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Opinion 5

Wines from another era (20-01-2005)

Sometimes one has an experience in tasting a series of wines that put many things into perspective. Suddenly it becomes clear how much and fast things have changed the last decades. Today things are changing even more rapidly. This is not an old man speaking to the inexperienced youngsters, this is just me being aware of change and development or even better: evolution.  A few months ago I tasted some highly unfashionable white wines from Collio: I was impressed, but let me first explain a few things.

Why is wine so fascinating for me ?  Not the alcohol, not the reputation, not the delicious taste alone, but most of all the immense diversity of aroma's, tastes and structures. Like good art, in wine there is such a wealth of enjoyment in the variety of styles. Every time you open a bottle there is a certain tension and eagerness what it will bring. My most exciting time in the world of wine was when I started to explore the dazzling diversity of tastes. Many disappointments were complemented by new horizons of tastes. The sheer difference between wines was both confusing as well as fascinating. Every possible occasion to open a bottle and sample the contents was grabbed with both hands. Most of the bottles were not finished because there were new bottles wanting to be investigated. The limited financial resources did not prevent me from experimenting, it only dictated the category of wines I bought. Fortunately I regularly was able to taste the high quality and reputed wines at family and friends less restricted in their budget. The satisfaction from tasting the less expensive wines was not less than that of tasting the big ones. I believe it was a good and thorough way to learn your way about wine. The basic wines are the most illustrative and educative group when it comes to learn about wine. They are very helpful if not essential in understanding and appreciating wines of the higher echelons.

The basic quality of wine has never been so good as it is today. Techniques and knowledge in the wine world have vastly improved over the last two or three decades, but the availability of different styles has diminished. Nowadays the New World style is the norm for most of the "basic" and medium range wines. Ripe fruit in the jammy style, suppleness, smooth tannins and a suggestion or tiny touch of sweetness from the few grams per litre residual sugar or elevated alcohol levels (at least 12,5%) are more or less standard. These clean, well made wines provide much enjoyment, these wines are very, and deservedly so, successful.
Today it is harder to find a good, but maybe simple wine with less alcohol, with less fruit, with a different type of tannins or spices or peculiar fruit or herbs, etc. Wines that show the climate sometimes in a sub optimal way. A light and refreshing, slightly stubborn red Bordeaux showing lovely fresh red and black fruit next to the earthy piquant tannins that go well with red meat. A wine from the south of Italy made from local grapes as Malvasia Nera and Negro Amaro harvested a few days too late, fermented at a slightly too high temperature, thus showing a hot (alcoholic) and a bit caramelized and raisiny and less fruity style. Maybe not perfect but more showing its roots so to speak. A wine that may add more pleasure and character to a honest, maybe simple pasta dish than a perfect and polished Merlot from the New World. When asked, most of us prefer to watch a picture of an attractive (photo) model than that of an "ordinary", less perfect person. But in our daily life, thank goodness, it is not only models we have to deal with. Our lives are full with (imperfect) characters (like ourselves). They can be difficult, but also give depth to one's life, are a challenge and make it more exciting to live.

For me wine is not unlike this. I do like character. I can appreciate perfection, but this is not a goal in itself. I am sure there is a group of wine lovers who think the same. Who value variety, character and quality. Wines that show their provenance strongly may not fit the preference profile of someone, but can still be very interesting for this person. While another wine that is perfectly produced and tastes good can be quite uninteresting or unchallenging.

There are many complaints about the wine world today from all sides of the community: from consumers, trade, producers to journalists: there is less variety, more uniformity in wine than ever. One can not but agree on this. For the majority of people this is a blessing: the chances of buying a good and delicious wine for a reasonable price have never been so great. That is quite an achievement in this world. Lets be happy with that, but people who want more excitement and adventure in wine need a more active and independent attitude. Believe me there are still so many exciting wines on this world, you could live centuries exploring without feeling bored.
It is true, we have to look harder than before, not follow the mainstream, we have to be more independent from the reputed wine writers. Do read what they write but taste and judge for yourself. Believe in your own opinion, do not copy that of a connoisseur. You are your own best judge.

Some months ago I tasted 4 remarkable wines. Wines so unfashionable today. Wines with no wood, wines lacking in ripe and rich fruit, wines that are restrained rather than expressive. Wines that have little or no resemblance with modern high quality wines.
When I tasted them I got associations with wines I had tasted years ago when I started exploring wine.  I suddenly realized I had forgotten these wines, they had creeped out of my references. That I did not miss them until I retasted this style made me aware how easy extinction can take place. After a while not tasting this type of wine nobody recalls it and it starts to fade into history. If this happens with someone like me, who is eager to explore and is quite active in tasting, then you can make the picture for yourself how it works with the majority of wine consumers.

It made me again more aware than ever this fading away or extinction of specific styles will happen if we do not pay attention to it. Hence I decided to write this opinion.

On 23-11-2004 I tasted 4 wines: From I Clivi the "Brazan" 2000 (D.O.C. Collio Goriziano) and the "Galea" 2000, 1999 and 1997 (D.O.C. Collio Orientali del Friuli)  This series gave me a nice opportunity to experience the similarities and differences between the terroirs and also the effect of ageing on the wines.

These wines come from another world. They are so different from the mainstream high quality wines so fashionable today. There is no sexy oak, no obvious fruit, no expressive character. These wines are all about terroir, complexity, freshness, purity and aromatic restraint. These wines are not made to please the crowd, they are an honest and devoted expression of the unfashionable (indigenous) grapes (Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Istriana and Verduzzo Friulano) the climate and the sloping vineyards of the "Collio" zone of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Northern Italy.  Crafted from old vines (>40 years old up to more than 60)  with very low yields (between 23 and 28 hl/ha) cold fermented with its own vineyards' yeast cultures with subsequent malolactic fermentation, matured in inox tanks on its own lees for 2 years, no racking or filtration. These are wines as natural and original as you can get. No make-up of maceration préfermentaire or wood is used, this is pure grape juice transformed into wine.
The Brazan is made from 66% Tocai Friulano, 25% Malvasia Istriano and 9% other, the Galea from 75% Tocai Friulano, 17% Verduzzo Friulano and 8% other.
The young Brazan and Galea were much different, the Brazan more powerful, impressive and even fierce, the Galea more elegant, more refined and subtle. When matured the Galea got increasingly complex and impressive, still keeping its impressive freshness and astonishing purity. For me the '99 was the star, but the '97 was great as well (more mature) and so was the 2000, but still young, too young after tasting the '99 and '97 knowing what could lie ahead.
Follow these links for more details on the wines: Brazan 2000  Brazan 2003  Galea 2003  Galea 2000  Galea rosso 2000  Galea 1999  Galea 1997

The problem with this style (or type) of wine is that it does not show well in blind tastings. It is always overshadowed by the more expressive and impressive style. The low-key aromatics of the Malvasia and Tocai grapes and the non interventionist production make these wines not "popular" or easy to understand in style. Especially nowadays where the reference is modern style white wines, full-bodied with expressive fruit.

But with all wines of high quality you can find the quality somewhere in the wine, you have to search and adapt your senses to a lower threshold of aromatic intensity, only then you will discover the sheer beauty of this type of  wine, the very complex subtle earthy and flowery impressions. Even if a taster does not appreciate these nuances, he/she can not but sense the immaculate balance and great intensity of these wines.
This type of wine is a standard at the other side of the aromatic spectrum of e.g. high profile Chardonnay's. Unfortunately this type of wine is becoming more and more rare. It would be a great loss for our wine heritage this type would disappear from our world.

Let's be happy there are still these stubborn and devoted single-minded producers that keep on fighting for their unique products and protecting them from extinction.

Dear wine consumer, please try this kind of wine at least a few times in your life, importers: buy it and spread the story.

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