I’m mostly distracted, tempted by experiences that promise something new and different. Before having gained nearly enough understanding of a given place, or person, or conversation, or book, or event in my own life, or wine, I’ll move on to the next one. The underlying expectation is, “Surely that will be better than this.”
I’m pretty sure maturity is recognizing that the shock of the new is a fraud, and that the quieter things are the better. The Pinot Grigio ‘Dessimis’ from Vie di Romans in Friuli had a big hand in getting me to see this. Drinking it puts me in mind of classical, quiet things, a mode where intensity whispers and there’s nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.
Vie di Romans, a property in Mariano del Friuli that has been in one family since the 18th century, is the finest ambassador of this, Italy’s greatest white wine region, available in Maine. (The wines are distributed by Pine State).
Yes, there is amazing Pinot Grigio. I don’t use“amazing” as a lazy synonym for “very good.” I mean that it amazes. Most of the great Pinot Grigio I’ve tasted comes from Friuli, in northeastern Italy, and Brda, in northwestern Slovenia. It’s the same corner of the world, separated for the time being by a political line. Terroir is shared, and so is a certain approach to working with this grape, which can make such dull wine when left to its own devices but such fascinating wine when attention is paid.
The viticultural aspects of the better approach include high vine density and low yields, so that more of this area’s unique character, a duet of the chiseled and the mellifluous (Alps and Mediterranean), goes into fewer grapes. Vinification includes extended skin contact, whereby after crush the juice of a white wine grape remains in contact with its skins for several days. Pinot Grigio’s ripened skin is pinkish gray, so after this so-called maceration the finished wine’s color takes on a pink-orange hue.
The Pinot Grigio ‘Dessmis’ 2011 ($34) is like that. With persistent tannins and a steady, cruise-control-V8 power, it’s some Jungian marriage of the masculine and feminine. Potent but velvety, red-berried and long, it will age for at least a decade, and probably peak three or so years from now.
Vintage matters a lot in this area. 2011 was warm and ripe, and drills deep into you, now: a July peach, an immense wall of rock. 2010 was a difficult year, cold and it rained during harvest: When I tasted it I saw immediately that it will only yield its best traits several years from now.
The exceptional Sauvignon Blanc “Piere” 2011 ($35) is available as well. (The 2009 “Piere” can be had, for $39, and if you’d like to buy a gift for a Sancerre drinker who’s OK with having her head explode, there’s no better bargain.)
The Flors di Uis 2011 ($30), a somewhat rougher wine but my favorite in the slightly less contemplative moments than the “Dessimis” calls for, is a blend of Malvasia Istriana, Tocai Friulano and Riesling. Musky, spicy and dripping with yellow and orange fruits, it is more comfortable at poles of the flavor spectrum and so calls for more unconventional, fusion-influenced foods.
I visited Vie di Romans last spring, fresh off some other visits that had put all sorts of questions in my head concerning where a wine draws its truth from. I was on that “what’s-next” train, striving after “answers” on yields, maceration time, oxidation, organics, temperature-control, yeasts, sulfites and more. The road to confusion is paved with good distractions.
So, what matters is that the wines of Vie di Romans, the “Dessimis” most of all, turn me quiet inside. That’s “in the glass,” as they say. It is so ripe and pure, so bell-clear, so glassed over and seamless, you’re shocked to note an alcohol level of 14.5 percent. But its clarity is not at odds with its muscularity, especially evident in this warm vintage.
Wine doesn’t just appear in a glass, though. A quiet, confident wine comes about because of quiet, confident people. After a presentation at the winery on Vie di Romans’ practices, which include full destemming, nitrogen treatment to protect the forming wine against all oxygen, cold maceration, and the use of cultured yeasts, I asked Gianfranco Gallo, the winemaker (no relation to another winemaking Gallo you’ve come across), if all the careful technique didn’t run the risk of diverting a wine from its “natural,” intended path.
He took a minute to respond. “You must be intellectually honest. Am I producing a wine that will be different? Or a wine that will be true?” For Gallo, truth is in balance among soil, grapes, foliage, weather, and human.
During the growing season, he and his partners taste not just grapes but seeds, in order to gain a fuller sense of the grapes’ progression toward true physiological ripeness. They prune to keep yields down to less than 1.5 pounds per vine, and 3,300 pounds per acre. But carefully, because “if you prune too much, in very fertile soil, you miss out on some nutrients.” Balance.
I’d assumed that a wine made with cultured yeast was automatically inferior to one made with indigenous yeast. But Gallo’s intimidating, hard-won intelligence showed a different perspective.
“Grapes have yeasts on them,” he told me, “that are there because the plants’ project is to devolve into humus, to move back toward death. But this is not humans’ project. Humans’ project is a kind of life, and for that certain ‘minimalist’ approaches are not beneficial.”
Vie di Romans wines are of life, though above the confused toss and turn of our lives. They can inspire right now, but will transcend as they age, expressing a maturity and release from distraction we can only hope to emulate.
Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog is soulofwine.com, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not all the wines mentioned in this column are necessarily sold at Rosemont, but distributor information listed in parentheses permits special orders through any Maine retailer.