Macerated Whites from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Alsace, and Piedmont
Joško Gravner, like many of the greatest vintners in the RWM portfolio, is a revolutionary. Never satisfied with the status quo, he has completely transformed his vines, tanks, barrels, and wines throughout his career, always striving to more clearly communicate the historically renowned terroir of his home village, Oslavia. Long a famous viticultural area, Oslavia saw its wines served at the Habsburg Court in Vienna and shipped by Trieste’s enterprising merchants across the maritime world. By the 1980’s Gravner had become renowned for producing rich, multi-faceted wines fermented and ages in new oak barriques. In contrast to the lean, clean, tank-aged wines ubiquitous in Friuli-Venezia Giulia at the time, Gravner’s wines were rich, multi-layered, and able to improve with years of bottle age. Sitting at the ostensible pinnacle of his career, however, Gravner abandoned the methods that had brought him such unambiguous success. With each passing vintage, he felt less and less connection to the culture that had for song long made great Oslavia Ribolla possible. Eventually, this growing tension reached a breaking point: Gravner ripped out the oak barriques and much of the modern equipment that had filled his cellar over the past decade, replacing them with clay amphorae from the Caucasus known as Qvevri. Critically, he began keeping his wine’s on their skins during and after fermentation (in many vintages maceration can exceed one hundred days). Gravner’s resulting wines are some of the greatest, most singular of our portfolio. A marriage of terroir, professional talent, and historical tradition, they pair well with the traditional regional cuisine, whose base of pork, barley, and chicories is exceedingly difficult to match to other white wines; they age for decades, as bottles of Gravner’s recently released 2003 Riserva demonstrate; and most importantly, they stand on their own terms, representing the viticultural history of the Collio and Friuli-Venezia Giulia rather than trying to ape Burgundy or the Loire Valley.
Gravner’s wines, outstanding though they are, represent only one microcosm of the range of skin-contact wines in the RWM portfolio. Baroque, extracted, oxidative, botrytis-affected masterpieces, his Ribolla inhabits a different equilibrium than the macerated wines of Alsace’s Domaine Bechthold, which are filigree, delicate, and refreshing. Alsace, though ruled by the same Monarchs in Vienna’s Hofburg as the inhabitants of Oslavia, produces its wines from Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and other native cultivars rather than Ribolla. Bechtold’s Pinot Gris “Comme un Rouge,” produced biodynamically and with minimal sulfur (exceedingly rare in northern Alsace), is a tour de force at the table. Straddling the visual border of dark pink and light red, it presents refreshing notes of pomegranate and red cherry (supported by a barely noticeable tannic spine and high acidity) and offers new and exciting pairings with both Alsace’s traditional cuisine and world dishes as diverse as raw salmon, asparagus, and grilled chicken.
RWM growers Paolo Vodopivec and Benjamin Zidarich, though less than an hour from Oslavia, offer an entirely different rendition of macerated wine than Gravner. Rather than a baroque, multi-layered harmony, the Vitovska wines that Vodopivec and Zidarich wring from the Carso’s red, iron-rich limestone-clay soils are low alcohol, high acid, and incisively mineral-dominated. Though Zidarich and Vodopivec, like Gravner, macerate their wines for up to six months, Vitovska’s lower pigment levels mean that their resulting wines take on only a fraction of the deep amber color of many skin-contact cuvées. While certainly carrying a whiff of tannin, their equilibrium is built on a foundation of overwhelming minerality, which allows them to age for decades and serve in a panoply of roles at the table. Vodopivec’s soils, which contain more quartz deposits than those of Zidarich, add a rapier-like smokiness to the notes of chalk, quince, and dried honey. While certainly appropriate pairings for pork, challenging vegetables, and cooked oily fish, Vodopivec and Zidarich’s Vitovska perhaps best showcase their profundity when accompanied by raw fish with olive oil and salt or sea urchins.
The Carso, Collio, and Alsace are far from the only regions in RWM’s portfolio offering transcendent skin-contact wines. The “Costa del Riavolo” Langhe Bianco, produced by Nicoletta Boca of the San Fereolo estate in Dogliani, comes from a single parcel co-planted to Riesling and Traminer. Macerated for a few days and aged in large neutral barrels for two years, the resulting wine carries both the profundity and complexity of long cask ageing and the textural richness and cutting minerality of skin maceration.
Whether from the hinterland of Trieste or the foothills of the Vosges, we are grateful to all of our growers who have resurrected ancient and local practices to add another stratum of profundity to their viniculture.