La Tunella Friulano: It does more than ‘sleep’ with the fishes

Friulano with mussels, shrimp and linguini in a white clam sauce.

The Wine Goddess, my wife Mary Lee, handed me a challenge: Select a white wine she had never tasted before to pair with her special dish of mussels, shrimp and linguini in a white clam sauce (no garlic). I smacked my lips and headed to the wine laboratory – better known as my basement fridge – for the solution. There lying on its side in a green tinted bottle – and chilled to a perfect 46 degrees –  was a 2016 La Tunella (Friuli Colli Orientali DOC) Friulano. It sounds like a mouthful, but all one has to remember is Friulano, which is both the name of a grape (formerly Tocai Friulano) and a wine.

In Italy, Friulano grows exclusively in the terraced, sloping hillside vineyards of Friuli, an autonomous region tucked in the country’s northeast corner bordering Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east.

Friulano is traditionally a light-to-medium bodied wine, but the Zorzettig family that owns La Tunella makes it weightier and rounder. The key step is adding a fermentation starter of the estate’s best hand-picked grapes to the must of freshly crushed grapes. The mixture ferments for 40 days in stainless steel tanks. It is then transferred to steel vats for longer sur lie maturation. The extended contact with dead yeast cells results in enhanced color (golden straw with green streaks), aromas (white flowers) and flavors (bright apple, lemon, pear, spices). A full-bodied texture, both penetrating and smooth, is also achieved. The finish is dry and delightfully enduring.

The finished dish: Crispy, golden eggplant with Primitivo wine.

Highly rated Friulano can fetch up to $100 a bottle, yet La Tunella produces a quality pocketbook pleaser at $18.99. It was sensational with our shellfish dinner. I couldn’t resist dipping toasted ciabatta bread in the clam sauce and polishing it off with a healthy sip of Friulano. But this white doesn’t just sleep with the fishes. Northern Italians prefer it with St. Daniele ham, appetizers, and chicken dishes.

Reader Request: Linda B. from Tyngsboro, in response to a previous column on Lenten whites, inquired about a red wine and meatless meal pairing. Try Tormaresca’s 2014 Torcicoda Primitivo Salento IGT ($16, Vino Italiano, Waltham) with crispy, “fry-baked” eggplant parmigiana (see recipe at Made in Puglia, this Primitivo (Zinfandel in America) boasts black and blue fruit, bright acidity, and supple tannins to soak up the layers of rich cheese and tomato sauce blanketing the golden brown melanzane.

Wine Deal of the Week: Famille Perrin’s 2016 Cotes du Rhone Reserve ($12.99) is a fabulous every-day drinking wine from the owners of Rhone Valley’s famous Chateau de Beaucastel. The Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend is fresh, fruity and energetic, the type of quaff that gives lift to grilled burgers, steak tips and barbecue chicken. While this wine is in plentiful supply, Andover Classic Wines is selling it for $1 less than New Hampshire outlets while offering an extra 15 percent discount on a 12-bottle case. That reduces the cost to $11.04 a bottle or $132.50 a case – a $23 overall savings. Buy smart and savor all summer long!

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