Mad Geniuses of Wine
A funny and characteristically sharp post by Alder Yarrow of Vinography about the assorted crackpots of the wine world called to mind the dinner I had just the other night with Ales Kristancic, the off-the-wall visionary behind the Slovenian winery Movia. (Yarrow mentions him as well.) The dinner was at the James Beard House, and the guest chef was Tony Mantuano of Chicago's Spiaggia—a terrific cook and also one of the most sane, even-tempered, likeable people I've ever run into in the chef world. He's a contrast, of course, to Ales, with whom I spent close to a week in Slovenia recently, and who's a ribald, intense, shaven-headed crazy man, albeit in the best possible way.
Kristancic is devoted to the idea of terroir, the expression of place through the vehicle of wine (in a sense), and his wines are remarkable. Once in a while they can be more remarkable than they are good, but mostly they're eye-opening both in terms of their quality and their idiosyncratic character. For instance, with Mantuano's wood-roasted diver scallop served with walnut pesto and lemon, Kristancic poured a pair of Ribolla Giallas, his 2006 Movia Rebula ($29, find this wine) and his 2006 Movia Lunar ($45, find this wine). The first was supple, full of stone-fruit notes, and silky in texture; the other, luminously orange, seemingly oxidized beyond repair, but, when tasted, fresh and intense, with an almost tannic tactile feel in the mouth, and bright apricot and pear notes. It's unusual stuff—because, as Ales told me, "It's just Ribolla and it's expression. What the juice wants to be. No more. We touch the wine one time—to put the wine in the barrel—and only one time more, the second time, when we decant the wine out of the barrel with a tube." So: native yeasts, natural fermentation, unfiltered, untouched, and if that weren't enough he buries the barrels 25 feet underground while the wine ages (the reason for that has something to do with the moon).
There were other wines with the dinner, of course, and, this being Ales, other bars to go to after the dinner. When I bowed out of the festivities sometime past midnight, he was drinking gin-and-tonics and talking about heading to a Bulgarian dance club. I didn't even know there were Bulgarian dance clubs in New York.