Today we're taking a trip to Trieste, Italy, where I had the good fortune this week to visit Zidarich Vineyards, a family owned business that produces red and white wines, including a special one called vitovska, a dry white wine made only here in the area known as Carso, part of Italy's Friuli Venezia Giulia region. It's also produced in neighboring Slovenia, which has similar terrain. Vitovska is both the name of the grape and the wine, one that is little known by Americans, but worth seeking out for its complex flavors.
Zidarich Vineyards opens to visitors starting in July, but we were given special access down to its cellar, and later relaxed with good wine and food on its panoramic terrace overlooking the vineyards, thanks to owner Beniamino Zidarich and two local friends - Furio Baldassi and Chiara Giglio. Furio is a journalist with the local newspaper, "Il Piccolo" who seemingly knows everyone in Trieste, and Chiara is a blogger friend I met online several years ago through her excellent food blog, "La Voglia Matta." They all provided us with an unforgettable visit to Trieste, a cosmopolitan city that reflects its position as a crossroads of Italian, Austro- Hungarian and Slavic culture.
Beniamino (Benjamin) started the winery in 1988, although the house where he and his family live dates back to the 1700s. The property sits 1300 meters above sea level (4,265 feet) on red, rocky terrain that is swept by a strong, cold wind from the sea, called the bora. The ground is covered with only a few centimeters of fertile humus, and beneath that are layers of limestone, making it a challenge for grape growers.
But it is this same microclimate that allows Benjamin to grow his grapes using no pesticides. He said, "I nostri vini sono fatti con passione, usando metodi naturali, tramandatici dai nostri nonni." ("Our wines are made using only natural methods, handed down to us by our grandparents.")
In the vineyard, the grapes are just starting to bud and flower, but will transform into large clusters by the fall, when harvest occurs for the start of wine production. The vines are heavily pruned to allow for a greater concentration of flavor in the grapes. Once the grapes are harvested, they are moved to the cantina, or wine cellar.
The process starts in these stone vats, carved by a local artist, where the grapes, with their skins, are macerated and fermented for two weeks.
These vessels, called "tino" in Italian, are carved from local stone, and are what the ancient Romans also used when fermenting grapes. They give the wine an even stronger imprint of the terrain, or "terroir."
Here you can see a larger tino in one of the cellars below ground. The impressive Zidarich cantina was excavated 22 meters (72 feet) and five floors deep into the rock and took eight years to build. Each of the stones in the cellar was carved by hand from local rock.
The naturally cool environment provides a consistent temperature of 14 degrees centigrade (57.2 degrees fahrenheit) all year long, perfect for aging and maintaining the wines in the barrels and later bottling. The vitovsky wines are aged in the casks for two years before bottling.
But before bottling, the wine is moved to stainless steel tanks for a short time. The pillars are carved with designs representing the four seasons, like this one, with grape clusters depicting autumn.
Vitovska is only one of the five wines produced at Zidarich Winery. Aside from vitovska, Zibarich produces two other white wines - malvasia, and prulke, made from a blend of vitovska, malvasia and sauvignon grapes. The red wines made by Zidarich include terrano, a kind of refosco; and rujé, a mixture of the terrano and merlot grapes, that's aged four years in the barrel.
A quote from writer Mario Soldati sums up the sentiments of wine lovers everywhere:
"Wine is the poetry of the earth."
Naturally, while down in the cantina, Benjamin wanted us to try his wines, and we were more than happy to oblige.
After a tour of the cellars, we were treated to more wine tastings and food to complement the wines, on an outdoor terrace overlooking the vineyards.
Benjamin's wife Nevenka served us a variey of foods, all made from ingredients grown or produced on the property, including these crostini with goat cheese and lardo made from their own animals.
We continued with a variety of salumi, all homemade. From the top, clockwise, you're looking at homemade salami, pancetta, and ombolo, a gastronomic specialty made from the back of the pig. They were so delicious, it was hard to stop eating them.
Throughout, Benjamin poured different wines to accompany each course, ending with a sweet, red dessert wine called passito.
Zidarich Winery produces only about 30,000 bottles a year, a small amount compared to larger, more industrial companies. But quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality, and in this case, the extra care taken every step of the way results in optimum wine for the consumer.
Benjamin does export his wines, including the vitovska, to the U.S., and Japan. While not omnipresent in wine shops, Zidarich wines are worth requesting at your local wine merchant. In New York City, you can find them at Millesima wine store, ay 1355 Second Ave., and at 67 Wine & Spirits, at 179 Columbus Avenue. In Los Angeles, look for Zidarich wines at Wine House , 2311 Cotner Avenue. For availability in other cities, go to www.wine-searcher.com.
Grazie mille Beniamino, Furio e Chiara, per una giornata indimenticabile.