This week, my favourite mild-mannered winemaking genius Sandi Skerk was in London, at a stellar tasting organised by Italian specialist importer Passione Vino. I’d previously tasted many of the Skerk wines at the vineyard as barrel samples, so it was great to compare that with the final bottlings – in this case all from the 2009 vintage. The Vitovska has a richness that I associate with the long period spent macerating on the skins. It’s got lively acidity, appealing nutty/apricot hints and an almost briney consistency that’s much more appealing than it might sound.
The Malvasia had a particularly wild aroma of rubber tyres, something I’d normally associate with aged Rieslings. Again, this is a rich, long and fascinating wine, with a panopoly of floral and nutty flavours sitting happily in the mix.
“Ograde” is probably Skerk’s magnum opus: A white blend of Malvasia, Vitovska, Sauvignon blanc and Pinot Grigio. The 2009 appears to be dryer and more savoury than its individual component wines, enormously complex, and with an appealing grapefruit hint presumably contributed by the Sauvignon. This wine can sometimes be rather funky on the nose, but today it was pure and focused all the way.
I have often been less than enamoured by examples of Terrano from Friuli Carso, but I hadn’t tried Sandi Skerk’s 2009 bottling (I did try an experimental bottle-fermented version back in October 2011). It still suffers from a slight hollowness – a lack of heft if you will – but I have to say this convinced me far more than any other examples I’ve had to date. It’s a nervy wine, with racing acidity, attractive candied peel and dried fruit characters. As a light bodied wine, it’s refreshing, but still somehow feels complex and whole.
Sometimes just one sip of a wine seems enough to transmit the winemaker’s entire philosophy and passion. This is how I felt when I tasted Eugenio Rosi’s “Anisos” Vallagarina IGT white blend (Pinot Bianco, Nosiola, Chardonnay). As we didn’t share a language, I started tasting without assumptions, and wow, what a wine. There is a bready, unctous texture underpinning all kinds of citrus fruit, acacia blossom and nutty flavours, and a palate-cleansing bitter finish. This wine is alive, full of personality and originality. I wasn’t surprised at all to discover that Rosi’s regime is to macerate on the skins, use natural yeasts, organic farming methods and no sulphur (apart from a minute dose at bottling). These are techniques which in the right hands seem to allow the grapes to “sing” in the glass (As Alice Feiring might put it).
Eugenio is not comfortable with the “natural wine” moniker – a not uncommon situation. He remarked that it should merely be called “normal winemaking – because this is the traditional way, where you don’t do anything else, and you intervene as little as possible”. I understand his frustration – that because industrial methods of wine making have become the new “norm”, this can force the traditional methods into a ghetto – or worse, attribute them to the vagaries of fashion.
Rosi is not afraid to experiment, and many of the wine-making techniques are individual to say the least – the “Poiema” Vallagarina IGT, made from Rosi’s cherished local Marzemino variety, is aged not in oak, but cherry and chestnut barrels. This gives a subtler influence, more in tune with the cherry-fruit character that’s already present in Marzemino. The “7 Otto 9” is a blend of Cabernet Franc across three vintages (’07, ’08 and ’09). The result is a rich, balanced and gorgeously mineral wine. Thank goodness for the Italian IGT category, which is flexible enough to allow all of these innovations.
Thank goodness also for wine importers like Luca Dusi, whose impressive list is entirely made up of small, “artisanal” wine producers like Sandi Skerk and Eugenio Rosi. These are craftsmen who consistently disarm and change our whole notion of what can be achieved with dedication and skill in wine making.
All the wines mentioned in this post can be ordered direct from Passione Vino in the UK.
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