Rise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

The landscape of the Collio DOC region
The landscape of the Collio DOC region

Empires come and go, but the Austro-Hungarian Empire has re-emerged in the U.S..  Austrian wines have always been a somm favorite here but in recent months, I’ve encountered more and more wines from Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Northeast Italy and its neighbor Slovenia.  I wrote about Attems and the noble tradition of winemaking in Collio (aka Collio Goriziano), a region of steep slopes, forests and groves of cherry trees whose vineyards overlap that of Slovenia.  The area fascinates me for its confluence of Venetian, Slavic and Germanic cultures and for its history as a Mediterranean playground for the Hapsburgs, driving the tradition of making high-quality wines.

Patrizia Felluga, son Antonio and daughter Caterina Zanon (left to right), of Zuani.

I had the pleasure of meeting yet another great Collio family in the city last week, Patrizia Felluga and her son Antonio Zanon who own Zuani in the San Floriano del Collio section of Collio.  While Attems represents the continuum of quality in Collio wines since the 12th century, the larger Felluga family represents the modern day tradition, being part of the 1960’s generation of winemakers to convert to modern stainless steel fermentation really before the rest of Italy.  Because of the Felluga family’s quest for quality and endless promotion of the region, they are oft compared as the Mondavis of Collio.  Patrizia herself was the head of the Consorzio for the last two terms and is now passionately involved in the promotion of tourism in Collio.

Zuani was a labor of love for Patrizia, who sought to create her own estate in the late 1990’s, taking her time to find just the right spot.  After all, her father Marco advised, buying a vineyard “is not like buying shoes.”  The 30 acres of vineyards is truly a cru site, being on the best marl and sandstone “ponca” soils, excellent for white grape varieties.  The cru rises about 1,000 feet in the highest hills of Collio, on steep slopes.  The area gets brilliant light, being mere miles away from the Adriatic coast.

They currently make two whites, both blends of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, the local Friulano and Sauvignon Blanc.  The Zuani Vigne is a fresh, fruit-driven wine while the Zuani Riserva is a richer style with new oak influence.  The white blend is one of the traditions of Collio, but the Felluga family specializes in blends to emphasize the terroir vs. the individuality of the grapes.  I loved the clarity of the Zuani Vigne ($24) in particular.  The Pinot Grigio adds the lovely white peach fruit and minerality, Chardonnay adds freshness and Sauvignon and Friulano add aromatic lift.

Zuani Vigne, a classic Collio white blend
Zuani Vigne, a classic Collio white blend

Together, they create a complex wine that is juicy in peach and tangerine fruit yet at the same time complex with savory, mineral and herbal notes.  I also loved the wines’ natural balance and elegance, whether it be the warmer 2012 vintage or the cooler 2010 vintage.  Simply great food wines.

Food and Wine Pairing with Collio White Wines

The white blends pair easily with the local Collio foods like frico (crispy cheese discs) or Prosciutto di San Daniele or seafood stews like Borgeto made there with local fish like sole, Branzino, clams and cuttlefish.  In the city, we paired the wines with our fresh West Coast foods at Waterbar Restaurant on the Embarcadero.

Dungeness Crab Salad at Waterbar Restaurant SF
Dungeness Crab Salad at Waterbar Restaurant SF

Succulent, sweet crab accented by tart creme fraiche, herbal mache and sweet, crispy fried beet chips


Perfectly seared scallops served with tender ravioli filled with savory English pea puree, complemented by spring favas and tartness of micro-sorrel, all floating in a northern Italy tradition – butter.

Visit Zuani Casa in Collio

Stay tuned for the Fallega family’s new five-suite Zuani Casa luxury country inn projected to open in the fall.  This is not your typical agritourismo accommodations with in-suite fireplaces and unheard of walk-in closets.

While buying a winegrowing estate may not be like buying shoes, it’s large enough for Patrizia to store them!