Visitors to the far Northeast of Italy, in the shadows of the Austrian Alps, quickly realize that they are not really in Italy, no matter what the maps say. Traveling to the east of Venice and north of Trieste puts one in the midst of a a patchwork quilt of languages, geography, and political affiliations. One town will speak perfect Italian, and you’ll find risotto on every table and then a few kilometers away, another town will speak German and serve you knockwurst. Such diversity is actually quite entertaining and makes for a really interesting variety of food and, as luck would have it, wine, too.
At the broadest level, the winemaking region of Northeast Italy is known as Friuli, which along with the Trentino Alto-Adige is the most well known and largest producing area for making white wines in Italy. Within the Friuli, the appellation which covers Italy’s border with Slovenia is known as Collio, or more properly, Collio Goriziano, after the Italian for hill (colli). This area of the country has really only been part of Italy proper since the end of the First World War, when maps of the region were redrawn. It should come as no surprise that when those maps were negotiated at Versailles, they didn’t exactly think about where the vineyards would end up.
According to Ales Kristancic (pronounced alesh chris-stan-zick) it was pretty much just a case of incompetent bureaucracy that resulted in the Kristancic family wine estate straddling the border of Italy and Slovenia, with 20 acres on the Italian side and 18 acres on the Slovenian side. As far as he’s concerned the land for many kilometers on either side of the border is just a single appellation: Collio.
It’s only really due to the fact that the family mailbox is in Slovenia that the whole family operation bears that country’s name. I’m sure for the Kristancics, who have owned their estate, called Movia, since 1820, this is just one more in a series of geopolitical identities, which too shall pass in time.
The Kristancics have better things to worry about than what flag flies over their vineyards. These are serious winemakers who are working an estate that has been operated in the Collio, and now the Brda (the Slovenian name for the same region) since before any of them can remember (at least three centuries). The Movia estate, one of the larger ones in the region, is currently under the stewardship of Ales, who grew up working alongside his father in the vineyards.
Largely due to his father’s guidance, Movia moved first to organic production and then to full biodynamic production, which they have maintained for nearly the full 20 years that Ales has been working the estate. This means, among other things, that all six thousand cases of wine that Movia produces each year are racked painstakingly by hand the wine at the new moon so as to remove sediment without need for fining or filtering.
All Movia wines are aged in mostly Slavonian oak casks, with some French oak mixed in, and all of them age on the lees (the sediment left over after fermentation) for sometimes up to several years before bottling.
To say that Ales Kristancic is a winemaker with vision may perhaps drastically understate the degree to which he is forging an entirely unique path in the wine world. With little precedent, but backed up by three generations of carefully cultivated family winemaking knowledge, Kristancic is making some of the strangest and most beautiful wines on the planet. From his undisgorged sparkling wine called Puro that requires underwater opening to remove the plug of yeast from the bottle; to the otherworldly rendition of the indigenous Ribolla Gialla grape in his Lunar bottling; to the nearly sacrilegious blending of Cabernet, Merlot, and Pinot Noir in the Veliko Rosso; Movia operates only according to the rules inside Kristancic’s head.
But let’s be clear, this is no crackpot of a winemaker. Even without praise from those in the wine industry who say he’s one of the most knowledgeable winemakers and viticulturalists they’ve ever met, Kristancic has to be good to make wines the way he does. His winemaking is like a trapeze act without a safety net — there is very little technology to fall back on at Movia. No commercial yeasts, no temperature controls, no precisely toasted oak barrels, no fining, no filtration, and only the tiniest addition of sulfur dioxide is used to keep the wines from hosting unwanted bacteria. And then of course there are the rigorous vineyard practices that forbid pesticides, fertilizers, and other modern protections against mildew, rot, and the many nasties that can destroy any given vintage. Such is the life of a biodynamic vintner.
Movia has only recently begun to show up on the global wine radar, but critical attention has been snowballing in the last year or two. There will doubtless come a time when the wines will be extremely difficult to obtain, and quite expensive for those who buy them on the open market. For now, however, Movia wines represent some of the highest quality wines for their price anywhere in the world, and should be experienced by anyone who considers themselves a curious wine lover or a fan of the cutting edge of winemaking.
The winery also has a second label called Movia Villa Marija under which it makes several less expensive bottlings. The winery makes a few more wines than those listed below, including several that I do not believe are imported to the US.
2000 Movia Puro Undisgorged Sparkling Wine, Brda, Slovenia
This wine comes bottled undisgorged, meaning that it has a plug of yeast in the neck of the bottle which must be removed before drinking. This involves icing the bottle upside down and then opening the bottle upside down, underwater, which pushes the yeast plug out but keeps the wine in. When you finally get it in your glass it is a slightly cloudy, pale gold color, with a nose of toasted brioche and brewers yeast. In the mouth it is beautifully crisp and very mineral with a honeyed quality that plays counterpoint to the calcium quality of the wine. While it lacks the deep complexity of some of the best Champagnes, this is a fantastic and quite unique sparkling wine made with 100% Pinot Noir. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $39. Where to buy?
1999 Movia Puro Brut Rose Undisgorged Sparkling Wine, Brda, Slovenia
Pale salmon-orange in color, this wine smells of homemade apple cider. On the palate it vaguely evokes cider, though with purer apple flavors, hints of bread and yeast, and soaring above these, the scent of jasmine or other aromatic white flowers on the breeze. Though this is made from 100% Pinot Noir it is nothing like any Brut Rose you have ever had. Head scratching and tongue tickling delicious. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $55. Where to buy?
2000 Movia Pinot Grigio, Brda, Slovenia
Pale gold in color, this wine offers classic aromas of linalool (think: Fruit Loops) and ripe pear. In the mouth it offers flavors of pear, lemon juice and grapefruit in a nicely balanced package that is effortless to drink. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. Where to buy?
2005 Movia Ribolla Gialla, Brda, Slovenia
Bright yellow in color, this wine smells of starfruit and sarsaparilla. In the mouth it is sexy, textured like something naughty, with flavors of pine sap, lemon cucumber, and tart Ranier cherries — an unlikely bouquet of tastes if there ever was one. But somehow these flavors cohere into a delicious, poised wine that drinks beautifully now and promises to age forever. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $26. Where to buy?
2005 Movia Sauvignon (Blanc), Brda, Slovenia
Pale green gold in the glass, this wine smells like my middle school classroom after we had just washed all the chalkboards. In the mouth it offers beautiful green flavors of starfruit and lime zest, with even a hint of cucumber as it finishes, zippy and bouncy like a small mountain stream. Great acids and nice weight on the palate, it might be interesting to see what this tastes like in 10 years. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost $23. Where to buy?
2003 Movia “Veliko Bianco” White Wine, Brda, Slovenia
Pale gold in color, this wine has a dazzling nose of honey and candied kumquat aromas. In the mouth it is beautifully balanced with crisp acidity and lively flavors of paraffin, kumquats, sarsaparilla, and a finish that seems to float on a bed of white flowers for minutes. Fantastic. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $33. Where to buy?
2005 Movia “Lunar” Ribolla Gialla, Brda, Slovenia
No two ways about it, this wine is orange. Specifically, a cloudy, light orange in color which makes it seem perfectly reasonable when you pick up the glass and smell gorgeous orange blossoms and wet stones. In the mouth it is silky and seductive and utterly confusing, as its flavors tend towards alpine strawberry along with orange blossoms and other white flowers, before some stony quality begins to grip the long finish. An unbelievably unique wine that will likely age and develop for decades. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $45. Where to buy?
2000 Movia “Veliko Rosso” Red Wine, Brda, Slovenia
Medium to dark ruby in color, this wine makes me hungry just smelling it. Grilled meats, bacon fat, nut skins, and tart cherries have me licking my lips before I even put it past them. In the mouth the wine is, dare I say it, the most graceful lumberjack you could imagine — some unearthly quality of forested roughness with poise and finesse that seems unlikely given the flavors of wild thyme, forest floor, and a beautiful core of cherry and plum fruit. The finish on this wine lasts well into the next sip, which I couldn’t postpone for long. Score: 9.5. Cost: $45. Where to buy?
And finally, it’s not exactly a current release, but I had a chance to taste it recently and wanted to share my note:
1997 Movia “Izbrani Plodovi” Essencia, Brda, Slovenia
The color of dark root beer in the glass, this wine has an explosive nose of coffee and roasted nuts that I can smell before I even pick up the glass. In the mouth it hangs like liquid silk on the tongue with smoky flavors of coffee and roasted figs that morph into toffee, and spiced nuts as the wine sidles across the palate into a finish that lasts for minutes. I need my dessert wines to have some acidity, and this wine surprisingly does, keeping it from being cloying despite the quite high sugar levels. Quite unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $??