Squeezing Wine from Stones

Sandro Michahelles

Like anyone else who enjoys the good stuff, people in Trieste drink plenty of wine from the famous Friulian vineyards of Collio and Colli Orientali, close to the Slovenian border, which is almost on their doorstep. The tocais, chardonnays, pinot grigios, and other whites of Mario Schiopetto, Josko Gravner, Silvio Jermann, and the like can be found on almost every list in town.

But in recent years a handful of producers in the Carso—the harsh, windswept limestone plateau above the city—have started to produce attractive wines that the outside world is only just now beginning to notice. It is an improbable viticultural area, pockmarked with caves and strewn with boulders; the English word karst, for precisely such a landscape, is derived from its name.

"For us," says Edi Kante, widely considered the region's best producer, "stone is life." But so is wine, and he has cut a grottolike winery, called Azienda Agricola Kante, into the limestone near the hamlet of Prepotto. There he makes wines that are drier than those produced in Friuli but not at all forbidding. As he told us when we visited him, "you can taste hints of salt from the sea and minerals from the stone" in his wine.

That's certainly true of his vitovska, a white wine made from an indigenous grape of the same name, cultivated in the Carso for centuries. Refreshing, elegant, with a yellow-plum nose, it makes a perfect aperitif. Kante's vitovska and another delicious one made by his neighbor Beniamino Zidarich show up in a few American restaurants and wineshops—although export troubles have made them even scarcer of late. You might look also for Kante's malvasia, a slightly woodsy wine tasting of honey and toasted almonds, and his wonderful sauvignon blanc, with a perfume intoxicatingly suggestive of fresh apricots.

Kante has been making wines for just over 20 years, Zidarich for fewer than that, and the Carso was given its own appellation under Italy's D.O.C. (Denomination of Origin) laws only in 1985. But the prospects seem quite bright for the Carso. Kante, a tall, ebullient man, modest to a fault, knows precisely what he wants to achieve: "wines with guts, close to tradition, good with food—not painted ladies designed for display".