As further evidence that there is more viticultural diversity in Italy than perhaps anywhere else on the planet, we give you the Carso — the thin slice of land connecting Trieste to the main mass of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Officially speaking, this is Italy, but, as is the case all along Italy’s border with Slovenia, the wine culture transcends national boundaries. Winegrowing Carso extends well beyond the border into Slovenia (as does winegrowing Collio further north), and its trio of peculiar local grapes — the whites vitovska and malvasia and a strain of the red refosco known as terrano — are uniquely Slavic contributions to the “Italian” viticultural whole.
Carso is a limestone-rich plateau that extends out from the city of Trieste and reaches toward the Julian Alps to the north. The heavy limestone content of the soils likely gave the zone its name (Carso is thought to be derived from a Celtic word meaning “land of rock”), and it lends the wines, both white and red, a firm acidic backbone and mouthwatering minerality. On the white side, this means flinty, fragrant accompaniments to fresh seafood in Trieste, Muggia, and other fishing towns along Friuli’s Adriatic basin, while the red terrano is a high-acid companion to the heartier, Slavic- and Austrian-inflected food further inland (you’d be surprised how good a tart, tongue-piercing red like terrano can be as a contrast to the richness of stinco di vitello).
Naturally, we’ve got you covered at Babbo, with all three of the Carso’s local grapes finding their way onto our list. I often recommend the white vitovska to Austrian wine lovers, as its chalky minerality and floral aromatics are reminiscent of a good Austrian grüner veltliner. Malvasia istriana is a little weightier white, with a distinctive orange-blossom fruitiness and a slightly oily, waxy texture that sometimes reminds me of viognier. Terrano, on the other hand, is an admittedly tougher sell — since we’ve become conditioned to drink super-extracted red wines with barely perceptible acidity, the tartness of terrano is a little more than most wimpy American palates can take.
I’m not saying I’m such a tough guy myself — I can’t really take terrano without some seriously rich food, like Mario’s massive Deconstructed Ossobuco, to tame it. Terrano is a wine for thick-fingered, thick-mustached Slavic guys who work outside for a living, but even a lightweight cork-puller like myself needs a little fortification from time to time. So man up and try some yourself!