Stanko Radikonâ€™s is making some of the most striking and unusual wines coming out of Italyâ€™s Friuli Venezia Giulia today. His uncompromising views have brought him acclaim and a devoted following around the world. He acknowledges that his wines are not for everyone. They are unusual enough to make our sommelier in Venice ask if we knew what we were ordering. I assured him that we did, and that we were off to Friuli to visit Radikon himself.
Radikonâ€™s land hugs the side of a hill in Oslavia, nestled between the town of Gorizia and the Slovenian border. To the north are the Julian Alps, which help block the cold continental winter winds that could damage the vines, and to the south, less than twenty miles away, is the Adriatic Sea. The sun-soaked vineyard faces south and southeast, unfolding beneath a winery that looks like a cantina out of the old west. A true natural winemaker, Stanko has gone past what is considered organic, eschewing all chemical treatments since 1995, even when it means losing grapes. He also stopped adding sulfites in 2002. Due to the vertical nature of the land, most tasks have to be done by hand and the vines are trimmed to produce fewer bunches, generally four to five per vine, resulting in more concentrated juice.
Like most Friuli wineries, Radikon is a family affair. Stankoâ€™s son Sasa is an enthusiastic guide as he takes us through the cellar, stopping to taste wines at different stages of the aging process. Where many winemakers would be content to bottle their wine, Sasa emphasizes theirs has time to go. I ask, â€œHow long?â€ He answers, â€œUntil my father feels it is ready.â€
Radikon wines are notable for several reasons, especially the amount of time invested in them and the natural methods employed. Once de-stemmed, grapes experience an extra long maceration on the skins in cone-shaped vats. Starting in 1995 Stanko tried anywhere from seven days to nine months before settling on about four months in 2005. During this period, the grapes are stirred three or four times a day then go through a double extraction, the first caused by water and the second by alcohol. The wines are aged a minimum of three years in large oak casks, followed by at least another year in the bottle before being released.
In the interim, the wines receive no added sulfites and they are not filtered before being bottled. The end result is an amazingly complex and profound wine that can age for years, even a decade or more. While not adding sulfites can make wines less stable, according to Stanko the long maceration results in substances being extracted from the grapes that protect the wine and allow it to age, creating wines, that are in his words, â€œtotally genuine.â€
Four wines make up the Radikon line, Jakot (a reverse play on the now verboten Tocai), Ribolla Gialla, Oslavje (a blend of chardonnay, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc) and Merlot. While best known for its whites, which are characterized by rich gold to copper hues, cloudiness, deep aromas and complexity, Radikonâ€™s sole red, merlot, is a true expression of the grape and not to be missed.
Ever the radical, Stanko decided to bottle much of the wine in 500ml and 1 liter bottles, though he also uses 750ml bottles for the American market. His feeling is that the 500ml is perfect for one and the liter ideal for two. I couldnâ€™t agree more.
Multiple vintages of several wines were tasted, including many barrel samples; notes below are for current releases â€“ 2004 for whites and 2000 for the Merlot. Each of the new releases was delicious and perfectly ready to be drunk, and also well suited for aging. It is important to note that Radikon wines should be served at particular temperatures, around 60Â° for the whites and 65Â° for the reds. Stanko is adamant they not be stored in the refrigerator. Expect the whites to be cloudy since they are unfiltered.
2004 Jakot 13.65%
The name is a backwards play on Tocai (tokaj), which is no longer allowed to be used in Italy and is now generally marketed as Friulano. Lovely, fresh and well balanced with notes of stone fruit and almonds.
2004 Ribolla Gialla 12.5%
Probably the best known of Radikonâ€™s wines in the US. Intensely gold with aromas of fruit and wild flowers, the wine reveals minerals and tannins on the palate, rounded out by more fruit, florals and a touch of spice. Complex, seductive and delicious.
2004 Oslavje 13.2%
A blend of chardonnay, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc with a deep gold hue and hints of stone fruit and apple on the nose. A complex, elegant wine whose perfume, depth, minerality and richness are the perfect embodiment of the Radikon philosophy.
1999 Oslavje Riserva
Deep gold tones hint at whatâ€™s to come with ripe tropical fruits, dried fruits and honey following on the nose and palate. A rewarding experience showing off Radikonâ€™s trademark complex flavors, depth and uncommon richness.
2000 Merlot 14.5%
While the region is mostly known for its splendid whites, some of the reds are not to be missed and merlot does very well along with the native refosco of Friuliâ€™s Carso region. Radikonâ€™s merlot is a beautiful expression of the grape â€“ deep garnet red, dusty and vegetal on the nose at first, with herbal notes, it gives way to raisiny dried fruit, dried herbs and intense velvety ripe cherries and spice on the palate. Medium bodied and gorgeous, it takes a little time to reveal itself but patience will be handsomely rewarded.