Text Size:-+
12.07.2008

2002 Bressan "Special Bottling" Pinot Nero, Friuli, Italy

I'm not entirely sure why some of the best wines in the world are made by people who are more than a little crazy, but there are enough wacko winemakers out there to make it clear that the connection between great wine and reclusive eccentrics is more than mere coincidence.

Even more telling are the number of these "eno savants" (to perhaps coin a phrase) that live in Friuli, in northeast Italy.

Once upon a time, there was no Italy, there was only the river Isonzo, winding its way down out of the Alps towards the Adriatic sea. From the high peaks it looped and loped, laying down beds of granitic gravel to make a sloping country which sprouted many things. Protected from the harsh continental weather by the Alps, and warmed by the humid breezes off the Adriatic, this mild region naturally attracted the various nomadic people that passed through the region, some of whom knew a good thing when they saw 2002_bressan_pinot_nero.jpgit, and settled down.

Some of the earliest settlers of the region were likely Celtic peoples who brought with them not only the skills of cultivating grape vines, but the inventive skills of aging their wines in wooden casks, a technology which surprised and delighted the Greeks and the various other Mediterranean cultures who came to trade in the 4th century B.C.

The region that would eventually become known as Farra d'Isonzo to those who live there, passed through the hands of many an empire before it settled down into the little nook of Italy that it represents today. But throughout the centuries Friuli has always been known for two things: grapes, and people who do things their own way.

Fulvio Bressan represents the 9th generation of winemakers carrying the Bressan name and working a small plot of land in the Farra d'Isonzo since 1726. And given the way he runs his winery, you would think that he might just be channeling all 9 generations of prior expertise, with little care for how the rest of the world might make their wines.

OK, so he does make one concession to modernity, which entails fermenting his wine in stainless steel tanks which he cools with water from his well. But apart from that, Bressan is as old school as you can get, down to the fact that he seems to run the family estate nearly single-handedly.

The Bressan recipe for wine is as simple as it is maddeningly extreme. Take lots of old vines growing various indigenous varietals, as well as Pinot Noir. Dry farm them with the most extreme pruning methods possible, to the point that each vine bears only one or two clusters of fruit. Pick after personally tasting every single cluster to make sure it is ripe, then cut off only the shoulders and the most perfect clumps of berries on those clusters and throw them into the tank, leaving the rest to be made into jam or grappa.

Ferment the wine for months with only ambient yeasts after a month-long maceration period, letting the wine do its thing as long as necessary in the tanks, including malolactic fermentation after the juice has been pressed off the skins. After this secondary fermentation, the wine is transferred to 2000 liter, ancient oak casks, where it receives regular battonage (a process where the particles of yeast that settle to the bottom of the cask, known as lees, are agitated and stirred around in the wine). Fining and filtration are also eschewed.

After that, it's anyone's guess. The cellar dissolves into alchemy. Bressan regularly mixes vintages, forgets casks of wine, makes special blends never to be repeated, and generally disregards all the modern traditions of winemaking and bottling (no doubt breaking some laws in the process, but hey, this is Friuli, not Brunello). Some of the labels are handmade, some don't bear any vintage date whatsoever, and those that do are never guaranteed to be correct. The wines are released and sold when Bressan damn well pleases, and in such minute quantities (as small as 20 to 40 cases for some wines) that most people have never even heard of them.

Which doesn't bother Bressan one bit.

Tasting Notes:
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of dried herbs, raspberries, woodsmoke, and dried meat. In the mouth it is gorgeously textured, smooth to the point of being otherworldly, with a mysterious concoction of cranberry, raspberry, cedar, incense, wet leaves, and leather flavors that linger for a long time. With more time and air, this wines fruit becomes more crystalline even as the sharp acids mellow to a tangy note amidst the earthy qualities. Quite distinctive, this wine is not for everyone, but those who are looking for personality will find it here in spades.

Food Pairing:
Of the things that I drank this with tonight, I thought it did best with the prosciutto and fresh burrata on warm foccacia.

Overall Score: around 9

How Much?: $37

This wine is sometimes available for purchase on the Internet.

Buy My Book!

small_final_covershot_dropshadow.jpg A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.

Follow Me On:

Twitter Instagram Delectable Flipboard Pinterest

Most Recent Entries

Vinography Unboxed: Week of May 4, 2015 Vinography Images: A Shaggy Guardian Vinography Unboxed: Week of April 26, 2015 Vinography Images: Above the Coast 2015 Seven Percent Solution Tasting: May 6, San Francisco Imagining a Better Future for the Soils of Champagne A Brief Video Lesson in Champagne Disgorgement Vinography Images: The World of the Leaf Book Signing on May 9th, at Raymond Vineyards in Napa Doorman: Changing My Wine Delivery Life

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune

Archives by Month

 

Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud