Slovenia Day 1: Movia (my barrique epiphany)

Just added…

Taste and chat at Jaynes: Thursday I’ll be pouring wine all night at Jaynes Gastropub in University Hts. (San Diego). Please stop by. Hopefully Chef Daniel will be serving his Alaskan halibut special…

Above: Aleš Kristančič draws off a barrel sample of his 2005 Pinot Noir. Note the size of the barrels. Aleš ages his wine exclusively in barrique.

My once immovable feelings about barrique (small, new oak barrels — French or Slavonian — used for aging wine) began to change last year when I read this article by Eric Asimov. With Socratic nuance, Eric pointed out that “Oaky may be bad, but oak is good.” Later that month, in response to a post I did on Luigi Veronelli and Italy’s historic relationship to new oak aging of wine, Eric authored a post in which he cast the use of barrique in judicious perspective. (If the wine blogosphere were a Renaissance court, Eric would be its wise and just prince: he brings an even-handed tone to a world prone to rants and extreme points of view. He was recently nominated for the Veronelli Prize for “best food and wine writing in a foreign language.”)

When my band Nous Non Plus arrived at the Movia winery in Brda, Slovenia on Monday, April 7, 2008, where we played a private party that evening, I had an epiphany of sorts: I discovered — to my surprise — that my friend Aleš Kristančič, whose wines I love and have enjoyed on many occasions, ages all of his wines in barrique.

Frankly, I was blown away. My friend and collaborator Franco Ziliani (known for his tell-like-it-is style) often points out that rules are rules: I have to confess that I had never detected oakyness in Aleš’ wines and Aleš gave me a proper schooling in situ as to how new oak can be used with the context of radically natural and undeniably biodynamic wines like his own. Ignoscetis mihi: as Franco says, if you taste something blind and you like it, you have to admit it.

Above: Aleš rocks out with his Soviet-era Tajfun bass (see headstock below). He played bass in the Yugoslav military band. Aleš became a fan of Nous Non Plus after he saw our Mobitel commercial and he invited the band to play a gig at his winery and later that week in Ljubljana.

“Oak is like the sheets of a bed,” said Aleš using a politically incorrect but apt simile, “when you break up with a girlfriend, you need to throw away the sheets and put new ones on the bed.” In his view, the yeasts and bacteria that grow on old oak barrels (and in particular, large oak barrels) can give unwanted flavors to the wine (other winemakers would argue that those flavors are elements in terroir expression).

One important element is the toasting of the oak. Aleš uses only gently toasted oak: “the staves are toasted by the cooper to shape the barrel,” he said, “not to give flavor to the wine.” (Many modern-style winemakers use heavily toasted oak to impart vanilla, chocolate, and tobacco and similar notes to their wines.)

But, most important, he explained, is the amount of time the wine spends in cask. “Many winemakers want to accelerate the aging process by using new oak for aging,” he said. “I’m not using the oak to soften the tannin. I am using it to oxygenate the wine slowly and gently.” (The pores in the new wood allow small amounts of oxygen to come into contact with the wine.) Where other producers age for 12 or even 18 months, Aleš often ages for up to 5 years in cask before bottling.

The other important element, he told me, is that he adds no sulfur whatsoever to his wine. “Even fine winemakers add very small amounts of sulfur in order to stabilize the wine more quickly. I don’t need to do that: I let time stabilize my wines. I’m not in a hurry,” Aleš said. The addition of sulfur, he explained, can cause the oak to impart some of its flavor to the wine.

Alder Yarrow just did a great post on Slovenia and Movia’s current releases over at his excellent blog Vinography.

I’ll be posting more on my stay and our shows in Slovenia and the wines we tasted and food we ate over the next few weeks. Look for my post on Movia’s Lunar: during my stay, Aleš revealed the secret of this 100% Ribolla Gialla that he makes from the free-run juice of whole bunches. He essentially fills a barrel with the grapes — stems and all — and lets the wine make itself. But there’s a trick to it: Aleš learned it all from a grape…

Slovenia is not as as developed as neighboring Friuli and its beauty is literally breath-taking. This shot — believe it or not — was taken from the toilet at the Movia guest house.

5 Responses to Slovenia Day 1: Movia (my barrique epiphany)

  1. Excellent post! Did you get to try any old wines?

    Btw, I’m hoping to visit Movia next Spring. In the meantine, I think I have to start drinking some of the 100 Movia bottles I have, rather than just ageing them more. :)

  2. Terry Hughes says:

    You just think Ales is hot.

    Well, I do.

  3. Craig Camp says:

    Great post. It’s true that it’s not the barrels that are evil, but what people do with them. It is always interesting to find that often it is not long barrel aging that makes wines oaky, but short intense exposures do. Conventional wisdom drives much of New World winemaking today and we see the results.

    By the way, the music references above made me remember, do you know Andrea Sottimano? He’s loves to play blues guitar and I think you would be instant friends. He is also a winemaker that uses barrique thoughtfully. You Andrea, Aleš might make an interesting band – at the very least you’d eat and drink well!

  4. [...] Slovenia Day 1: Movia (my barrique epiphany) « Do Bianchi [...]

  5. [...] He has a PhD in Italian literature and worked for an Italian wine importer for a while in NYC. One posting among many interesting ones is how he came to appreciate new oak barrels (barriques) during a visit [...]

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