I had but one regret when I finally visited Udine last weekend: that I hadn’t made it there before.
The center of northeast Italy’s Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region, this charming town of just under 100,000 has a lot going for it. Its historic center is well-preserved and maintained; it’s missing lots (most?) of the grit that is common in many Italian cities; great food is a way of life; pretentiousness seems to be a foreign concept; and, oh yeah, it’s in the heart of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia wine country, and its Slovenia name is Videm.
From relatively narrow confines –beginning at the the sprawling Piazza Primo Maggio (May 1st), up and over castle hill, through the Piazza della Liberta and ending at the airy Piazza Matteotti– there is something for everybody. Some buildings date back to the late 12th C., and 15th C. Venetian influences are nearly as common as restaurants and wine bars. One solid recommendation is the Caffe Contarena, next to (or part of?) the 15th C. Logia del Lionello at the Piazza della Liberta. Not cheap but not outlandish either; I can still taste the polentina and the mushroom-stuffed ravioli. Ambiance is incredible, worth a visit just to enjoy its art deco interior (the right half) and the arch-shaped wine bar (left half).
Castle Hill (castello) is a must. The castle itself took its present shape in the latter 16th C. after the 1511 earthquake and it houses a nice little art museum (admission 1(!!) EUR) and Parliament Hall, one of the oldest such rooms in Europe.
Vino: I lost track of the few dozen wines I tried and note-taking was not usually an option. A few stellar standouts (semi) permanently etched into memory:
– Edi Keber Collio Rosso 2004 – Intense, big, well-structured, and packs a tasty wallop. Plenty of berry, leathery notes, and will certainly improve with age. Of course, there is a Slovenian connection here, not a particularly big surprise in wine-producing terms, where political boundaries mean nothing. Keber is from Zegla (Collio), a village a few hundred meters from the Slovenia’s Medana. – Livio Felluga Vertigo 2005 – A cab sav/merlot blend, light leather and pleasant cherry notes. Like many wines already on the market these days, this is still quite young, and has the backbone and elegance to live on quite nicely.
This is primarily white wine country, and you can’t go wrong with the local masterpieces produced from the local Tokai Friulano (new EU regulations have forced producers on the Slovenian side of the border to change the name of the grape), a bone dry, elegant white. – Mullino delle Tolle Tokai Friulano 2005. I can’t say enough about this wine, so I’ll keep it simple. From its light gold color to it wildflower aromas to its savory and delicate almondy taste, this is a nothing less than the wildest of fantasies in a bottle pleading to be uncorked. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Getting there: There are regular rail connections via Trieste and Venice/Mestre, nearest airport is Friuli Venezia Giulia Regional (aka Trieste or Ronchi, about a 30 min drive), and it’s a leisurely two hour (160 km) drive from Ljubljana.