Tue 10 Apr 2007
That’s what LL said — “Unlike anything I’ve tasted before” — after a sip of the Gravner Anfora Breg 2001.
The wine, which carries a designation of Venezia Giulia, is made by the legendary Friulian winemaker Josko Gravner, who revolutionized the production of wine in Italy’s farthest northeast, where family names reveal their roots in what used to be called the Balkans, just across the border.
Gravner, a pioneer in stainless steel fermentation and aging, was a mentor to many of the region’s young winemakers, though few, perhaps, would place a foot on the path he has forged since the late 1990s. That was when he began putting his white wines through a seven-month fermentation in large clay amphorae. That’s right; not stainless steel tanks or concrete vats or oak casks but clay vessels that he buries up to the neck in the ground, just as winemakers did 2,000 and 3,000 years ago. And after the wines are pulled up (by buckets) from the amphorae, they spend three years in neutral oak barrels
I purchased a bottle of Gravner’s Anfora Breg 2001, a blend of sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, chardonnay and riesling, at De Vino, a sleek little wine store with an impeccable selection of mainly Italian wines on Clinton Street in New York. I was on my way to dinner at Falai, a contemporary Italian restaurant in the next block south, and I stopped at the store and asked if they had any of Gravner’s wines. The Breg 2001 was in stock. When I returned to Memphis, I emailed store owner Gabrio Tosti di Valminuta and asked him what I should expect from this unusual wine. “Don’t expect,” he replied. “Just sit back and relax. Treat it like a red wine. Let it breathe a little.”
So we sipped Gravner’s Anfora Breg 2001 slowly and carefully.
Look at the color. LL, who dotes on semi-precious stones — well, OK, precious stones — described the wine’s pale sunset hue as tourmaline infused with topaz. I’ll go with that. The color, by the way, derives from the pinot grigio grapes, whose skins have a pinkish tone.
The wine combines spareness with unctuousness to an uncanny degree, like a Spartan wearing a satin cloak. The bouquet offers orange rind and orange blossom, roasted almonds, cinnamon and clove, spiced peaches and apricots, yet the aromas are delicate, almost ephemeral, and they take on hints of sandalwood and strawberry tea. We discovered that Breg 2001 cannot be consumed at too cold a temperature. Even I, a fanatic for keeping white wines chilled, understood that this wine needed the slightest of chills and that as it warmed in the glass a bit it really bloomed. Do not, however, as I read somewhere, drink this at room temperature; the acid turns flabby and interferes with the wine’s essential taut structure, which would, of course, happen to any white wine.
In the mouth, Breg 2001 balances crispness with lushness and macerated stone fruit with acid and minerals; there’s a rising tide of limestone; the wine is bone-dry, yielding some austerity on the finish. All of these elements represent tissues of delicacy; there’s nothing obvious or overblown about this wine.
We puzzled a bit over what to serve it with. Breg 2001 does not seem to be a dinner wine, though a respondent to cellartracker.com wrote: “wonderful stuff and deliciously paired with well-spiced honey and ginger risotto with grilled sweetbreads.” Well, de gustibus and all that, but gack! at least as far as the honey and ginger risotto is concerned. We thought of it more as an aperitif wine, a uniquely complex yet elegant accompaniment to some earthy and unadorned preserved meat like speck or braseola.
The rub — and there is one — is that you wouldn’t want to pay $115 for an aperitif wine. Apparently, uniqueness and eccentricity, no matter how compelling or entrancing, come at a cost. I mean, think of all the capital that was tied up while Breg 2001 aged for more than three years.