Radikon 2003 Ribolla Gialla (Venezia Giulia) – Creamy, with that odd tension between stone fruit and ripe red berries that so often marks this grape when made in this fashion. There’s skin tannin, but it’s milder than normal (possibly a consequence of the vintage, though if so it runs counter to the excess/underripe-tannin problem that plagues so many 2003s), and while the wine feels heavy on the palate, it lightens considerably by the time the finish rolls around. A good, not great, Radikon ribolla, but considering the elevated starting position there’s no real shame in that. (3/10)
Radikon 2003 “Jakot” (Venezia Giulia) – Some alcohol here, plus pear and raw, exposed metal. Fat. The heat lingers into the finish. (7/09)
Radikon 2001 Ribolla Gialla (Venezia Giulia) – Tight, metal-jacketed plum. A bit hot, which is something I’ve not previously experienced from this wine. Somewhat indifferent. Perhaps an off bottle (or an off taster). (7/09)
Radikon 1997 Ribolla Gialla “Riserva Ivana” (Venezia Giulia) – Soft fullness and salty white soil. Seems more mild-mannered than it actually is…there’s a fair bit of complexity and depth…but the wine’s gentle in every aspect. There’s a very slight edge of heat creeping into the margins, but otherwise all is seamless. This isn’t aging so much as cohering, and in a very appealing way. (7/09)
Radikon 2002 Venezia Giulia Ribolla Gialla (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – While it’s never entirely clear what sort of wine one is going to get when one removes the tiny, Virginia Slims-sized cork from a bottle of Radikon, anticipation of the unexpected more than makes up for the lack of predictability. That said, any expectations one might have for this bottle are pretty much detonated at first sniff. And no, I do not mean that negatively. This wine is as explosive as the beverage can get…not in the goopy, thermonuclear fruit device fashion so popular among certain subsets, but in its mushrooming billows of complexity and evolving structure. Deep bronze in color and in sheathing, then wrestling free of its jacketing with lava flows of slow-baked stone fruit (leaning towards the tropical…let’s say papaya, more for the fun of naming an actual fruit than from any commitment to organoleptic accuracy), then pulsing in gravitic undulations of aromatic expansion and structural contraction. To a certain extent, most wines made in this fashion are “red wines,” but this is redder than most, and the deep, autumnal aromas that dance around the perimeter lavishly Burgundian. Honestly, this is breathtaking, a sure-fire cure for vinous ennui, and sufficient reason all by itself to make wine a part of one’s life. (4/09)
Drink it forward
I have some guests from France this week, and as is my usual practice I intend to serve them no French wines over the course of their stay. This time, however, I’m going to be a little more challenging than usual.
Most of my French friends and relatives are not wine geeks. They like it, they drink it with enthusiasm, they can comment intelligently on it when asked, but it’s not something they care or talk about away from the table. Not so the husband in the current pair, who – while he does not rise (or fall) to the level of oenophilic obsession required to, say, have more than one blog on the subject – likes to trot out his best stuff whenever I visit them, and who has a slightly more eclectic range of tastes than is typical among that particular set of friends.
So this week, I’m inspired to push the boundaries a bit. And the biggest push will probably come from one of the so-called “orange wines,” perhaps from someone like Radikon or Zidarich: an extended skin-contact white, cloudy and tannic, with an aromatic and structural palette likely to be completely unfamiliar to them (certainly, the grapes and regions involved will be). In planning this, I found myself wondering what my expectations were for such an experiment. Because, of course, there’s at least an even chance that they’ll find whichever wine I serve far too weird to enjoy, in which case this becomes a very expensive failed experiment (these wines, as their advocates know, are not exactly cheap).
Wine travel (that is, travel at least in part for the specific purpose of tasting wine) nearly always results in just this sort of encounter. Unless one adheres only to the tried-and-true, which seems an awfully restrictive way to approach such a diverse subject, there will eventually be a wine that first leads not to questions of good vs. bad, but of essence and intent. “What were they thinking here? Is this how the wine is supposed to taste?”
For some – me included – this is an essential, valuable, and often wonderful facet of wine exploration. And it doesn’t even matter all that much whether or not I actually like what I’m tasting, though weeks of slogging through bottles and barrels for which I don’t care would be a taxing experience. The tangible benefit is the experience, the palate-broadening encounter with something that’s actually new. (Even though many of the wines that engender this reaction are actually more akin to something old, like Gravner or Bea.) Often, the most difficult part of contemplating such wines is finding a vocabulary to describe them. I look back over all my Radikon notes, for example, and wonder at the near-complete disconnect between allegedly-identical bottles; is it the wine, or is it me? I’ve come to conclude that it’s a little bit of both, viewed through the lens of an imperfect language, in an ongoing effort to achieve some sort of actual understanding.
With this in mind, I’ve realized I have to let go of the hope – or even the notion – that my friends’ eyes will light up with excitement (as mine often do) when they taste whatever oddity I decide to serve them. Unlike the winemaker, I’ve no inherent interest in convincing others of the merits of the wine. After all, I’m not selling it. All I can do is transfer the experience…“drink it forward,” if you will…and I’m going to have to be content with that. Whatever happens after that is up to them, not me.
And if, as seems quite possible, they don’t like it? More for me. There’s no bad here.
Here’s to my sweet tokaj
Radikon 2005 Venezia Giulia “Jakot” (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Fresh and light. Makrut lime poured over rocks. Simpler than the other wines, with a straightforward flavor. Already seems fairly complete. Long. (10/07)
Radikon 2006 Venezia Giulia “Jakot” (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Pine, fresh bread, and papaya. Well-balanced and long. Perhaps a hint of reduction as well, which seems unlikely for this wine; perhaps I’m misidentifying something. (10/07)
Radikon 2003 Venezia Giulia “Jakot” (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Explosively aromatic, though precisely what’s in the shrapnel is difficult to pin down. Dried fruit, perhaps. Lush, fun, and fulsome. (10/07)
Radikon 2003 Venezia Giuli Pignolo (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Very tannic, with dusty, dark berries. Needs a lot of time, but given the gravitational core of concentration within, it could be a stunner. Or it could fall apart under the weight of its structure. It’s difficult to say at this stage. (10/07)
Radikon 2004 Venezia Giuli Pignolo (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Meat with a hint of char, herbs, and softer tannins than the 2003. Lighter and more angular. Somewhere in between this and the 2003 would seem to be the ideal range for this grape’s inherent qualities, but then again these wines aren’t (to my knowledge) being released, so who knows? (10/07)
Radikon 2004 Venezia Giulia Merlot (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Fig, bubblegum, and some volatile acidity. There’s agreement on this latter point, and so we try again from a different container. (10/07)
Radikon 2004 Venezia Giulia Merlot (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Meatier and fuller than the first sample, with no significant volatile acidity. (10/07)
Radikon 2003 Venezia Giuli Merlot (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Perfumed. Black cherry, blueberry, nut skins. Big tannin, yes (in that, it’s reflective of its year), but there’s a vintage-specific sort of balance to the wine. Long. Very good. (10/07)
Radikon 1997 Venezia Giulia “Oslavje Riserva Ivana” (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Smoked, sun-baked minerals (seriously) and mirabelle plum. Youthful and so, so long. Piercing, and yet prettily sweet (not, I think, from residual sugar). Brilliant. (10/07)
Radikon 2002 Venezia Giulia “Oslavje” (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Spicy and full-bodied, lush with cream , but with a contrapuntal midpalate bite. Strong and complex. Tastes more vibrant, somehow, than it does in the U.S….not that this result is much of a surprise, given the fidgety vulnerability of its chemistry, which can seem to be (but is not) belied by its brash iconoclasm. (10/07)
Radikon 2005 Venezia Giulia “Oslavje” (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Tannic (big surprise), sauvignon-dominated, and full of fruity tropicality. (10/07)
Radikon 2005 Venezia Giulia “Oslavje” (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Take two, from a different barrel. And, of course, completely different. Very floral, round, and full-bodied, with peaches. Also, dried honey laden with beeswax (which is also a textural impression). Huge, but complete. Rather impressive. (10/07)
Radikon 2006 Venezia Giulia “Oslavje” (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Grapefruit. Big – actually, almost fat – with solidity and length. There’s a significant vinyl element (both aromatic and textural) that I don’t quite understand, though. (10/07)
Gialla de Laurentiis
Radikon 2001 Venezia Giulia Ribolla Gialla (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – A bit shy (do these wines even have a closed period?), with a comparatively silky texture and a softer finish than has been the norm in other vintages. Lovely and balanced, but reticent. (10/07)
Radikon 2007 Venezia Giulia Ribolla Gialla (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Tight and yet as beautifully weird as expected; no reason not to jump in with both Dadaist feet and fight through the cobwebs. Tannin is the initial impression, followed by apricot and cream, then a sweet, brioche-like character. Very long and dense, but identifiable components are mere teases at the moment. The wine’s still hard, though its future character can be glimpsed. (10/07)
Radikon 2006 Venezia Giulia Ribolla Gialla (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Matchstick, chamomile, minerals, and the light bitterness of over-steeped tea leaves. (10/07)
Radikon 2005 Venezia Giulia Ribolla Gialla (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Fruit salad heavy on the pineapple, with tannin and spiky acidity. Citrusy and linear. Needs to settle down. (10/07)
Radikon 2004 Venezia Giulia Ribolla Gialla (barrel sample) (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Golden. Apples and citrus, with clean tannin. (10/07)