Benjamin Zidarich’s “stone” wines, a return to the origins

by Eros Teboni

The fascinating morphology of the Karst presents a winemaking tradition thousands of years old, which has turned into opportunities the complexities of a terroir with few equals in Italy. 

Limestone soils, rocky, iron-rich red soils that drain water without retaining it, rocky layers forty centimeters from the ground surface, a multifaceted geography of reliefs, caves, caverns, bumps, sinkholes, rock outcrops and depressions that are not easy to cultivate. 

The nearby Adriatic Sea, the mild climate and the not-so-frequent rainfall, run into the bora, a relentless wind that lashes the Mediterranean basin, drying out the soils but keeping the vineyards ventiled, therefore they do not need many treatments.

Cold winters and warm summers reflect a Mediterranean and Alpine weather that can be described as continental, while the hydrography of the Karst plateau is rich in underground streams rather than surface watercourses.

The Zidarich winery

The Trieste Karst, however, is a place of determined winemakers, who have distinguished themselves trying to tread new paths. Among them Benjamin Zidarich, who after joining the family business in Prepotto (Trieste) in the 1980s and starting the first productions in 1988,  inaugurated the new winery designed by architect Paolo Meng in July 2009. An architectural jewel, built over eight years using local materials, penetrating more than twenty meters into the rock, with stone walls recovered from excavations, using old bricks, and rock fragments where possible.

A fascinating setting developed over more than 1,200 meters, mostly underground and over five floors, gathering the rooms where the production process takes place, the cellar, the spaces dedicated to winemaking, the vaulted area made of Karst stone where the bottles rest, the terrace and the panoramic glass room where the tastings take place, ranging with the view of the vineyards, Istria, and the Lagoon of Grado.
That is a futuristic project, with zero environmental impact and deep roots, conceived as a true return to the roots, by pursuing an idea of wine that is inspired by the ancestral practices of the ancients, when winemaking took place in large containers made of karst stone, that is a material in the soils of this region. It strongly characterizes the scents of the wine produced here and represents a valuable element, as to be used over the centuries in great urban constructions.

The winery, designed by Paolo Meng (ph. Fabrice Gallina)
The winery, designed by Paolo Meng (ph. Fabrice Gallina)

The peculiarities of the white stone of the Karst

The white stone of the Karst, or Aurisina stone, is a particularly pure, compact and elegant limestone, chosen for architectural masterpieces such as the city of Aquileia, the mausoleum of Theodoric in Ravenna, the imperial palace and parliament in Vienna, the parliament and opera house in Budapest and the monumental Redipuglia Military Memorial, dedicated to the more than 100,000 Italian soldiers who died in World War I.

The white stone of the Karst (ph. Fabrice Gallina)
The white stone of the Karst (ph. Fabrice Gallina)

Local artisans Marko and Kristian Zidarič, hired by Benjamin, built the first five vats with this stone, intentionally different from each other, to recall the diversity of Vitovska grains and clusters, thus kicking off a fruitful period of experimentation and a new, extraordinary chapter in the business history of the Zidarich family, who has been active in the industry since the early 19th century.
The stone is also present in the label of Vitovska Kamen, winery’s flagship wine, with its white color that hymns to the purity of karst limestone, along with simple lines and essential colors, hinting at the sunlight that infuses warmth, energy and good fortune to the vines.

The Stone vats by Zidarich are linked with the past, characterizing a strongly identity-driven philosophy: the wine draws sap from the vines, which in turn fed on the soils rich in karst limestone, and still contribute in the maceration and fermentation phase.

Benjamin Zidarich’s work

Benjamin Zidarich has been an innovator and an ambassador of the Karst by expanding his father’s and grandfather’s vineyards, once reserved for family consumption and a few local customers, who bought it in bulk. He has focused on nature, devoting himself to virtuous agronomic practices, promoting his land and committing himself to the Consortium for the Protection of the Karst, which he directed for four years.
His wines are not young. They are sold about three years after the harvest and are ready to drink, but with they can refine taking some more time.
On the property’s ten south-facing hectares (a production of about thirty thousand bottles a year, which can be halved, however, if the vintage has not been favorable), the vineyards are cultivated organically without writing so on the label. They have no chemical herbicides but are cultivated with manure, sulfur, propolis extract and Bordeaux mixture.

The wines

They propose four lines: Classic, Collection, Green, and “Kamen”. The production mainly focuses on whites: Vitovska, Malvasia and a blend, Prulke, composed of Vitovska, Malvasia and Sauvignon. There are only two reds, Terrano and Ruje, a blend of Merlot and Terrano.
The Vitovska “Kamen” particularly impressed us. A month’s maceration in an open stone vat follows a year’s aging in a wine vat of stone. Afterwards, the wine matures twelve months in wood. 

In the tasting phase, wines are characterized by verticality, which enhances an intrinsic freshness, linked to acidity, minerality and savoriness, all of which are essential for their longevity. Both whites and oranges from here are maintained over time, ensuring a great drinkability in the early stage and a great increase in taste and organoleptic features in the following five, ten and fifteen years. 

Istrian Malvasia and Pinot Grigio are two more varieties in the area. Like Vitovska, they enjoy maceration on their skins and greatly change their sensorial profile, with a spicy and floral nature, so that the taster can discover another, slightly more driven, enjoyable version of the wine.

Benjamin Zidarich
Benjamin Zidarich’s portrait (ph. Fabrice Gallina)

Wine and cuisine

Versatility is one of the key features of these labels. Though the olfactory stage, due to the production methodology and slight oxidation, tends to homogenize, the wines can embrace different styles and types of cuisine and dishes thanks to their excellent structure. 

Karst wines (whites, orange and reds) can perfectly combine with rich and tasty dishes, both in terms of aromaticity and texture. As for the whites, we can pair them with challenging fish dishes, leaving out river fish, like lake or sea fish with greater intensity and fatness. 

Small game (hare, pheasant or pigeon) can also match, while white meats, such as chicken and turkey, especially if grilled, can make a pleasant and satisfying combination with most of the whites from this area and type.
Macerates often fall into a more complex, richer category and can be paired with recipes of different kinds and origins. Oriental cuisine, rich in spices and intense aromas, quite fatty and savory, can be paired for affinity and contrast. The slight tannicity, with the fresh and acidic taste, as well as the savour and structure, ensure balance and finesse.

Vitovska Kamen
Vitovksa Kamen, Zidarich (ph. Fabrice Gallina)

Whites, reds, and oranges that stand out for versatility in wine pairing

Finally, the big reds need the best red meats, from classic grilled cuts to recipes with long cooking. I have often used them with very matured meats, where the umami and fat part is almost extreme as these wines can maintain high content and perception of acidity. 

A final tip is to try the three types in their early stage to understand their traits and main organoleptic features, so as to remember them and, if necessary, pair them effectively and, once aged, to understand their great potential and pleasantness when the small edges of the youth go smooth, making the wine even more elegant and complex.

Exterior view of the Zidarich estate, in Prepotto
Exterior view of the Zidarich estate, in Prepotto

Opening image: a bottle of Vitovska Kamen, Zidarich.


© Riproduzione riservata