Wines from Northeast Italy, Georgian honey
Sauvignon, Friulano, Acacia-flavored Honey
A couple of years ago, I wrote about Ribolla Gialla, a white wine grape that is grown in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Northeastern Italy. The region drew me not only for the novelty of its wines where I live but also because it has a long history, as do so many regions in Europe. I imagine stone castles, winding roads, and small, family-owned inns with a bellman who speaks five languages.
One year I thought I’d take advantage of low winter fares to visit, but allowed myself to be scared away by the Bora winds that blow in from the northeast with gale force. These winds can occur any time of the year but are more frequent in the winter, blowing downhill from high pressure areas. All the varietals I could have had!
Thwarted by the Bora I continued, nonetheless, my quest for wines from the Friuli region. Recently I had two – a Sauvignon Blanc, often known as simply Sauvignon in this region, and a Friulano. The latter is a grape, also known as Sauvignon Vert, and not to be confused with the Sauvignon Blanc or with Friuli.
The Sauvignon Specogna was deliciously aromatic and acidic and went well with all the salads and pastas we had with friends at a new neighborhood Italian restaurant. The 2016 La Monde Friulano, light and crisp, was good for a warm afternoon. Both wines are under $20, unless you’re having them at a restaurant. But the pairings with the Friulano revealed more of a story than I had anticipated.
Bees and honey in Georgia.
A friend and I enjoyed the Friulano with Indian style English peas – mildly spiced – and Asiago and goat cheese and crackers and honey.
The honey was unbelievable. A Georgian acquaintance, Mana, had gifted it to us. A beautiful pale gold in color, it looked completely different from others I’ve had – all exotic with orange blossoms or wild flowers. We put it liberally on our crackers and cheese – not too sweet, smooth, aromatic and so flavorful. My friend’s palate, more refined than mine, tasted acacia; I tasted only gorgeous honey.
The next day I asked Mana about the provenance of this ambrosia-like honey. Mana wrote to me about her Uncle Temur, an environmentalist who for years oversaw forests in Eastern Georgia. The Republic of Georgia lies to the south of Russia, north of Turkey and enjoys a coastline on the Black Sea to the west.
Over the years, as Uncle Temur toured the forests in his charge, ideas took form in his head. A fiction writer, I picture him, an environmentalist, in love with his trees, thinking during the long hours of solitude about the gifts that forests bestow on us. Uncle Temur developed hobbies connected to the earth. One of these was beekeeping. Starting with a single beehive, he grew his collection to forty, trying different places in the forest to capture the aromas and flavors of different trees.
Over time, as he immersed himself deeper into his avocation, he drew on his knowledge of trees and their medicinal properties to flavor his honey. The honey we had was a blend of acacia, as my friend had rightly discerned, and chestnut.
Every summer, said Mana, after he harvests the honey, he divides it among all his friends and relatives. If there is any left over, he sells it to ensure that he [can] continue his hobby the following year. What an awesome way to savor one’s golden years.
I raise my glass to Uncle Temur and wish him many years of making this phenomenal honey. Cheers!
Photos: Courtesy Mana.