Branko Čotar has a very straightforward answer for me when I ask when he started using extended skin macerations for his white wines: “I’ve macerated my wines for 40 years – it’s the tradition here (in the Slovenian Kras region)”. Branko’s unswerving adherence to the skin contact style was almost revelatory to me – it’s popular to talk about the revival of orange wines, dating it to the mid-1990s, when Josko Gravner and Stanko Radikon so famously and visibly went back to style. I’m guilty of having regurgitated this version of history myself, but the truth is that this style never went away, it just went underground.
Čotar started making wine in 1974 to keep the family restaurant supplied. But in 1997, together with son Vasja who now manages the estate, they decided to shut the restaurant (it has since reopened under his daughter’s management) and concentrate on wine instead. Production has remained ultra-traditional, with mechanised basket presses, around one week of skin contact for all white wines, and absolutely no sulphites added at any point.
The no SO2 tightrope is difficult. I’ve tasted too many otherwise great wines that are spoilt with dirty or even “mousy” finishes. Mercifully, all of Čotar’s orange wines are pure and fresh to the last – a vindication of how much strength this winemaking technique provides against unwelcome ageing, oxidation and bacteria.
Čotar taunts me when he goes down to the cellar and returns with a 1980 bottling, as proof that he was making orange wines back then. The colour is unquestionable, but we don’t taste it. He does however open a sensational Malvasia 2004.
The Malvasia 2004 seems to be in a perfect place – the aromas are intense, fresh and aromatic, with candied peel and citrus, but the bottle age has brought added interest and complexity – thyme, marjoram, chamomile have joined the party along with a more savoury, earthy character.
Malvasia Istriana’s nutty, pear fruit character is evident, although as is typical for the Carso/Kras, this is much lighter bodied and more mineral than the Malvasias of nearby Friuli Collio or Croatian Istria. The texture is supple, with some very fine tannins still present (the wine spent two weeks on its skins).
Čotar’s wines are not so easy to find outside Slovenia and neighbouring countries, which is a shame for such a venerable producer and such excellent wines. If you live in the US, Germany or Hungary you’re in luck. See this link for availability info.