Friends of mine are going to the Carso soon. I am ecstatic for them because, even as this is a place I have not yet seen in person, I feel like I know it already. There will be a stiff breeze from the Adriatic and an electric, razor-sharp quality to the sunlight here. There will be lots of wine, cured pork, lovely cheeses. Bright red soil crunching under your feet. A salty brine- electricity in the air.
The wines from the Carso are authentic. There’s no other word for them. They are stone and sweat and dirt and rainwater. They’re not orange wines because it’s hip to make orange wine. Skin-contact is a necessary tool for ensuring native fermentation- not a political statement. Color is secondary to the very nature of the wine. Stick your nose in a glass of Vitovska and you won’t care about the color anyway- it’s beguiling and smells of jasmine and tea leaves and sea-spray. There’s acidity like a lightening bolt and a lingering umami that clings forever on your palate. The Carso is calling you!
“The wines of Carso are easily recognizable; they smell of stone. It’s like splitting a rock, and putting your nose in it.” I’m in Carso again, as always, Prepotto. This time on a visit to a now-legendary winery, that of Benjamin Zidarich. Five-stories carved into the rock, a courageous work that demonstrates the character of the winemaker who had a dreman, and then realized it.
“This winery is my life,” Benjamin says, and by the tone I sense the pride and also the difficulty of such an undertaking. Upon my arrival, Benjamin is taken from other commitments; I go down in the cool of the cellar / cave and remain alone shooting for over an hour, fascinated by rocky outcroppings and the beautiful stone and wooden walls. All the earth removed in the excavation was transferred into the vineyards, and the stones of the walls were obtained from the excavation of the cellar. Many of the walls have remained as they were, in the rock. The feeling is of being in a cathedral, in a sacred place.
When I go back to the surface and join him on the terrace, I am dazzled by the light. The sunny sea seems like a mirage. Benjamin cultivates eight hectares of vineyard, divided into small plots, like so many terraces overlooking the gulf. The vines are Vitovska, Terrano, Malvasia and a little bit of Sauvignon, used for the blend of his Prulke (Vitovska, Malvasia, Sauvignon). “I started when I was twenty years old, in 1988, realizing that these lands have great potential.” He couldn’t be more correct.
Kings of the Carso: Chef Michele Gargani, Benjamin Zidarich and Sandi Skerk.
I had the great pleasure of spending a few days last year with Benjamin Zidarich and Sandi Skerk, and their passion and enthusiasm for this special sliver of Friuli was contagious. Until I can find the time to get over to visit them myself, I suppose I will have to be content with one more glass of Vitovska.
You can see the whole video interview by Mauro Fermariello here: