court ruling, the complete ban was not in effect until the 2007 vintage.  2007 has come and gone and the wrangling continues, as it is unclear if the ban applies within Italy or only to wine exported from the region.  Despite all the legalities, many wine makers still use the Tocai reference and the name continues to appear although often with a smaller font size.

Tocai Friulano or simply Friulano is a close relative of Sauvignon Blanc and also goes by the names of Sauvignon Vert, and Sauvignonasse.  Believed to be indigenous to Italy with plantings dating back to the eleventh century, the first written references to the variety however were recorded in 1810 by the then ruling Austrian government.  

Where is Friulano Grown?

Italy – The birthplace and home to the majority of Friulano grapes plantings remains the Venezia Friuli Giulia region of northeastern Italy.  Known locally as simply Tocai, the most well-known Friulano wines are produced in the DOCs of Collio Goriziano and Colli Orientali del Friuli.  Friulano is also grown in other regions of Italy including Veneto and Marche.

Italy producers to look for:  Rocco Bernarda, Borgosan Daniele, Borgo del Tiglio, Drius, Doro Princic, Paolo Rodaro, Poderi di Carlo, Ronchi di Manzano, Russolo, Schiopetto, La Viarte, Vie di Romans, Villa Russiz, Volpe Pasinik LOe Vigne di Zamo.

Chile – Friulano, called Sauvignonasse, was widely planted in Chile, where until the early 1990's it was thought to be Sauvignon Blanc.  Since that time wineries have been verifying the lineage of new plantings insuring the authenticity of Sauvignon Blanc.  Despite this however, it is likely that much of the Sauvignon Blanc from Chile continues to contain Sauvignonasse, and is labeled as “Sauvignon” rather than Sauvignon Blanc.  Wines from the more northern reaches - the Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys - are most likely Sauvignon Blanc as producers there have planted their vineyards more recently. 

United States

Millbrook Vineyards Tocai Fruilano
Millbrook Vineyards Tocai Fruilano
– A few adventuresome producers in the United States continue to experiment with Friulano, although most as a blending wine.  There are small plantings in California and also in New York State.

Producers to look for:  Macauley Vineyard (California),Palmina (California), Millbrook (New York).

Argentina also produces a very limited amount of single varietal Friulano labeled as Sauvignonase.

Friulano Styles

Tocai Friulano is known for floral aromas and lively acidity.  Most of the wine is fermented in stainless steel and made to be consumed young.  The wines are a straw yellow in color, and are medium bodied.  The best Italian Friulano are well balanced, rich with pear and citrus and with age, develop a honeyed nuttiness that increases the wines body.  Exploring Friulano wines is not without its risks as less cared for wines can be merely serviceable, with minimal fruit and lacking most any memorable component, so choose carefully.

Friulano pairs well with seafood or white meat, prosciutto, risottos and braised vegetables.  It also has the reputation of being one of only a few wines that can work with Asparagus and Artichokes.















Medium bodied
Moderate acidity

Moderate Alcohol levels

No Tannins






Most Friulano wines from Italy are less than $20.  Some of the more well-known producers command prices in the $20 - $40 range.


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