Donato and I put our noses again in a glass of golden Damijan 2004 Bianco Kaplja.
“It smells like red wine,” I said.
“You need a red wine glass for it,” he said. (Hear this in your head with a Benevento Italian accent.) “More natural than this I don’t know.”
“It’s all about secondary aromas,” I said. “Not much fruit left. It’s like caramelized flowers.”
“It’s a wine for meditation,” he said.
A wine for meditation. Vino da meditazione. A term typically used in Italy for sweet wine at the end of a meal. In our case, standing behind the bar of the restaurant while Lucio mopped the floor, we spent all of five minutes meditating on this wine. I had dinner service to get ready for and Donato had at least five more appointments that afternoon. Leaving me, he would get on the Shelter Island Ferry, stop off in Sag Harbor before going to East Hampton, Southampton and Westhampton, a part of the world that was only going to increase its wine consumption before the blowout that is Labor Day.
The Damijan is made in Gorizia in the Italian wine region known as the Collio, which is as about as far as you can go in Italy before you bump into Trieste and then Slovenia.
This region has been a center of innovation in white wine making with the use in the 90s of new oak barrels by Josko Gravner. Gravner went on to fame by making wine in beeswax-lined clay amphorae using nothing but time. No separation of the skins, no added yeast, no filtration. I’ve never had the wine.
Damijan Podversic was his protege. The wine we tasted was a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 35% Tocai Friulano, 25% Malvasia Istriana. From the Vias website:
Harvest is done manually towards the end of September-early October. The wine is fermented in large, open, conical oak vats without temperature control or selected yeasts or enzymes. Skin macerarion lasted up to 60 days. Malo is carried out for 2 to 3 weeks in large oak barrels. Aged for 23 months in Slavonian oak barrels (20 or 30hl) and bottled without fining or filtration. The wine ages for additional 6 months before being released. The resulting natural sediments in the bottle help preserve and protect the wine.
So, what did it taste like? As Donato said, this is “a wine for maybe five percent of the people.” Its recommended serving temperature is 15° C/59° F, which is pretty warm.
My first reactions were to the structural elements, it was a little hot, had almost a tannic feel from the skin maceration, and medium acid, not flabby, but broad. As I said before, fresh fruit flavors had been replaced by nuts and honey and caramelized sugar. In some aged chardonnay I find the sugar of cotton candy, but this was a step beyond, more like the top of a creme brule. Malolactic fermentation goes hand in hand with skin contact in the production of red wine, so buttery flavors and aromas were subdued behind the grip of the skins.
Five percent of the people, those willing to spend a little more to try something unusual, would appreciate this wine — with short ribs or stew — and its story.