Radikon, my visit to Oslavia

Heading to Los Angeles today where I’ll be working the floor (introducing our summer wine list) at Sotto Wednesday and Thursday nights and speaking tomorrow on a panel at the Italian wine fair for consumers and trade, Viva Vino. LA is buzzing right now with the arrival of the group of winemakers from Oslavia (Friuli) led by the young Saša Radikon, whom I’ll be meeting tonight. So I thought I’d post my photos from my visit to the winery a few years ago. Look for Saša and the Oslavia producers at DomaineLA on Thursday.

The skin-contact Ribolla of Radikon first came to my attention in the late 1990s in New York in an era long before the terms “orange wine” or “natural wine” were in vogue. Stanislao Radikon (above with wife Suzana) was the first to experiment with skin-contact starting in the mid-90s. (I highly recommend this profile from the recent Raw Wine fair in London devoted to the Radikon family and story.)

The village of Oslavia lies literally on the edge of the western world, just across the border from Slovenia in the province of Gorizia (in the Collio appellation).

One of the first things that Stanko (Stanislao) wanted to show me was the hill where then Colonel (later General) Badoglio fought the battle of Oslavia, one of the last and most bloody assaults of the First World War (just Google Badoglio and Oslavia to get a sense of the horror evoked by the toponym for a generation that came before us).

Today it is a place of immeasurable beauty, although many of the battle scars remain — topographical and emotional.

Stanko was perhaps the first to recognize the immense tannic potential of Ribolla (above), which, until that time, was used only to make light, white quaffing wine (in much of wine-making Friuli and Slovenia, it is still applied as such, although sparkling wine from Ribolla is becoming increasingly popular).

Stanko’s dense, cloudy, tannic, salty expressions of Ribolla changed the way the world viewed the variety and opened many’s eyes to the potential of “orange” (skin-contact) and “natural” wines ante litteram.

Open vat fermentation and extended skin contact are among the techniques applied to create Radikon’s long-lived, powerful, yet delicately nuanced bottlings of Ribolla.

Note the unexploded bomb from the First World War in the abandoned farmhouse where Stanko built his new cellar in 2002.

One of the things that impressed me the most was the contrast between ineffable rural beauty and the memory of carnage and senseless sacrifice that linger there. Stanko is a quietly intense man whose soulful winemaking is as much an expression of ideology as it is a pure and natural product of his land.

I’ll be meeting with Saša and his group tonight for dinner and I’m sure I’ll have much to report tomorrow… Stay tuned…

Groovin’ to Radikon (FINALLY!) in Austin

Above: The rainy 2002 harvest was not a great one in northeastern Italy and so the Radikon family decided to bottle their entire crop that year in 500 ml bottles. Because they made so little wine, the unusual format (for them) allowed them to release a great number of bottles. I’ve tasted the wine a number of times now and it’s stunning — a great example of what a great winemaker can do in a challenging vintage.

Over the weekend, I took Tracie P out to dine at Austin’s newest “white table cloth” dining establishment, Congress, a swank and high-concept dining experience with a wildly ambitious menu (sure to be the hottest table to snag during the upcoming SXSW music festival when a tide of rock ‘n’ roll celebrity rolls over this central Texas town).

I was THRILLED to experience our friend June Rodil’s much anticipated list and OVERJOYED to find one of my favorite wines in the world: Radikon (the first time I’ve seen it here in Texas).

Above: “Wild Arugula, Artichoke Confit, Mozzarella, Holiday Grape Agro Dolce” at Congress. I wish folks would abandon the “truffled olive oil” mania around here. It’s one of the world’s greatest misunderstandings. But I have high hopes for high-concept dining in future at Congress.

Most people (including the Radikon family) point to Radikon as the winery that started the loosely knit orange wine movement in Italy when they began to ferment their Ribolla Gialla with skin contact in the 1990s. I tasted at Radikon back in September of last year and am a HUGE fan of these wines.

Above: A photo I shot of Radikon’s 2010 Ribolla Gialla, not long before harvest. Heavy rains in northeastern Italy during the fall don’t bode well for this vintage — in many ways, similar to the 2002 vintage. The fruit was beautiful (as you can see) but last-minute rains during the harvest ruined a lot of the crop.

I disagree entirely when people say that these wines aren’t for everyone. In fact, everyone SHOULD taste these wines so that they can begin to explore the magic of the place where they are made and the amazing people who make them — founders of the Natural wine movement in Italy and some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in this business.

The 2002 Ribolla Gialla (in 500 ml bottle) was brown and crunchy and salty, with bright acidity and loads and loads of ripe and dried apricot and peach flavors… utterly delicious. What a thrill to see these wines on a list (at a fair price, btw) in a town that — ready or not — needs to learn what great Natural wine can be. Chapeau bas, June!

We drank the Radikon after dinner, with the chef’s cheese selection. With dinner, we ordered this 1999 (!) Mersault by one of my favorite Burgundy houses, Grivault. Normally, a wine like this would be out of our range but June has it at a more than reasonable price on her list (a reflection of her pricing strategy, sharing good deals she receives with her clientele). Lots of wonderful savory flavors in this wine, which has had more than a decade to evolve (and has many years ahead of it)… RUN DON’T WALK…

According to The Wall Street Journal, “the Brookings Institution recently found the capital of Texas to be the country’s most popular destination for the 25-34 demographic.”

I’m glad to say that we also have some kick-ass wines and kick-ass sommeliers ready to turn on all the hipsters arriving daily in the Groover’s Paradise!

The monkey drinks the wine and gets dessert.

Above: I FINALLY got to taste one of the Cornelissen wines from Mt. Aetna in the home of total strangers, the lovely Lars and Kelly of Chicago, the other night! That’s the Susucaru, a field blend, as it were, of red and white grapes. Utterly delicious… Bibulously Yours brought that bottle.

Your probably wondering about the title of today’s post. It comes from a promise. A promise made in Chicago to Lars and Kelly’s sleeping twins.

I promised them that I would use their translation of the anisette poster (left) that resides in their bathroom as the title of this post: “The monkey drinks the wine and gets dessert.” As an accomplished translator of Italian with a doctorate in Italian and a few university press titles under my belt, I wholly endorse their rendering of the text into English.

Let me explain.

You see, wine blogging — despite all of the haters’s attempts to ruin it for everyone else — is really about bringing like-minded, nice folks together. And that’s exactly what happened the other day when Bibulously Yours (a Chicago wine blogger and wine lover whom I’d never met and with whom I trade emails and notes occasionally) wrote me the other day saying, “Welcome [to Chicago], and congrats on the new gig. Hope you’re having a nice trip. I’m sure you’re busy with work, but please let me know if you have any spare time while you’re here. I would love to meet up for a drink.”

Above: 1998 Valpolicella by Quintarelli. Lars got it on a close out and it showed splendidly. Do you ever say no to Quintarelli?

Since Bibulously’s son was ill that evening, we ended up in the home of his lovely friends Lars and Kelly who so graciously invited me to their home and so generously opened fantastic bottles of wine for me to taste with them. As it turns out, Lars and Kelly and I have a great deal in common since we have all been involved in the indy music scene and Lars even saw my old band play once in Detroit!

Above: This 500 ml bottle of 2002 Radikon Ribolla was opened at what might have been the perfect moment in its evolution, although I would guess it still has many years ahead of it. Brilliant wine. Simply brilliant.

Honestly, I was so thrashed from 3 days of eating way too much food and way too many tastings and meetings that I was entirely stoked to just hang out with the coolest folks, drink awesome wine, nibble on cheese and salame, and just shoot the shit and laugh my ass off.

As Anthony said the other day, I wish folks would stop drinking the “hatorade.” THIS IS WHAT WINE BLOGGING SHOULD BE ABOUT. Sharing wines, sharing experiences, learning and giving, having fun, and fueling our curiosity and minds with interesting wines and enriching our hearts with generosity and kindness.

Above: Bibulously’s wife stayed home with their kid. But she sent over this excellent savory cake. She said “the cake was plain and simple,” Bibulously wrote me the day after, “olive oil and preserved oranges.” It was off-the-charts delicious.

Everyone who knows me knows that I rarely eat desert. I was chubby as a kid and so I only eat desert when I REALLY LOVE it.

That night in Chicago, the monkey drank the wine and he got desert, too!

Thanks again, Nathan, Lars, and Kelly. You guys R O C K! And thanks for reminding me what it’s all about