Tag vitovska

The Quiet Persistence of Skerk Wines

Tasting with Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk and his 2009, 2010 Ograde White blend

Kevin Wardell of Bergamot Alley in Healdsburg, Cailfornia opened his doors early yesterday to a small industry tasting of Skerk wines. The event was guided by both Sandi Skerk himself, and importer Oliver McCrum of Oliver McCrum Wines, and hosted too by Kris Clausen of Vinifera Marketing.

The team selected side by side vintages of four wines central to the Skerk portfolio, as well as a preview of upcoming releases, and a not-for-sale passito.

Skerk originates at the Italy-Slovenia intersection of Karst (or Carso), so named for the geological formation of the same name that dominates the area. The region sits atop a bed of limestone, shaped and hollowed by movements of water, then layered over with shallow red-iron soils. Skerk’s own cellar rests along a limestone hollow with holes in the floor blowing fresh sea-influenced air from below.

Vineyards only a short distance from the Adriatic, and grown up hillsides North of Trieste, Skerk exemplifies the magical, quiet presence of the region. His wines and personality both showcase a steady persistence, carried on fine frame, with elegant aromatics, and savory delicate palate.

It is hard to describe the stimulation and life found in a glass of Skerk wine — they are simultaneously clean, and unexpected; at once pretty and yet carrying notes of meat; the palate persists through delicate frame full of sapidity and Italian salato. These are wines designed to showcase tradition and elegance both.

Skerk’s family carries a history of winemaking, though Sandi’s own professional training begins with mechanical engineering. Eventually choosing to return to the family business, Sandi began in 2000 experimenting with techniques practiced by his grandfather.

As Skerk explains, in his grandfather’s generation, winemaking typical to the region fermented all white grapes together on skins, and all reds together on skins. Macerated ferments normally lasted 10 days to two weeks, before being pressed and aged. Skerk’s father focused instead on straight-to-press practices, fermenting whites’ juice only.

In 2000, Sandi returned to experimenting with extended fermentation on skins lasting around 30 days. In his most recent vintages, Skerk has reduced maceration length to 2 weeks, bringing his approach closer to that originally used by his grandfather.

Grapes are picked based on taste, with beautiful juiciness and clean aromatics consistently showing through his wines. By utilizing only pristine fruit, Skerk is able to avoid sulfur additions until prior to bottling.

Skerk keeps his cellar techniques disciplined while also straightforward, choosing to keep a steady eye on helpmates like pristine picked fruit, CO2, and submerged cap. The wines are kept on lees until a month prior to bottling, to further support the wines’ own natural immune system. In this way, Skerk is able to keep free sulfur targets around only 20 ppm.

Tasting Skerk Wines

Skerk portfolio

Skerk Vitovska 2009 and 2010

Indigenous to the region, Vitovska grows with thick skins and big bunches. Skerk head trains his Vitovska in order to encourage smaller berry and bunch size, thus increasing the skin-to-juice ratio for his macerated ferments.

The aromatics of all Skerk wines are greatly increased from his reliance on skin contact. With scents of fruit-based (not oak) nutmeg and cardamom integrated into the apricot blossom and orange spice of the nose, the 2009 cascades into savory flavors of prosciutto, pepper and melon on the palate. This wine exemplifies the Italian idea of salato and sapidity–intensive mouth stimulation with savory, mineral salinity.

The 2010 drinks like picnic on the sea shore, with orange and apricot blossom laced through with clove aromatics, followed by prosciutto on a touch of melon and breadstick, hints of red berries and salty seagrass on the finish.

Skerk Malvazija 2010 and 2011

Made with the Malvasia Istriana grape, the 2010 Malvazija shows pretty aromatics of pink and yellow flowers, followed by a tightly focused palate that opens significantly with air to reveal crisp apple, quince, touches of red currant and black cap. The wine is both savory and floral, with beautiful integration, and long palate stimulation.

Malvazija 2011 gives apple blossom, pink tea rose, crisp apple, and quince, giving savory palate notes of rock salt, cracked pepper, and mineral crunch. The wine offers textural richness and a long finish. The 2011 Malvazija will be available for release in February 2014.

Skerk Ograde 2009 and 2010

Made in a cofermented blend of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Vitovska, and Malvasia Istria, the Ograde offers the sophisticated, fine boned, complexity possible with a harmony of grapes. I enjoy Skerk wines very much generally, but this was my first taste of the Ograde. I especially enjoyed it.

Skerk 2009, 2010 Ogradeclick on illustration to enlarge

Giving pretty floral aromatics, followed by textural savory palate, the 2010 shows herbal aspects, to the 2009′s lightly jalapeno notes. Where the 2009 offers pink and fresh floral apects, the 2010 crisp white notes. These are beautiful wines.

Skerk Terrano 2009 and 2010

Made with the Teran grape, Skerk’s Terrano carries bright red fruit acidity coupled with savory plum, and touches of pickled cherry. The 2009 opens with pink floral and plum blossom, moving into prosciutto, black pepper, and long savory, salato finish. The 2010 offers plum and cherry blossom, alongside the savory palate, with pickled cherry, and refreshing cucumber moving with beautiful length. This is an ideal wine for crusted, medium rare, red meat.

(Not for Sale) 2010 Passito Terrano

We closed the tasting with Skerk’s hand-bottled Terrano passito. The wine offered a beautiful example of juicy-to-sweet balance, concentrated red currant, cranberry, and blackcap, moving into an impressive savory finish. A hand written home bottle is a special joy of mine. What a treat to enjoy this one all the way from Carso.

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Thank you to Sandi Skerk, Oliver McCrum, and Kris Clausen.

Thank you to Sam Bilbro, Megan Glaab, and Kevin Wardell.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Understanding Orange Wines 3: Italian Orange Wines: Gravner Breg, Vodopivec Classica, Bea Arboreus, Coenobium Rusticum

Gravner Breg; San Floriano Normale Scholium Project; The Prince in His Caves Scholium Project; Vodopivec Classica; Paolo Bea Arboreus

The photograph of five of the eight orange wines reviewed in this four part feature on orange wine gives you a sense of how rich the color and opacity of these wines can be. Remember too that each of those five wines shown above was made with what are otherwise thought of as white wine grapes.

Italian Orange Wines

In the orange wine phenomenon Italy stands among wine geeks generally as the most well-known, and desired center of production. Producers like Gravner in Friuli, and Bea in Umbria are famous and followed among wine geeks, seen as the originators of a new tradition of unusual wine.

Interestingly, as recently as the 1950s what we now call orange wines were being made by various producers in Italy simply as one possible way to make wine with white grapes. However, by the 1960s such practices were dwindling with the idea that more contemporary methods, including removing skin contact, was the more appropriate, technically correct way to make white wine.

As will be discussed further, in the 1990s Georgian Amber wine making tradition reintroduced the orange wine making process to Italian wine makers leading to the reintegration of extended skin contact (maceration) and the possibility of using earthenware fermentation vessels (called kvevri in Georgia, anfora in Italy). Though the use of clay is sometimes mistakenly taken as fundamental to orange wine production, in actuality it is not necessary to the process. Maceration with white grapes is definitive of orange wine, with the use of anfora being only one possible way to produce such wine.

Paolo Bea 2006 Arboreus

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100% Trebbiano Spoletino

In the Umbria region of Italy, Paolo Bea‘s farm uses 80-100 year old, pre-phylloxera vines that exhibit a unique constitution. They’ve been trained to grow like trees with the canes on the vine pointing up allowing a great space underneath. The tradition of growing vines in the arboreus fashion reaches back to pre-tractor farming when crops were planted mixed together. By teaching the vines to grow up like trees farmers could better utilize the ground underneath to produce other crops. It was not until the introduction of motorized tractors that arboreus vines were commonly removed and differing crop types were regularly planted separately.

Bea is well known for his interesting and high quality, low production, artisan style wine. His Arboreus named wine is made with full skin contact entirely of one grape–Trebbiano Spoletino–and fermented with partially dried grapes mixed in as well to add richness of flavor. Once the wine has fermented it is aged in stainless steel tanks without temperature control for 4 years. The resulting wine is rich, clean, and lovely.

Bea’s style is known for being hugely vintage specific. Because of his low intervention style of wine making, and commitment to biodynamics, the ripeness of the grapes from year to year, as well as other factors like how wet the season has been, show strong impact on the resulting wine. Incredibly, the 2006 vintage included only 80 cases, further emphasizing the low production aspects of Bea’s wine making.

Bea’s 2006 Arboreus was both lightly flavored and full body-textured in the mouth. It carried a strong soft palate focus so that the flavors of the wine hit at the back and top of the mouth showcasing the fullness. The flavors included white peach and pear alongside light passionfruit, and white flowers, filled out by anise, maple, and distinct bergamot. The acidity here is medium high keeping your mouth watering over the medium tannins. This is a sexy wine with pleasing texture.

The Bea was the favorite of at least two of the ten people that participated in a private tasting of this and four other orange wines. Everyone present (that was willing to select favorites) included it in their top two.

Coenobium Rusticum 2009

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45% Trebbiano, 35% Malvasia, 20% Verdicchio,

Just 30 miles north of Rome, the Coenobium wines are produced on site at Monastero Suore Cistercensi. There the nuns of Cistercensi tend the grapes and make the wine by hand. The nuns are invested in very low intervention practices allowing fermentation to occur based on only naturally occurring yeasts, and completely organic practices. Amazingly, the nuns draw on the talents of Giampiero Bea, son of Paolo Bea, maker of the Arboreus wine just mentioned to develop their wine making techniques.

The blend on this Coenobium Rusticum 2009 is pert and showy. It leaps from the glass ready to dance strong floral, woody, apple skin scents. The truth is this wine needs some age to really celebrate what it has to offer. Currently the youth shows as fume-y making the bouquet almost medicinal. However, the structure is there in this wine to support time in the bottle. Also, the Coenobium Rusticum has a respected recent vintage history that shows it tends to do well with some age, becoming more layered and grounded with time. That said, there are clear notes of yellow apple skin, and Macintosh apple along side vegetal characteristics and white tropical flowers here. The tannins are medium high, drying the mouth over the medium acidity.

This wine is also known for doing very well after opening. As Alder Yarrow explains on his blog Vinography, the extended maceration (skin contact) fundamental to orange wine production makes orange wines, and certainly the Coenobium Rusticum, more resistant to the negative effects of oxygen exposure. That is, while most wines will keep only a couple of days after being opened, according to Yarrow’s article on a previous vintage of the Coenobium, this orange wine can keep for several weeks after being opened when kept cool. He also recommends decanting the wine early in the day for drinking in the evening to allow the flavors to really open properly.

For those of you interested in purchasing some orange wines, the Coenobium Rusticum is available at a lesser price than the other Italian orange wines (though the Georgian orange wines reviewed Monday are of similar price, if you can locate them–they are harder to find) and so is a good value. The nuns produce the wine as part of their spiritual practices and also to support their facility but also purposefully keep their costs very low all around.

Vodopivec Classica 2005 Vitovska

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100% Vitovska

Everything about this wine is sexy. The texture is rich, and the flavors are subtle and evocative. As ridiculous as it might sound, this wine carries the soft intensity of a woman whispering she wants you–the intimacy and sensuality of such a moment captures the feeling of giving yourself to this glass. The wine carries light oxidation offering subtle sherry-like qualities with very light fruit. The oxidation effect here pumps up the mineral-like elements and with the smaller fruit focus the glass has a lot of refreshing sea air and mineral to it. All of this is rounded out with spice notes of clove and licorice. What a lovely wine!

Paolo Vodopivec is an exciting man to study–video interviews of him online show his focused passion for the wine he makes and the land he cares for. This passion is further expressed through his commitment to a rather obscure grape indigenous to the Fruili-Slovenia border. Vodopivec’s wines are made with the Vitovska grape, which is so uncommon it appears in only one English language wine book. The grape originates from Slovenia but is now grown more over the mountain range in the Friuli region of Italy.

Though Vodopivec does make anfora wine, the Classica is made using Slovenian oak. Vitovska is kept on skin contact for two weeks in oak, then once fermentation is complete (using only indigenous yeast and no temperature control) the wine is aged for two years in Slovenian oak barrels.

This wine was one of my favorites in all the orange wines tasted–it is a lovely, approachable wine, that is also intriguing to drink, and effectively pushes all my love-for-grape-obscurity buttons.

Gravner Anfora Breg 2004

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45% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Pinot Grigio, 15% Chardonnay

Josko Gravner is the most famous of the world’s orange wine makers. As the story goes, in 1996 a friend of Gravner traveled to Georgia and witnessed wine makers there making Georgian Amber wine in kvevri–earthenware vessels. The friend was certain Gravner would enjoy experimenting with making wine in the Georgian fashion and so purchased a kvevri and sent it to Gravner in the Friuli region of Italy. Gravner spent several years learning, and experimenting with the kvevri and orange wine making techniques.

By the second half of the 1990s Gravner was already considered one of the best white wine makers in all of Italy. His abilities were famous and as a result he had numerous wine makers from around the country that would travel to Friuli to study with him. At that time his celebrated abilities were focused primarily on making white wine in a contemporary fashion (no skin contact) with fermentation and aging occurring in oak barrels. However, after several years experimenting with wine making in clay, Gravner shifted his wine portfolio completely and released his first all anfora wine collection in 2001, made too with extended skin contact, thus making them anfora-based orange wines.

In the same sweep from oak to anfora, Gravner also moved deeply into biodynamic practices speaking of the poisons created by non-biodynamic wines on the one hand, and the spirit of the wine on the other. Gravner’s website explicitly states that he bottles on the waning moon, a practice integral to fully-vested biodynamic treatises. The initial public response to Gravner’s shift was that he was crazy. His wine sales dropped, and his wines were deemed atypical to the regional type, further impacting his marketing credibility. By 2006 though orange wine had become a major geek-wine fetish with Gravner as the mystical head shaman of this cult world.

Tasting Gravner’s Breg Anfora makes clear that his work with orange wines is not merely a matter of wine-geek paradise. Gravner is doing something special here. In the private tasting that included this wine, 10 of us all in or connected to the food and wine industries tasted five orange wines side-by-side. While there was strong interest in each of the five wines, the Gravner received the most all around appreciation for its balance and complexity.

The Gravner Breg has a rich, warming effect in the mouth. It shows beautiful complexity offering dried fruits with floral characteristics, alongside leather, and forest floor with spice. This is a savory wine that would do well with salty foods. The unusual nature of these orange wines meant the group was willing throughout the tasting to fall to metaphor and brief story elements to explain the experience of drinking these wines. The regular “tastes like apple” type notes simply wouldn’t suffice. With Gravner’s Breg the comment was that this wine is like drinking oysters next to a man that had just finished a pleasantly sweaty work day. The savory aspects of this wine are seafood and sweat delicate in the most wonderful way.

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Friday we’ll complete the series focusing on orange wines by looking at a couple of orange wines from California.

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To read the rest of this series, follow these links:

Understanding Orange Wines 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins do to Our Saliva: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/18/understanding-orange-wines-a-quick-and-dirty-look-at-how-theyre-made-and-what-their-tannins-do-to-our-saliva/

Understanding Orange Wines 2: Georgian Amber Wines: Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, Vinoterra Kisi: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/20/understanding-orange-wines-2-georgian-amber-wines-pheasants-tears-rkatsiteli-vinoterra-kisi/

Understanding Orange Wines 4: Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project: The Prince in His Cabes 2010, San Floriano Normale 2006 http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/25/understanding-orange-wines-4-abe-schoeners-scholium-project-the-prince-in-his-caves-2010-san-floriano-normale-2006/

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Thank you to Garret at Italian Wine Merchants for his help in locating the Gravner, Bea, and Vodopivec wines mentioned here.

Thanks again to Kim for writing to ask if I’d do an orange wine feature! I hope you’re enjoying it!

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com