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February 21, 2006
Exclusive Collection: Josko Gravner 1989-2001

In This Issue

A Note from Sergio
Last spring I joined Friulian vintner Damijan Podversic at La Subida restaurant in Cormons, a tiny town on the border of Slovenia and Friuli. As we began to eat our braised veal shank (a dish so famously perfect that people from around the world flock to La Subida just to taste it), Podversic spotted Josko Gravner sitting across the dining room with his family. His eyes lit up.

“Josko’s here, my teacher,” he said. “We must pay our respects.” I agreed—we were in the presence of a genius.

Josko Gravner is Friuli’s greatest and most influential winemaker. Since 1975, he has produced the finest whites in all of Italy. His early protégés—students of what is now known as the School of Gravner—include Edi Kante, brothers Giorgio and Nicolò Bensa of La Castellada, Stanko Radikon, and Podversic. Gravner is known for his wisdom and foresight, and for his fearlessly innovative approach to his craft. In the 1970s, he perfected stainless steel technology of fermentation and temperature control. Soon after, just as others began to catch onto his techniques, he abandoned them and went on to master barrique fermentation and aging. The wine industry and enthusiasts around the world (French and American included) applauded, crowning him the "King of Italian Whites." But as his students attempted to copy him, he had a new idea.

In the 1990s, Gravner’s friend Udo Fiersch visited Caucasia (in the former USSR) and tried wines fermented in clay amphorae in the ancient style that is still alive in Georgian winemaking. Fiersch shipped an amphora back to an intrigued Gravner. Gravner, who had long studied the effects of slow maceration periods, filled it with wine and buried it underground for fermentation.

At a wine dinner in 1998, Gravner revealed the discovery that the amphora had helped him make. He announced to a room full of students, clients, and journalists that all the newest technology, chemicals, and techniques, it turned out, did many things for wine, but they didn’t make it any better.

“Wine and food have to be natural products,” he said. “In flying a plane, one needs technology but it’s absurd to think that man can ever improve what is natural.”

Then, with a tinge of remorse in his voice he added, “Wine and food we put in our stomachs. How could I continue doing my work if I have knowledge that what I make was slowly poisoning my daughters?”

The poisons of which Gravner spoke are acids, sugars, yeasts, tannins, wood flavoring, wood chips, glycerin, Arabic gum, polyphenols, extracts, and color stabilizers—the laboratory-made products that routinely show up in almost all wines made today, both in and outside of Italy (the only additive Gravner deems acceptable is a small quantity of sulfur because it is a natural product).

Immediately after his radical announcement, most of his followers—with the exception of Podversic—dropped away, convinced that he had gone too far. Lawmakers tried to keep his wines from the market, stating that the 1999 wasn’t an acceptable wine for its appellation. Suppliers stopped buying from him. And the press, scared of losing their authority, skewered him.

Still today, despite the controversy, Gravner remains convinced that his ancient methods result in the best wines. He admits that his wines, which are made in amphorae with a seven-month maceration, are not for everyone.

“The amphora amplifies everything,” he says. “The color, which is very dark, is the most obvious, but there’s much more which cannot be explained.” Though much of the greatness and weirdness may be inexplicable, it’s clear that Gravner’s wines are now unmasked, untainted, and beautiful. When asked to describe the difference between his Anfora 2001 (anfora is Italian for amphora and is now in the name of the wines for which it is used) and the wines he made previously, he says, “I don’t have the words to describe it. It’s like being asked to describe someone’s soul. The amphora wines have much more spirit.”

This week, I’m proud to offer this maverick’s most spirited wines as well as wines that span his career. The older wines are superb and fresh—he is proudly releasing them now even though he has since turned to new techniques, and their quality is easily recognizable. If you aren’t expecting California Chardonnay, though, you’ll see that the newer wines are Gravner’s best work. I’m also re-releasing a few cases of the magical wines of Fiorano, as it seems only right to include these all-natural rule breakers.

My best,
Sergio Esposito

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Gravner's 2000s & New Anfora
So what does this all mean: clay amphorae, “pure winemaking,” ancient methods? It is part process and part philosophy that begins with choice grapes from 18 hectares of vineyards in Gorizia (Oslavia) and results in high quality, thinking whites that drink more like reds. Here, at an altitude of 600 meters, Josko Gravner has spent decades learning the behavior of each vine and still provides individual attention to every one of them. Once optimal yields are obtained, the selected grapes are destemmed and transferred to large clay amphorae (refer to image #1) that are buried underground (refer to image #2). With the grapes in place, fermentation is ignited through purely wild yeasts and without the aid of temperature-controlled equipment. The grapes are stirred five to six times each day, with no use of roto-fermenters or pumps, and undergo natural malolactic fermentation. Only at this point does Josko interrupt the cycle of grapes turning to vinegar (their natural destiny) by adding a ½ gram of sulfur per hectoliter—a practice that dates back to pre-Roman times. The maceration period continues for seven months with the amphorae taking in the characteristics of their tellurian surroundings and amplifying the natural characteristics of their contents. When the alignment of the planets and moon cause atmospheric pressure to push the pomace to the bottom of the amphorae, the must is taken out of them by bucket and transferred to large botti. Here it rests for another three years before being transferred to bottle for further aging. No filtering takes place since Josko believes it “steals the soul of the wine....”

Gravner Breg
A blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling Italico grapes. While the 2001 Breg Anfora utilizes the technique detailed above, the 2000 release saw the final use of open vat fermentation in wood. In fact, Josko recently sold off these casks to Beppe Rinaldi, one of Barolo’s great traditionalists. The 2000 grapes were manually pressed and fermented separately on their skins in these large, open oak barrels for an extended maceration period. The pomace is then removed and juice is placed in large oak casks for a maturation period of three years. Josko recommends drinking this white wine at room temperature to capture its full expression. The cider color picks up a pinkish hue, not from the wood or the amphorae, but from the Pinot Grigio. Each grape imparts a signature characteristic that gives this wine a rare spectrum of flavors and uncommon depth.

Gravner 2001 Breg Anfora $69.98*
Gravner 2001 Breg Anfora $146.98 (1.5L)*
Gravner 2000 Breg $89.87

*Indicates future arrivals

Gravner Ribolla Gialla
Ribolla Gialla enjoys a long history as one of Friuli's oldest indigenous vines. Back in the 12th century, it was the drink of choice in the Republic of Venice under the name Rabiola del Collio. While its popularity has faded, Josko Gravner has spearheaded a movement to resurrect this forgotten grape to its former glory. It has taken two decades for Josko to understand the handling of this stubborn varietal, and it is his proudest achievement. In fact, this wine and the black Pignolo grape represent the future of Gravner since he plans to work exclusively with these two varietals after the 2010 vintage. Like the Breg, the 2000 Ribolla underwent open vat fermentation and the 2001 represents the debut release of Ribolla Anfora. The grapes were taken from vines planted as far back as 1915, providing the wines with a distinct personality highlighted by mineral notes that end with a butterscotch finish.

Gravner 2001 Ribolla Gialla Anfora $69.98*
Gravner 2001 Ribolla Gialla Anfora $146.98 (1.5L)*
Gravner 2000 Ribolla Gialla $89.87

*Indicates future arrivals

More of this varietal worth trying:
Damijan 2002 Ribolla Gialla $43.45
La Castellada 1998 Ribolla Gialla $49.98
Movia 2003 Ribolla $25.24

Click for more on Gravner and Friuli's great white wine makers

Rare Vintage Gravner
Vintage Gravner. This is an extremely rare offer. Due to the limited availability, the wines are available in case and six-pack samplers only. Unlike his recent wines (1997 – 2001), these are not about long maceration, botti aging, or amphorae. They are young, bright, and vibrant, defying the laws of winemaking with their ability to age.

All of these wines come from a period when Josko had abandoned his father’s old botti and combined stainless steel fermentation with barrique aging. Three of these four wines are pure varietal bottlings: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, which represent the last varietal bottlings from these grapes. While Chardonnay has already proven its ability to age in other regions, even the experienced wine drinker may balk at a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc that dates back more than 15 years. However, Gravner has dispelled this belief. In fact, he has Riservas from this period that he does not plan to release for years to come—a bold move that is justified by the excellent quality the wines show today. The Riservas were made only in select vintages from select plots of old vines.

The fourth wine offered is Gravner’s most singular and best known, a blend which was originally conceived in 1982 as Vinograd Breg for the site where the fruit is grown. For two years, 1990 and 1991, the wine became known as Bianco Gravner before settling as ‘Breg.’

Vintage Gravner Case Sampler
Gravner 1990 Bianco Gravner
Gravner 1994 Ribolla Gialla
Gravner 1993 Breg
Gravner 1995 Breg
Gravner 1991 Chardonnay
Gravner 1993 Chardonnay
Gravner 1994 Chardonnay
Gravner 1989 Pinot Grigio
Gravner 1993 Ribolla Gialla
Gravner 1995 Ribolla Gialla
Gravner 1989 Sauvignon Blanc
Gravner 1994 Sauvignon Blanc

Vintage Gravner Case Sampler $1,199.76*

Vintage Gravner Six-Pack Sampler
Gravner 1994 Breg
Gravner 1990 Chardonnay
Gravner 1990 Ribolla Gialla
Gravner 1991 Ribolla Gialla
Gravner 1991 Bianco Gravner
Gravner 1991 Sauvignon Blanc

Vintage Gravner Six-Pack Sampler $599.88*

Riserva Gravner Six-Pack (with Anfora)
Gravner 1992 Breg Riserva
Gravner 1991 Chardonnay Riserva
Gravner 1991 Ribolla Riserva
Gravner 1991 Sauvingon Riserva
Gravner 2001 Ribolla Anfora
Gravner 2001 Breg Anfora

Riserva Gravner Six-Pack (with Anfora) $619.88*

Magnum Gravner Six-Pack
Gravner 1990 Bianco Gravner (1.5L)
Gravner 1994 Breg (1.5L)
Gravner 1991 Ribolla (1.5L)
Gravner 1991 Ribolla Riserva (1.5L)
Gravner 1994 Sauvignon (1.5L)
Gravner 1991 Sauvignon Riserva (1.5L)

Magnum Gravner Six-Pack $1,299.89*

*Not available for online purchase - please call Perry Porricelli at 212.473.2323 to inquire.

Click for more recent offers from IWM

Revisiting Fiorano's Ageworthy Whites
“The greatness of Fiorano is a secret shared by a few,” wrote Burton Anderson. The precious gems of this estate were the dedication and passion of the reclusive and eccentric Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di Venosa. Ludovisi passed his private cellar to Luigi Veronelli to place the bottles with the appropriate individuals who could keep his story alive. His wish continues today, as the vintage wines were left to IWM's Sergio Esposito by the late Veronelli along with the challenge of fulfilling his promise to the prince. With this in mind, these wines are available only in an extremely allocated assorted case, in an effort to find serious owners. The two whites being offered, Bianco (made from Malvasia di Candia) and Semillon, range from the 1986 to the 1994 vintage and are only beginning to show their great destiny. We implore the recipients of these wines to cellar a portion of their allotment up to 20 years so they may show their full grace and the story of the prince will continue.

Like the recent bottlings from Gravner, these wines are not for everyone—they are a true cult wine for the connoisseur to experience. Speak with our Portfolio Managers to get a better understanding of what you can expect from this investment.

Fiorano's Rare Assorted Case:
Fiorano Bianco 1994 Botte 26
Fiorano Bianco 1994 Botte 46
Fiorano Bianco 1993 Botte 25
Fiorano Bianco 1993 Botte 32
Fiorano Bianco 1992 Botte 26
Fiorano Bianco 1988 Botte 26
Fiorano Bianco 1986 Botte 25
Fiorano Semillon 1994 Botte 47
Fiorano Semillon 1993 Botte 22
Fiorano Semillon 1992 Botte 46
Fiorano Semillon 1990 Botte 47
Fiorano Semillon 1989 Botte 48

Assorted Case Price (one of each): $948.00*
*Not available for online purchase - please call Perry Porricelli at 212.473.2323 to inquire.

Click for more on The Prince and His Magical Cellar

Friuli's Signature Whites
World class whites begin with Gravner, but Italy offers many more. Here in the northeast corridor of Italy, the fusion of German, Slavic, and Italian cultures has influenced the creation of Italy's best white wines. We are not talking about the simple Pinot Grigios that have recently overrun American wine shops or the carelessly oxidized wines of the old world, but rather about the structured, complex bottlings that rival many of the classic German and French whites. In addition to the importance of the native Ribolla Gialla and Tocai, Friuli's reputation lies in the production of international varietals—French grapes introduced more than two centuries ago by Napoleon's army (most notably Sauvignon Blanc)—and the blended wines known as Friuli's Super Whites.

Tocai Friulano
Two of Friuli's most notable native white grapes are Tocai Friulano and Ribolla Gialla. Tocai, the more popular of the two, is also grown in various regions outside of Friuli, but the ancient indigenous varietal is at its best in the Collio. ("Friulano" was added to the name Tocai to avoid confusion with Hungary's famous dessert wine; eventually the wine may simply be labeled "Friulano" based on arrangements set by the EU.) This masculine white grape offers a range of characteristics brought out by the varying microclimates and producer styles, which range from crisp to a creamy texture and from smoky to peppery. For a classic representation of Tocai character, Ronco delle Betulle delivers a lovely and faithful bottling with excellent minerality. The introductory bottlings from Scarbolo and Bastianich offer a simple display of Tocai's peach and pear notes along with its signature mineral finish, while a more lush personality comes out in Movia's clean Tokai Gredic. The late-harvest grapes for Bastianich's Tocai Plus spend time in the estate's unique solera-style barrique aging system, creating a particularly opulent wine.

Scarbolo 2003 Tocai Friulano $12.38
Bastianich 2004 Tocai Friulano $15.95
Bastianich 2001 Tocai Plus $102.30 (1.5L)
Movia 2004 Tokai Gredic $25.25
Ronco delle Betulle 2004 Tocai Friulano $19.14

Ribolla Gialla
Ribolla Gialla enjoys a long history as one of Friuli's oldest indigenous vines. Back in the 12th century, it was the drink of choice in the Republic of Venice under the name Rabiola del Collio. Today, the worldwide popularity of Pinot Grigio and local fanfare for Tocai have overshadowed this aromatic varietal. However, in the hands of many of Friuli's most iconoclastic producers the wine recaptures its own well-deserved glory. In addition to the Ribollas produced by Radikon, Miani, and Gravner, the three examples below are the best Ribollas from Friuli, and each offers something different. Like all of La Castellada's wines, their Ribolla is incredibly concentrated, with a brilliantly rich golden color complemented by flavors of minerality, butterscotch, and toasted oak. On the other hand, Damijan's take on the grape reflects inspiration from his mentor Josko Gravner with a truly natural approach to winemaking. The wine displays an almost cider-like hue and provides notes of honey, nuts, and sweet spices with bitter undertones. A third interpretation comes in Movia's Ribolla, which offers weighty fruit and minerality.

Damijan 2002 Ribolla Gialla $43.45
La Castellada 2000 Ribolla Gialla $53.68
Movia 2003 Ribolla Gialla $25.24

Friuli's Blends and Super Whites
In the sixties, avant-garde producers like Schiopetto and Felluga created a crisp, clean style with the introduction of stainless steel tanks and the elimination of unwanted oxidation in the winemaking process. This modern style eventually gave birth to the Super White movement with the release of Silvio Jermann's blended Vintage Tunina. Complex blends from producers like Vie di Romans, La Castellada, Lis Neris, Villa Russiz, and Bastianich continue to capture international attention with their exotically aromatic or full-bodied charm. The legacy behind many of Friuli's blends and winemaking techniques continues to draw attention with the more natural and "ancient" approach taken by Gravner, Damijan, and Movia. All are wines to be experienced!

Bastianich 2002 Vespa Bianco $27.50
(Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Picolit)

Bastianich 2001 Joe's Bianco $19.80
(Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc)

Movia 2001 Veliko Bianco $28.05
(Ribolla, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio)

Damijan 2001 Kaplja $40.44
(Chardonnay, Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Istriana)

La Castellada 2001 Bianco $56.66
(Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Tocai)

Gravner 2000 Breg $89.87
(Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling Italico)

Click for Movia’s ageworthy whites

Brunello 2001 Starter Kit
Given the enthusiastic response to last week's Brunello 2001 offer, we are now offering a six-pack sampler that will help you understand the varied styles of Brunello di Montalcino. We have divided Montalcino into three territories—central, north, and south—that provide a general guide to Brunello styles as impacted by terroir. The differences in altitude and exposition throughout the zone are a major factor in wine style since they play a substantial role in the vegetal cycle of the vines. The traditional heartland of Montalcino (in the center of the DOCG) includes the most elevated zones, where the altitudes provide the perfect habitat for more perfumed and elegant wines of structure and longevity. The historic Biondi-Santi and Fuligni estates are quintessential examples of this lean style of Brunello.

North of the Montalcino subzone the high elevation begins to taper and form the northern territory, which has a diminished share in the warm, dry Mediterranean climate and high altitude of their neighbors to the south: the slight differences in temperature, humidity, and elevation breed wines of both ripeness and structure. The wines of Baricci and Capanna demonstrate this Brunello style with their excellent elegance and finesse.

The warmer climate of the southern territory shows through in all the wines from this area. The vineyards are exposed to a more unrestricted Mediterranean climate than the rest of Montalcino, with sandier soils, less wind, and lower altitude, which contributes to a denser, less acidic, fruitier side of Brunello. Some estates, like Camigliano and Il Poggione, have elevated vineyards with southern and western exposures that create potent wines with a spectacular combination of structure and ripeness.

To lead you in your tasting exploration, our map of Montalcino is also included with these six wines.

Biondi-Santi 2001 Brunello di Montalcino $119.95
Fuligni 2001 Brunello di Montalcino $64.95
Baricci 2001 Brunello di Montalcino $48.50
Capanna 2001 Brunello di Montalcino $49.50
Camigliano 2001 Brunello di Montalcino $49.98
Il Poggione 2001 Brunello di Montalcino $47.93

IWM Intro to Brunello 2001 Starter Kit $380.81*
*Free delivery in Manhattan.
Please note that all wines are future arrivals.

Click for a detailed explanation of the Montalcino DOCG zone

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