Wines of the cosmos - Zorjan
Simon gets to grips with the cosmic properties of Zorjan's excellent amphora-fermented wines
Božidar Zorjan's wines are definitely the first bottles I've seen with a "no mobile phones" directive on the label. Zorjan is a small biodynamic estate in Slovenia's Stajerska region, near Maribor. In addition to biodynamic agriculture he believes that the radiation from phones is harmful enough to impair enjoyment of the wines. (More about that here).
This isn't the only eccentric part of Zorjan's philosophy and production. When I first taste his wines (in Amsterdam), try as I might I can't find any clue as to the vintage. It transpires this is deliberate. Božidar doesn't want anyone to be distracted by the year - or to form pre-conceived ideas about the wine, on that basis. It turns out to be quite a smart move, because when I discover (a day or two after first tasting the wines), that one is from 2008, and the others from 2014 and 2015, I am quite shocked in an entirely positive way. All of the wines seemed to be in the first flushes of youth.
Božidar and his wife Marija have been farming their small estate since inheriting it in 1980, but grew increasingly unhappy with conventional agriculture. Conversion to organic and then biodynamic farming followed in the 1990s, and then in 1995 Božidar decided to go one step further. He felt that amphorae would be the perfect choice for fermenting the wines.
That might not seem so revolutionary in 2018, but it was way ahead of the curve in the mid-1990s. Gravner, by comparison, didn't start making his wines in Georgian qvevri until 2001. Zorjan initially sourced amphorae from a producer in Croatia, but following his death decided to switch to Georgian qvevri, which are buried under the stars outside his winery. This is an important detail as he explains: "Cosmic forces turn grapes through the winter into wine and thus give us a unique live wine, where the man with his ego is just a mere observer".
Cynical observers might chortle that just observing wine is likely to produce vinegar - but clearly Zorjan knows exactly what he's doing. His range of five macerated white wines, plus a Zweigelt all display a great deal of precision. His Dolium Sauvignon Blanc 2008 needed a full 24 hours of air to start showing its best, but my favourite was the Renski Rizling (Rhine Riesling) 2015.
Riesling can be tricksy when macerated, but in this case it's produced a wonderfully chewy, textured wine, with lime & fresh herbs on the nose. I found the spicy fruit, dried underbrush and freshening citrus notes to be quite moreish, but also multi-layered. This wine wasn't fermented in amphora, but instead for 14 days on the skins in large oak barrels. The Dolium Muscat Ottonel 2014 was also quite superb, with subtle floral aromas and a light, elegant texture. The Cuvée 2015 was my least favourite, lacking the expression and excitement of the other wines.
Zorjan's labels are lovable if confusing, as only the back labels fully identify the wines. Front labels marked "Dolium" are those that were fermented in amphora (At the time of writing, the Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Ottonel and Zweigelt). Thus there is not one wine named "Dolium" but actually three. Dolium is the old Roman word for a large amphora, typically one used for storage.
Whether one is able to tune into the cosmic energies or not, these are fascinating, unique wines to sip and contemplate.
They are available in the Netherlands via Zuiver Wijnen.