Face it, it’s a lot of fun going on the remarkable journey that is the world of indigenous Italian varieties. You get to try so many wines made from grapes you find nowhere else (sometimes not even in any other regions in Italy), meaning you learn so much and experience so many new flavors in wine. If that isn’t the definition of fulfilling pleasure, I don’t know what is.
One of the most distinctive varieties I’ve embraced over the past year has been Vitovska. If you’ve never heard of it, well, don’t be surprised, as this white grape is only found (to the best of my knowledge) in the relatively small Carso district in southeastern Friuli. This is the small peninsula that curves around the Adriatic Sea and borders with Slovenia.
Only 122 acres of Vitovska currently exist in Carso; the best-known producers to work with this variety are Edi Kante and Paolo Vodopivec. The latter vintner produces two versions of this wine: one aged in large oak barrels (referred to as classica) and one aged in anforae, clay pots once used by winemakers centuries ago. Friulian winemaker Josko Gravner made this vessel important again when he decided to age his white wines in them and Vodopivec, an admirer of Gravner’s traditional winemaking ways, has followed suit.
Vodopivec (pronounced vo-do-pee-vetz), works solely with Vitovska, so he has been able to do a great amount of research with this variety; he believes high density planting is what is needed (his planting regime is at 10,000 vines per hectare, an extremely high amount) and as he believes the variety displays its finest aromatics and qualities when aged in anfora, he has settled upon this for the primary percentage of his production. His vineyards are organically farmed and he uses no chemicals. While this makes his work more difficult, Vodopivec believes this is the proper way to produce the most distinctive version of Vitovska.
The Vodopivec Vitovska Anfora is what is referred to today as an “orange wine”, as it has a deep orange, light amber hue that comes partly from the skins (Vodopivec leaves the grapes in contact with the skins for six months) as well as from the anforae. As there are no wood notes, the variety’s aromatics shine through, usually with notes of Anjou pear, mango and cooked orange. There is good, but generally not extremely high acidity, although that depends on the vintage, as Vodopivec mentions. “In my wines, the acidity is normally not too high, but if it is expressed, there is a pronounced freshness.” The vintner also notes the pronounced minerality as well as notes of honey and almond in the finish.
Vodpoivec first made Vitovska from the 1997 vintage, fermenting and aging it in large oak casks; beginning with the 2005 vintage, he decided to also age some of the wine in anforae and from now on, most of the production will be from anforae. Not only does he love the complexities of the wine as aged in these vessels, he also believes the wine’s structure is improved in this manner.
I recently tasted the current 2006 vintage and was quite impressed at how much better this wine is than the excellent 2005 version. Whether that has to do with the particulars of that year or the fact that Vodopivec now has a better handle on things is up for argument, but the fact is that the 2006 Anfora version (noted by a small orange strip on the bottom of the front label) is an exceptional wine. The aromas are of apricot, baked pear and a note of canteloupe, while the wine glides across the palate; there is a very lengthy finish with lively acidity and excellent persistence. This beautiful looking deep orange wine has impressive texture; as rich and as deeply concentrated this wine is, it is also a wine of great finesse. The balance of this wine is impeccable, as everything is in harmony. What a joy to drink!
While this bottling is quite tempting now, it will greatly improve with time; I expect this wine to be at its finest in another 10-12 years. As only about 1000 cases were made (this is the average production for Vodopivec), the $75 retail price is an honest one. The wine is imported nationally by Domaine Select Wine Estates of New York City.
This is not a wine that anyone would drink every day (even if you could purchase enough), but it is a stunning wine that reminds us of the individualities of Italy’s indigenous varieties as well as the vintners that work with these grapes. Here’s to Paolo Vodopivec and his endeavors with the Vistovska variety!