Monday, October 02, 2006

Goodbye Tocai Friulano, and Hello... Friulano Bianco?

Yes, you read right. Tocai Friulano, one of Friuli Venezia Giulia's most important white wines, will be changing its name as of March 2007.

Why? Because in 1993 the European Economic Union agreed with Hungary that only Hungary had the right to put the word Tocaj, or any alternative spelling thereof, on a wine label. That the Hungarian and Italian wines have little in common except color -- Hungarian Tokaj is a sweet dessert wine, whereas Tocai Friulano is a dry mealtime wine -- made no difference to the legislators intent on making a deal with Hungary.

Friuli's winemakers protested the agreement vigorously and not without merit -- Tocai the vine is mentioned in Friulian documents dating beck to the 13th century, and there are records of a Countess taking Tocai vines with her as part of her dowry when she married a Hungarian noble, but the protests fell on completely deaf ears from the get-go.

Anyone with an ounce of realism would have realized he was fighting a lost cause, and begun to think about a new name for the wine years ago -- the French, who made a Tokay in Alsace, added the words Pinot Gris to their labels and then gradually phased out the Tokay over a number of years -- but not Friuli's winemakers, who were supported by local politicians in their decision to stand firm against the EEU.

A vain stand; now the cards are down, and the name will be going -- some especially stubborn producers have announced that they will continue to call their wine Tocai Friulano, but the fines the EEU will levy will likely make them change their minds -- and what do we have to replace it?

Bianco Friulano, which is frankly lame: Tocai had a certain ring to it that the new alternative simply lacks. But Bianco it is, at least for now, though I hope that the Friulani will come up with something better: One wine writer has suggested Tai, which means "glass" (of the kind one drinks out of) in Friulano, and has as much of a ring to it as Tocai does. Perhaps even more.

But that is (alas) for the future. The present reality is that the Friulani have frittered away an opportunity to gradually introduce a new name for one of their flagship wines, and consumers who visit their wine shops in search of Tocai Friulano after this spring won't find it. What they will find is Bianco Friulano, which sounds a lot less exciting, but will be just as good.

Franco Ziliani's take on the controversy (in Italian).

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