I’m not sure that I have heroes anymore – and those I once had were certainly not wine writers. That said, if I did, and if they were, Hugh Johnson OBE would be a candidate. Several of his books are on my shelf, and his writings have accompanied my entire journey into wine over the last 25 […]
“The really big change was when I tasted the wine. It was something completely new, totally different and exciting. It made me crazy, just tasting it.”
This is how Stanko Radikon describes the life changing moment in 1995 which prompted him to change the family’s entire wine production to what we now know and love as “orange wines”.
You can tell a great winemaker not by what they produce in a good year, but by what they pull together from a catastrophic one. And it didn’t get much worse than Dario Prinčič’s 2008 vintage, where some 90% of his harvest was infected with Peronospora (downy mildew). Prinčič salvaged a pitiful amount of grapes, blended the entire output together and made a one off – the aptly named “Favola”, meaning fable or legend.
Old wines never cease to fascinate me. They invariably come to the table with a story to tell, with baggage attached, with secrets and profundities that are simply impossible in the latest vintage.
This 1997 Breg from Josko Gravner is laden with resonance – it’s one of the first years that Gravner bottled his then “new” style of wine, abandoning steel tanks and French oak barriques entirely, for long skin contact and ageing in much larger more neutral oak vessels. It’s the last year that Gravner kept his old label – the now iconic red/brown vine lable has graced every produced sine 1998. It also predates his usage of amphora for commercially bottled wines.
Large oak maturation vessels at Gravner
It’s starting to become a theme in this series – edge cases which are not really orange wines. Take the sole white wine from microscopic but world reknowned Le Due Terre, in Friuli Colli Orientali. A blend of Friulano with 30% Ribolla Gialla, it has 10-12 days of skin contact, and is spontaneously fermented without temperature control. Yet it definitely doesn’t fit the “orange wine” moniker in a stylistic sense.
If you want to have a masterclass in how skin contact affects white wines, there’s probably no better place than Franco and Anna Sosol’s tasting room. Il Carpino is their 17ha estate, situated on the same winding hill road as Radikon and Gravner, in Friuli Collio.
Sandi Skerk must have one of the most idyllically sited vineyards in Friuli, if not the world. Grassed terraces curve gently around the contours of the Carso hills, and lead your eye out towards the Adriatic coast. I’m profoundly happy to be standing by his albarello-pruned Vitovska vines, almost four years to the day after a previous eye-opening visit in 2011. Sandi is of course the same as ever – gentle, rather shy, yet somehow dogmatic and politely forceful when he needs to be.
Think Pinot Grigio, think insipid, water white cheap glugging plonk? Think again. Here is a 100% Pinot Grigio from Friuli Collio which confounds everything you ever knew about the variety.Dario Prinčič’s version macerates on its skins for around eight days during fermentation.
I made many discoveries at last Friday’s Orange Wines Festival, in gorgeous Izola, Slovenia (full report coming soon) – but none more pleasurable than the wines of Ronco Severo, based in Friuli Colli Orientali. Having twice visited the village of Prepotto, where Schioppettino is king, I wondered how I’d managed to miss such a great producer.
Ronco Severo is Stefan Novello, who started on his winemaking journey in 1998. Novello makes a delicious skin macerated Ribolla Gialla, and an aromatic, creamy Friulano, but the pick of the bunch for me was his white blend “Severo Bianco 2012”
This 2009 Ribolla Gialla shows absolute mastery of Oslavia’s cherished variety and the extended skin maceration technique which is increasingly associated with this village.
Brothers Niccolò & Giorgio Bensa started bottling wine at this estate in Oslavia, Friuli Collio in 1985 – their reputation has built impressively ever since. Niccolò’s sons Stefano and Matteo are now involved too. The Bensas were part of the “Gravner group” during the late 1990s, which was so pivotal in reintroducing the traditional methods of extended skin contact and wild yeast ferments.