Saturday, May 10, 2008

Comparative Italian whites with a long maceration on the skins tasting


Last night a few wine industry friends (Josh, buyer at Bi-Rite Market, and Chris, logistics guy for Kermit Lynch in Beaune, France) my girlfriend and I enjoyed a bottle of 2002 Radikon Oslavje and 2006 Paolo Bea Santa Chiara Bianco at Terroir. The first wine is Stanko Radikon's blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, done in a very traditional style, i.e. a slightly warm (or at least not a very cool) fermentation followed by a long period of skin contact and ageing in slavonian oak barrels, a total of 3 years ageing before bottling. And the second is Umbrian Paolo Bea's newest vintage of a field blend consisting of Malvasia, Chardonnay, Grechetto, and many other grapes which I forget. It is also elaborated with a long period of skin contact with the juice. In between the conversation, which was predictably full of wine talk, both wine stuff and wine business stuff (vendors we like/dislike, the stevedore's strike on the French ports, etc) it was interesting to compare these two wines, especially as we worked our way through each bottle over time.

My initial reactions were favorable towards the Bea, less so towards the Oslavje. I loved the fact that Bea is moving towards a more substantive, traditional style of white wine. His wine combined peachy, fleshy, floral qualities with a touch of orange blossom honey and real grip on the back end - this is a white wine with tannins. As for the Radikon 'Oslavje,' I found it to be a bit more rancio than I expected. His '02 Ribolla is such a brilliant wine, a perfect interplay of fresh and oxidative flavors, exuberant acidity and spice, fruit and minerality. The Oslavje just didn't sing as much for me - at first. Then as it opened up, the acidity really shined. The wine brightened, and the finish was full of a delicious hazlenut character. To me there is something vaguely vin santo-like about the oslavje: aromas of older bound books in someone's study, or perhaps a worn in-leather couch, slightly rancio flavors combined with pungent acidity. I eventually grew to prefer it over the Bea, which tasted fine but seemed simple by contrast. Of course, there is a four year difference here as well. But I don't see the Bea wine aging as gracefully for as long as the Radikon. It was a fun comparative tasting though, for sure.