Saffron "Milanese" Risotto – Recommended Wine Pairing (and a bit of trivia re Tocai)

Blason, Friuli Isonzo Friulano "Casa in Bruma" DOCSo, yeah, I’m still in catch-up mode with my wine pairing recommendations… Sorry if it took me a while, but here we go: these are my suggestions in terms of what to pair with Francesca’s wonderful Saffron Milanese Risotto (which, incidentally, is one of my favorite risotto’s!)

To complement this luscious dish, you should pick a wine with good acidity, fairly intense aromas and flavor, noticeable minerality and decent structure, as in a medium-bodied wine.

Based on the above, I am going to recommend a Friulano wine, from the Italian Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Before we go to the actual recommendations, however, let’s just say a few words about this wine, including a bit of trivia 🙂

Friulano is the relatively new name for the grape variety that used to be known as Tocai. The change in name was due to the outcome of a dispute before the European Court of Justice that in 2005 prohibited Italian winemakers, starting March 2007, from using the word Tocai to identify their wines or grape varieties, on the grounds that the use of the word “Tocai” by the Italians could be confusing with the very famous (and delicious!) Hungarian sweet botrytized wineTokaji“, which is a word that started being used to identify such wine before anyone else used any similar term, including Tocai in the Friuli and Veneto regions of Italy. Incidentally, note that in Hungary “Tokaji” is only the name of the wine, not that of the prevalent grape variety it is made of, which instead is called Furmint.

Ronco del Gelso, Friuli Isonzo Rive Alte Friulano "Toc Bas" DOCAs a result of the aforesaid European Court of Justice decision (and despite, let me note, Italian Tocai being a dry white wine and therefore completely different from Hungaian Tokaji, which is a sweet wine), Italian authorities and Tocai producers from the two affected regions (Friuli and Veneto) needed to come up with a different name to call their own grapes and the wine made out of them.

In one of the best examples of Italian bureaucracy at its finest, a decision was made to call the same grape variety in two different ways: “Friulano” in the region of Friuli and “Tai” in the region of Veneto. As if being required to drop the Tocai designation altogether had not brought enough confusion in the market… 🙁

Regarding Friulano (or Tocai) as a grape variety, DNA profiling has shown that it is identical to Sauvignonasse, an old white-berried grape variety that originated in the Gironde region of France and that (despite what the name would make you think) is not related to Sauvignon. Sauvignonasse vines were brought to the North-Eastern Italian region of Friuli in the XIX century where it was given the name Tokai, which later on muted into Tocai, in the first quarter of the XX century (information on the grape varieties, cit. Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012).

Vigne di Zamò, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano "Vigne Cinquant'anni" DOCLet’s now focus on a few recommendations of quality Friulano wines that you may consider pairing with a saffron Milanese risotto (all of the options below are varietal wines, made of 100% Friulano grapes):

  • Blason, Friuli Isonzo Friulano “Casa in Bruma” DOC, with aromas of peach, almond and minerals
  • Livio Felluga, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano DOC, with a bouquet of citrus, almond, herbs and minerals
  • La Tunella, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano DOC, with aromas of white flowers, pear, almond and mineral hints
  • Le Vigne di Zamò, Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano “Vigne Cinquant’anni” DOC, with a wonderful bouquet of apple, citrus, tropical fruit and minerals
  • Ronco del Gelso, Friuli Isonzo Rive Alte Friulano “Toc Bas” DOC, with aromas of white flowers, peach, apricot, almond, hazelnut and mineral hints.

As usual, if you get to try out any of these wines, let us all know how you liked it by dropping a comment below!


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0 thoughts on “Saffron "Milanese" Risotto – Recommended Wine Pairing (and a bit of trivia re Tocai)

  1. Pingback: European Wine Wars: after Tocai, it is the time of Prosek… and Teran | Clicks & Corks

  2. frankkwine1982

    These wines seem to have quite a similar nose. Would be interesting to try multiple of them on the same occasion. Which of them is your absolute recommendation? I don’t think I will be able to try all of them in the near future but maybe one of them and I would then like to try the one you consider best 🙂

    Also another question: Wouldn’t it be possible to pair a wine from Lombardy together with risotto milanese since Milan is a city in Lombardy? Often when I cook food I like to pair it with wine from the same area (sometimes it doesn’t work very well though)

    1. Stefano Post author

      Hi Frank!
      Oh wow, this is a tough question! I have to say there rarely is a wine for which I only like one producer or one bottle; there generally are a few options that I consider to be all solid choices, like in this case.
      One more reason why in this kind of wine pairing posts I put out multiple recommendations is that, by doing so, readers who may want to give one of those wines a try have options to choose from, as not all of them may be readily available on a specific location.
      Having said that, I can tell you that at the Vinitaly/Slow Wine event I have been particularly impressed by the Vigne di Zamo’ Friulano 50 anni. Ronco del Gelso’s Toc Bas is another great choice, in my view. Yesterday at the Gambero Rosso event we got to taste again Felluga’s Friulano which is also solid, and I got to try Livon’s Friulano Manditocai (not in the list on my post) which was also very good. See, I cannot decide 🙂 Well, I will go out there and say, if you can get the Vigne di Zamo’ 50 anni go for it as I dare say you will not regret it! There, I decided! 🙂
      I will reply to your second (very good) question in another comment, not to make this one grow gigantic! I will get to it later today, though, as now there are a few things I need to attend to and appropriately answering your question will require some time 🙂

      1. frankkwine1982

        Thank you for your answer Stefano.
        I found a retailer for the Vigne di Zanno’ 50 anni close by. The guy working in the store was excited that I asked for that particular wine and started talking about it for at least five minutes without taking a break!
        I agree with you that sometimes it’s hard to pick one single wine as one’s absolute favorite wine. I will mention you in my blog once I wrote a review about the wine but first I have to opened it (probably in the next weeks).

        1. Stefano Post author

          Great to hear, Frank! I am particularly happy because, by asking for that particular wine and getting the retailer excited about it, there is a chance he appreciates the fact that quality Italian wines beyond the obvious ones do have a market in the US and that it makes sense for him (and other “enlightened” retailers) to keep investing in them.
          I look forward to reading your views about it when you publish your review!

    2. Stefano Post author

      Okay, I’m back! So, on to your second question.
      Sure it is possible, Frank, and my wine pairing recommendations are certainly not exclusive. Pairing a regional food with a local wine is the traditional way of doing wine pairings and still has its merits today (although in the case of certain Italian regions that lack really good wines, that may prove to be a challenge!) However, as I mentioned in reply to an earlier comment from Oliver, to me the most important thing is understanding the basic general criteria for achieving a pleasing food/wine pairing and then choose a wine based on such criteria, regardless of where geographically the wine comes from. I hope I will be able to publish a post on this topic late next week.
      Having said this, with regard to wines from Lombardia, I think a good pairing would be with a quality Lugana (I do not have much experience with Lugana, but I enjoyed Marangona’s Tre Campane and, although technically in Veneto, Ottella’s Lugana Le Creete, which I tasted at the Gambero Rosso event) or even with a good-structured Franciacorta, such as a Ca’ del Bosco Brut, a Berlucchi Cuvee Imperiale Vintage or a Berlucchi Cellarius or a Ferghettina Extra Brut.
      Hope this answers your question 🙂

      1. frankkwine1982

        Thanks again for your reply to my questions. I hope they don’t bother you too much. When it comes to Italian wine you and Julian are my top sources for wine recommendations.
        I will see which of these wines I can find so that the next time I make Risotto I’ll have a choice between Lugana and Tocai Friulano 🙂
        I’ve tried Ca del Bosco before and really liked their sparkling wines.
        Thanks Stefano!

        1. Stefano Post author

          Hey Frank! Absolutely no bother – actually, you always ask very interesting and stimulating questions (so, sometimes my replies are longer than average!) and I really appreciate that. Also, I’m flattered to be among your Italian wine information sources 🙂
          Ca’ del Bosco makes some excellent Classic Method sparkling wines – as you may have read from my notes to the Vinistaly/Slow Wine event, Anatoli and I got to taste their top of the line Annamaria Clementi and I tell you it is divine!!! 🙂

  3. the winegetter

    I just made mushroom risotto last night, and we paired it with a lighter red. Worked well. I am always looking for white suggestions for the risottos I make, because I find it quite difficult at times. Will keep these in mind. And I am a bit like Jeff, Italian whites are usually not for me…:)

    Also, I remember travelling in Alsace at a tender age in the 1990s where they were selling a wine named Tokay as well (a white wine)…I guess that got banned, too. 🙁

    1. Stefano Post author

      Hi Oliver!
      First things first: I love mushroom risotto! Great thing you can cook it!
      Then yes, a lighter, medium-structure red would pair well with that (for instance, a Barbera). In terms of white, there would be several choices – a Friulano would go well with it, so would a Chardonnay or a Lugana or even a structured Classic Method sparkler, like a Franciacorta blanc de noirs or anyway with Pinot Noir in it.
      But the most important thing to make a decision as to what to pair with a food, any food, is to identify the general criteria that should guide the selection. I am writing a post on this, which I hope I will be able to publish toward the end of next week: hopefully it can give a few pointers, or at least something to think about 🙂
      Finally, excellent point re the Alsatian Tokay: you are exactly right, as the use of that term got also banned by the EU…

      1. the winegetter

        Ah, Stefano…it seems like we need to plan for a whole week to hang out when we finally meet…so many things to share! Thanks for the great tips on the wines. I actually paired that mushroom risotto with a Salica Salentino Riserva before, a bit heavier than a Barbera, and it also worked. Great earthy aromas in the wine complemented the mushrooms quite nicely.

        I am looking forward to your post about pairing as I agree it depends on what you want: complementing aromas or contrasting aromas. I tend to switch back and forth between the two, kind of a mood thing…:)

        1. Stefano Post author

          I totally agree, Oliver!
          Ah, Salice Salentino: that’s a very good idea – so, it was mostly Negroamaro, wasn’t it? Very interesting choice.
          I look forward to your views after I finish my wine tasting post!

    1. Stefano Post author

      Wow, this is indeed a big compliment that you are paying me, Jeff: I consider managing to tempt you with an Italian white quite a success 😀
      I also have a surprise in store for you, which might be one of my “ultimate temptations”… I will post about it I think this weekend. We’ll see how you react to it 😉
      Thanks for your comment, Jeff.