Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
October 15, 2010
I had heard tales and read stories about Ales Kristancic, an iconoclastic Slovenian winemaker who has become a near-legend in wine circles. Thus, when the opportunity arose to try his wines recently, I was looking forward to the experience. Little did I know that it would prove unforgettable.
Kristancic makes wines in the far northeastern region of Italy in a place called Friuli. In this corner of Italy the topography flows downward, south from the Alps, to a coastline that wraps around the Adriatic Sea. The soils of the region and the climate are perfect for growing a wide variety of grapes. The white wines in particular are known to be exceptional.
Over the last couple of decades some of the region’s winemakers have begun to adopt winemaking techniques that pay homage to the winemaking practices of the ancients. Kristancic, along with winemakers like Josko Gravner, Giampero Bea and Stanko Radikon, have been lionized by the wine press as part of a new movement, tied together specifically because they make what are referred to as “orange” wines. These wines are made by leaving the crushed juice on the skins of the grapes, which imparts color from the skins into the juice, giving the wines a distinct orange hue.
Now these guys would likely curse anyone who tried to characterize them as a “movement” – they are intensely, some would say fiercely, independent – but they do share a few things in common. Each adheres to the practices of biodynamic farming, for example. And you may have noticed the names of some of the winemakers are Slovenian, not Italian. In fact, the region where these grapes are grown is cut in two by the Italy/Slovenia border; in many cases the vineyards are on the Slovenian side, while the wines are made on the Italian side.
All of which brings me to the tasting.
As I was going to New York, I called Chris Deas from IWM Cellars here in Aspen to ask if I could visit the mother ship, the Italian Wine Merchants’ exquisite store on 16th Street in New York, for a tasting of orange wines. He kindly arranged a visit and told me it would include a “fun” wine.
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When I arrived for the tasting with IWM’s Karlesson Banks and Will DiNunzio in the wine room, I instantly saw a bottle of wine sitting in a cylinder, upside down with the butt of the bottle up. Odd, I thought. Then I noticed a clear basin of water at the end of the table. Again, odd.
Will, a handsome, self-deprecating and obviously knowledgeable wine guy, began to explain much of what I reported above about the orange wines and the people who make them. He spoke of Ales Kristancic with what bordered on reverence as he got up, walked to the upside-down bottle, and pulled it from its cylindrical sleeve.
The wine was a sparkling Rose called Puro. It was grown in Slovenia, made in Kristancic’s winery in Friuli and sold under his Movia label. Made from 100 percent Pinot Nero, as the Italians call Pinot Noir, the wine had more of an orange-ish color than the red I would expect from Rose. Kristancic made this Puro using the traditional “methode champenoise” that the French use in the production of champagne.
Without going too far into the dynamics of secondary fermentation and such, Will said that Kristancic wanted to ensure that people “took the time to appreciate the wine.” So, he does not disgorge the yeast from the neck of the bottle, instead leaving that detail to the person who opens it.
In the Champagne region, the French let Champagne age in bottles with the necks pointed towards the floor to allow the yeast to collect in the necks of the bottle. When the yeast has collected, they flash-freeze the neck of the bottles, open them, quickly release the yeast and then cork the bottles.
Kristancic, on the other hand, as I said, incredibly, amazingly, leaves the yeast in the neck of the bottle and requests that one open the bottle – get this – under water. Hence the basin.
After explaining this, Will showed how it is done. He took the bottle, rolled up his sleeves, placed the Puro in the water and slowly twisted the cork until there was an eruption as the yeast exploded into the basin. In a single move he righted the bottle and poured us a slightly cloudy glass of orange, Sparkling Rose.
Was it good? Well, yeah. But the story behind the opening of the bottle, and the climax itself, made this bottle of wine unforgettable.
It was a show, one that I will never forget.
If you would like to see and example of the Movia Puro being opened under water, then simply Google it. You can see Youtube videos from around the world of the wine being opened.