In the cellar, Benjamin uses an old basket press, and—like others in the region that have re-embraced ancient, more natural methods—he keeps his white wines in contact with their skins for a few weeks during fermentation (which always occurs spontaneously). However, in comparison to the bold, unabashedly tannic, deeply copper-colored wines of someone like Gravner, the skin-contact influence in Zidarich’s wines is remarkably subtle—their color remains relatively brilliant and vibrant, and the gentle tannins weave so tightly and seamlessly around the wines’ pungent, clinging minerality as to be almost undetectable. These are first and foremost wines of minerality, not wines of skin tannins. Aging takes place in Slavonian barrels of varying sizes, and the employment of skin contact allows Benjamin to use the barest minimum of added sulfur. The wines are bottled without fining or filtration, typically two years after the vintage, and allowed to rest for a spell before being put up for sale.
Running through all of Zidarich’s wines is a driving, dancing, powerful yet balletic minerality—an essence of pure stone. Even in those wines made from more assertive and aromatic varieties like Malvasia and Sauvignon, it is the limestone that takes center stage. They combine invigorating liveliness and profound, contemplative mineral heft like few other wines on Earth, capturing both the gleaming sunshine of his high-altitude vineyards and the cool depth of his cellar. Benjamin is quick to open older bottles—a testament to his confidence as well as his generosity—and it is frankly astonishing to see how well his wines develop with age. We invite you to take this dive into the Carso with us, and we hope that you will get on board with the minute quantities of the wines below, as they are truly among the most exciting testaments of terroir we have encountered in quite some time.
|Vitovska Aged for two years in large Slavonian casks, the Vitovska is a seamless and deeply stony wine. Its fruit character veers toward apricot and peach, yet in a subtle way—the limestone is doing the heavy lifting here, with the Vitovska serving as a mere vessel for the unfettered expression of rock. The wine finishes clean and long, with a sensation of almost mentholated coolness ringing on the palate long after swallowing. Whatever subtle tannins are present are melded beautifully with the palate-staining minerality, and the overall impression is one of freshness, complexity, and drive. A bold, uplifting, utterly delicious wine.|
|Vitovska “Collezione”: In certain exceptional vintages, Benjamin vinifies his oldest vines of Vitovska separately, aging them for longer in cask and holding them in bottle before release. In keeping with its age, the 2009 “Collezione” is a bit less immediately forward and exuberant than the above, yet it expresses even more viscerally the stony power of its underlying terroir. Gentle in character yet extremely concentrated, all of its elements hang together just-so, and the broad, long palate features a fascinating interplay of chamomile, cinnamon, and menthol. It is a testament to Benjamin’s patience and pride—his dedication to revealing all the dimensions of this great and relatively unknown viticultural area—that he is just now releasing the 2009 version of this wine, and we are fortunate to have access to a mere 16 six-packs for the US market.|
|Malvasia: The Malvasia is the more gregarious, talkative, eager younger brother to the more inward and contemplative Vitovska, yet both express the powerfully stony essence of the Carso in their own delicious way. The 2014 presents notes of crunchy mango, white pepper, and lemon verbena, with a subtle honey undertone emerging on the driving, mineral-drenched finish. A 2006 version of this wine offered amazing depth and freshness, proving that its relative youthful exuberance does not preclude an equally impressive age-ability.|
|2014 Teran: This indigenous red grape variety has existed in the Carso since Roman times, and it is an addictively delicious, vibrant, exuberant, and light-on-its-feet counterpart to the strikingly mineral white wines of the area. Benjamin explained that Teran has the most anthocyanins of any red grape variety in the world, and its alcohol levels rarely broach 12%. There is a certain Barbera-like quality to the crunchy, earth-tinged red fruits and the bright, appetizing acid profile, yet there is more finesse and purity . Fresh herbs and red licorice on the palate add complexity, and the concentration and energy of this wine is surprising given its exceedingly modest alcohol level. Aged entirely in large Slavonian botti.|
|2010 “Ruje”: Merlot has a long history in this part of Friuli, and the variety can take on an incredibly distinctive, satisfying character in the right hands—tasting nothing like its distant cousins in the Medoc, nor like any of the multitude of more varietally marked New World iterations. Zidarich’s “Ruje” combines 80% Merlot and 20% Teran, and it is aged for four years in a combination of large botti and smaller barrels (all of which are well-used)—then for another two full years before it hits the market. The 2010 was fascinating, with an intoxicating nose of savory spice, dried tobacco, dark fruits, and smoke. The still-energetic palate is supple and long, with a coiled mineral presence that rears its head from beneath the web of secondary complexity. As evidenced by a vertical Benjamin opened for us, this wine can go far longer in bottle as well.|
|2009 “Ruje”: The 2009 “Ruje” was deeper and darker in its fruit character than the 2010, revealing more structure on the palate, as well as a far more pronounced savory streak. It is perhaps a shade less elegant than the 2010, but chewier and more gutsy—an equally fascinating wine.|
|Zidarch Vitovska “Kamen”: This special bottling was conceived by Benjamin Zidarich to reinforce the bond between his unique terroir in the Carso and the elevage in his cellar. Zidarich whole-heartedly believes in the profound effect of the irreplaceable limestone rock that gives birth to the singular expression of Vitovska. The “Kamen” is fermented and macerated for roughly 18 days in specially built stone vats made from the very rock that lies beneath his vineyards. After fermentation, the wine is moved to oak barrels for two years of aging. Broader on the palate, with a deeper mineral expression, this limited bottling truly expresses the deep potential of Vitovska.|
It is telling that the name for the geology of the Carso is also the name of the region itself; Carso/Karst/Kras, after all, means both the stone and the place, and this picturesque stretch of the Istrian Peninsula between Trieste and the Isonzo River is defined by the hard limestone on which it sits. Winegrowing here, indeed, is no mean feat, and the labor required simply to cultivate the vine in this unforgiving terrain speaks to the admirable tenacity of its inhabitants.
BY IAN D’AGATA | MAY 17, 2018 | No other region in Italy offers as large a selection of outstanding white wines from so many different grape varieties as Friuli Venezia Giulia does, while the region’s native red grapes yield wines that are equally distinctive. Make no mistake about it: Friuli Venezia Giulia is the […]
The Gravner operation is serene, simple, spotless, and small. The tour of the facility is quick, and each space is intelligently designed and spared of clutter or unnecessary objects. There is a holistic feeling throughout the endeavor. Josko was very cheerful and talkative (Mateja is traveling). The wines are as Neal described, and are totally […]