Enrico Maria Milič, the driving force of the Carso Local Action Group had some very wise words to share on my last visit. “Don’t consider Carso part of Friuli”, he cautioned, “The inhabitants of Carso and Trieste don’t think of themselves as Friulians. We definitely feel like ‘Triestini’ or ‘Carsolini’, some of us feel like Italians, Slovenes, Europeans or Triestines… For sure we are part of the administrative region named Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, but this is a governmental institution, not a cultural concept.”
Driving from Gorizia down towards Trieste illustrates his point perfectly. The windswept Adriatic coastline that is the Italian Carso is a markedly different environment to the nearby Friuli Collio or Colli Orientali. It’s noticeably more barren and more rural. This was a poor area long after the Collio shot to fame for its white wines, and still remains more of a backwater. Most of the winemakers that I’ve met from the Carso seem to be quiet, almost introverted characters – passionate and dedicated, but not big talkers.
Matej Skerli definitely fits that mould – this humble, likeable young man makes stunning wines that are quite without artifice. He doesn’t spend hours browbeating me with grand philosophical statements either. His father and grandfather were also winemakers, whose output served only to quench the thirst of their guests. The Skerlj estate has been an osmiza (simple tavern) since WWII, and an agriturismo since 1996. But as Matej recalls “people were drinking less and less at the osmiza, so in 2004 we decided to focus on bottled wine instead”. That wasn’t the only change. Taking inspiration from near neighbour Benjamin Zidarich, Matej started working with longer maceration times for Vitovska and Malvasia, also switching to a much more hands off “natural” philosophy in the cellar.
Matej’s Vitovska 2015 offers a perfect expression of this very local variety. Three weeks of skin contact have accentuated the aromatics, and brought out the typical scented pear and jasmine character. There’s the most beautiful fruit core of dried apricot and citrus, leading to a salty, mineral finish. It’s all shored up with grippy tannins, but again typical of Vitovska, they’re somehow whispy and elegant at the same time. Everything about this wine radiates clarity and purity. It’s focused and clear-cut enough to be a manifesto.
This Vitovska reinforces Enrico’s comments in spades. Everything is different in Carso – maceration times are typically shorter than those in the Collio, or Oslavia, and their effect on Vitovska is also quite distinct. Where Collio’s Ribolla Gialla becomes meaty and regal, Carso’s Vitovska always retains a certain leanness and refinement. The soil here is barren, thin and so full of hard limestone that creating a vineyard is albeit impossible without a fleet of JCBs. It’s a far cry from the fragile but rich Ponca soils of the Collio.
“Carso is the opposite of Collio”, says Matej, referring to its cooler climate as well as the soils. Maybe “opposite” is taking it too far, but these ‘Carsolini’ certainly produce something which is quite uniquely theirs.
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Skerlj’s wines are available in the UK from Tutto wines.
For mainland Europe, order from Slow Wine in Belgium.
Check wine-searcher for other locations. Output is a mere 9,000 bottles a year.
Skerlj is one of the wineries featured in Simon’s upcoming book “Amber Revolution”. For more details and pre-orders see this link.