ITALIAN WINE CLUB

JULY 2020

BLURRED BORDERS WITH SLOVENIA

Wedged between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, Slovenia’s political borders have changed countless times over centuries of occupation. When you visit today’s Italian/Slovenian border, this is all very apparent in everything from the architecture, the people, and the cuisine. One of its most noted wine-growing zones is the Vipava Valley (Vipavska Dolina) in the west, nudged right up along the Italian border with Friuli. Much like its neighbor, the valley has both Mediterranean and Alpine microclimates and sandstone rich soils full of marl, clay and that notorious ponca that makes the Friulians flip for flysch. Warm air flows in from the Adriatic and meets and mixes with the cool air settling down from the Alps- a primo recipe for bumping acidity and fresh aromatics. The Carso, just south, is an enclave, essentially blocking Slovenia from its potential beachfront on the Adriatic. While many of the locals here may be Italian taxpayers, you’ll find the majority of winemakers identify as Slovenian. In this, our Part II look at the Friuli, we straddle this blurred border and showcase four fabulous producers (two from each side) that are recently turning heads with incredible wines with a true sense of place and culture. 

-Kevin Wardell

 

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WINE #1: AQUILA DEL TORRE “AT”

Sauvignon Blanc
Colli Orientali, Friuli, Italy 2018
RE-ORDER $27

The world is obsessed with the savage blanc, which needs no introduction. And while SB is planted all over the globe, it hasn’t colonized Italy to a large extent. Along with its offspring Cabernet, it has found its ideal real estate up in the Friulian foothills, where cool climate and the sandstone and limestone help express the zesty mineral side rather than the overblown tropicana character that oozes from overripe Savvy. It’s often blended in Friulian bianco concoctions, but it shines on its own when planted on the right hill and made in the right hands.

The “Eagle’s tower” takes its name from the soaring wildlife as well as from the local torre river; and it may be a coincidence, but the layout of the vineyards on the hillsides also looks very reminiscent of a hawk’s wing. The estate was first planted back in 1904 and was bought in 1996 by the familia Ciani, who fell in love with the oak woodlands and the old vineyards of native Friulano and Picolit. The third generation now to farm the estate is Michele Ciani, an agronomist and a hard-core biodynamic viticulturist who studied in Udine, as well as in Montalcino and in Alsace with Olivier Humbrecht. The Sauvignon blanc grows in that blend of clay and sandstone flysch that locals flip about, and is fermented with native yeasts mainly in stainless steel tanks for 9 months on the lees. The Savvy has been a stubborn fermentation however, so in a totally idiosyncratic winemaking hack, Michele uses a pied de cuve starter inoculated with wildflowers! He believes that the flowers are abundant with yeast thanks to the active bee colonies, and as it has proven effective, he continues his wildflower tisane treatment. 

Bee pollen fresh from the bee’s knees totally flies out of the glass, those wildflowers have definitely made their aromatic mark on this wine. The wine glows bright and nearly green, as fresh as a just-squeezed lemonade with a tart twist of valencia orange, lemon zest, freshly grated ginger and then again there go those wildflowers wafting in on a salty breeze. Toss in a handful of wild herbs in there too, maybe a sprig of nepitella mint to complete this very Savvy cocktail. 

Nepitella is used throughout Italy in all sorts of cuisine as an oregano/thyme aromatic herb, but here we call it catnip and most often leave it to the kitties to enjoy. 

WINE #2: BATIČ MALVAZIJA SELEKCIJA

Malvasia
Vipava Valley, Slovenia 2018
RE-ORDER $36

Malvasia is a name given to at least eighteen distinct varieties in Italy, ranging from white to pink to red, some aromatic and others not, some related genetically, some in name only. This Malvasia (ja!)  is most definitely of the aromatic ilk, and with all its floral fragrance, thin skins and gentle tannins, it is an ideal candidate for skin contact wines, making for balanced and yet densely packed white wine, a wine that could sub in for perfume in a pinch.

Founded in 1592, the estate has had an unfathomable 400 years of grape growing and the tradition continues with Ivan Batič (Baht-itch) and his son Miha. The centuries of experience on the land have taught them respect for nature and working within its systems, “You have to think and work like the nature. If you look at the forest for example, the forest is never just acacia or oak – always a symbiosis of thousands of different plants and animals.”  They take their clues from their land and their traditions; Miha was even forbidden from attending oenology school for fear it would cloud his brain, instead focusing on learning from the soil up, farming their 47 acres biodynamically. The winemaking also follows the lessons of generations, with all the wines (whites included) fermenting in open topped Slovenian wooden vats without temperature control using indigenous yeast and macerated for a month at the minimum. This Malvasia spent 45 days on the skins, not long at all for Miha who barely considers it a macerated wine, but rather a Malvazija with more of a “mouthful.”

The nose is an explosion of jasmine flowers carried on a pine breeze, (not febreze or pinesol, please,) but a lofty alpine sap sense. Stick that pine sprig into thick orange blossom honey and dry it in a sea breeze, then steep it in jasmine green tea and you may approximate this insanely fragrant tincture, but don’t forget to add orange rind, cloves and warming spices. And, at the risk of a negative connotation, there is a kiss of canned pineapple, and a hedonistic texture of tropical mango and passionfruit; this Malvazija has got it goin’ on.

The Slovenian winemakers close to the border who can identify (and market) their wine as Italian have been getting wider recognition than their neighbors whose mailboxes are in Slovenia, but the talent and passion are just as strong right across the street.

WINE #3: ZORZETTIG REFOSCO DAL PEDUNCOLO ROSSO

Colli Orientali, Friuli, Italy 2018
RE-ORDER $17

Refosco is another messy family of grapes, sometimes sharing nothing in common but their names. This Refosco gets its particularly fun name from its red stems. It has been confused with refošk / Teran, which only DNA was able to tease apart as separate from the Peduncolo, which is the most widely planted Refosco. Refosco da PR is high acid with color to spare, and is made in a big burly and surly style with gratuitous use of oak, but as in this bottle, it can be light, approachable and crushable.

The history of the Zorzettig family goes back more than 100 years in the rolling hills of Spessa di Cividale in the heart of the Colli Orientali del Friuli, and the estate has some of the oldest vines remaining in those hills. With myriad generations of winemaking in the family, the Zorzettig estate is now headed by Annalisa Zorzettig along with her brother. She has steered the vineyard and the cellar towards sustainability, planting perennial cover crops as well as fruit and olive orchards and allowing the local forest to regenerate to promote biodiversity. Their main bottling that they call “Myo” comes from an ancient Friulian ballad which celebrates the joy and simplicity of daily living, an expression for them of their pride and respect for the land and the labor of love put into the vineyards day after day for over a century. 

Oh sì sì how we do so love a summer red, so please put a little chill on this and enjoy it on a summer afternoon on the back porch. Rosehips and cranberries with the sweetish side of a bell pepper, and even a hint of tomato leaf. That succulent Refosco red fruit is twisted up with a little black licorice, sweet and spice and everything nice. Did we mention… it may be mandatory to have a plate of thinly sliced Prosciutto di San Daniele alongside this glass.

In addition to the wine designation system, Italy must of course have regulations for their cuisine: the Protected Designation of Origin, Denominazione di Origine Protetta. The famous Prosciutto di San Daniele DOP comes from a small Friulian village where the combination of alpine and Adriatic air make for perfect prosciutto aging.

WINE #4: ŠTOKA ‘IZBRANI’ TERAN

Kras, Slovenia 2018
RE-ORDER $22

Teran or Terrano has been in the terrain of the Carso / Karst / Kras plateau for 700 years, it’s as old as dirt and named for it too. It was nearly synonymous with Refosco up until DNA proved that it’s not that refosco, but it is refošk, a fitting example of the blurred lines between borders, grapes, and the shared history of this area. It’s that rare red grape that is both inky black and immensely acidic, making wines that are full-bodied and yet food-friendly. 

Wind blows off of the Adriatic and through deep limestone caverns in the Slovenian / Italian border region of Kras / Carso / Karst. The Štoka family has grown Teran here in the iron oxide rich “terra rossa” for 200 years. Just 5 miles from the Adriatic in the village outside of Trieste, their vineyards grow in some of the most severe and unique terroirs in the world, on limestone bedrock riddled with sinkholes, cenotes, and massive underground caves. Patriarch Primož Štoka bottled his first wine 1989 just before Slovenia’s final independence separating from Yugoslavia. Today, his son Tadej works alongside him, farming their 17 acres of vineyards, tending wines in their cavernous limestone cellar, and raising their ranch full of cattle and pigs. The pršut, or air-dried ham they produce is the ultimate compliment to their wines. In fact, the vineyards are fertilized only with cow manure and their housemade legs of pršut (Slovenian Prosciutto) hang in the caves among the wine barrels. 

Prepare to get totally Stoka’ed on this wine. The aromatics are plentiful, the fruit is incredibly deep, and the acid is like a bounce house for your tongue. Tart under ripe blackberries right off the vine squeeze a ton of acid onto a bunch of briney blood orange and brilliant beetroot. It even hints at amaro, but also with a pucker of fresh serrano, this is a wild ride through layers of Teranical deliciousness. 

Teran has a medicinal history dating back to Roman Times. Livia Drusilla, wife of Roman Emperor Augustus, was said to drink it for health (salud!), and she lived to the then incredibly old age of 82. Na zdravje! To your health!