The wines of Josko Gravner, Collio/Brda, Italy/Slovenia
A remarkable vertical tasting of these unique wines


‘I make wines for myself. What’s left—I sell.’ Josko Gravner

I’d read a lot about the wines of Josko Gravner, but this was an unparalleled chance to try an extensive range of them, spanning many years, over lunch at Alberico at Aspinall’s in London. Aspinall’s is a private gambling club for gentlemen, and in the toilets there are two leaflets – one to help those with gambling problems, and the second explaining the ‘house edge’. You could say that Gravner, with his lengthy macerations on skins (these are white wines) and unusual elevage, is a wine gambler. But his wines showed brilliantly, without exception, back to 1998.

Josko Gravner (left) with daughter Jana and Filippo Polidori (sales manager)

Gravner is based in the rolling Collio hills straddling the Italian/Slovenian border, and currently has 18 hectares under vine. A further 4 hectares have just been planted, and there are 8 more that can be planted. But as a perfectionist he is selling parcels off that he doesn’t like, fine-tuning the vineyards based on observation and experience: the goal is to end up with 25 hectares under vine.

Gravner is famous for his adoption of amphorae (large clay pots, sealed with beeswax) for elevage. His view is that you aren’t really using amphorae (which are imported from Georgia, one of the few remaining countries with the facilities for firing large examples) if you only have a few – now every wine he makes is fermented in them, and he has 45 of them in the cellar. ‘You are not able to ride two horses at a time. If amphora is the best way to make wine, then all the wine has to be made like that. I am not against industry or technology,’ says Josko, ‘but we as bodies are the same as we were 2000 years ago.’ But even the wines from 2000, 1999 and 1998 that we tasted, which predated this switch to amphora, were fantastic, and developing beautifully.

The wines showed very well, and worked with an adventurous menu from Alberico Penati. It’s a privilege indeed to be able to taste the Ribolla Gialla and Breg in pairs from 2005 back to 1999, with a 1998 Ribolla Reserva and 2003 Pignolo Rosso to finish. I found myself straining for descriptors for these wines, which all seemed youthful and full of life. To score them made me feel I was committing some sort of absurdity. There is an honesty to these wines that makes you question your approach as a journalist.

Despite the incredible wines and fine food, the lunch was also a poignant one. Almost exactly a year ago, Josko’s son Miha died in a motorcycle accident, and there was a long silence, filled with sadness, when Josko mentioned his son’s name in an anecdote.

2003 was an important year for Josko. ‘We had no production because of hail on the 19th June, which took 75% of production, and which the next day took the rest. It was a very important year: in that moment I understood that a farmer has a company without a roof. From 16 hectares we had less than 2000 litres of wine. Picking grapes hidden behind posts allowed me to make experiments with sulfur dioxide and without, and with selected yeasts and without. The first wine to die was one with selected yeasts. To do a natural ferment we have to start the work in the vineyard with no systemic fungicides and no synthetic fertilizers. Fertilizers are like drugs for humans: they give you strength but they kill you. We use sulfur and copper. These are products that pollute, but less than synthetics.’

In the cellar, Josko uses small quantities of sulfur dioxide after fermentation has finished (he has tried working without it and has realized that it’s not possible), and uses long macerations for his whites. ‘The advantage with white wines is that you can do six or seven month macerations,’ says Josko. ‘Reds need pressing earlier or else the skin absorbs the colour back.’

‘I understand if you don’t like these wines,’ says Josko. ‘They are not easy.’ But I am in no doubt that I really like these wines. They are available in the UK from Zubair Mohammed at Raeburn (one of the wine world’s geniuses), who hosted the lunch along with his colleague David Harvey. I felt like I wanted to take just one of these wines home and spend an evening with it: these are wines that repay attention and reward the patient, observant taster.


Ribolla Gialla is Venezie Guilia IGT

Gravner Ribolla Gialla 2005
Yellow/orange colour. Complex, taut, nutty and quite tannic with nice freshness. Taut and mineralic with lovely structure. Currently quite tight. 91/100

Gravner Ribolla Gialla 2004
Orange colour. Aromatically mute. Taut, lemony, mineral palate with good structure. Fine and focused with nice acidity. Lean, long and fine. 92/100

Gravner Ribolla Gialla 2003
Aromatic and quite pure with a waxy, lemony nose. The palate is taut, structured, nutty and fresh with citrus and herb notes as well as good structure. Lovely freshness. 93/100

Gravner Ribolla Gialla 2002
Fresh, nutty, minerally and intense with lively mineral and lemon notes, as well as some waxiness. Lovely precision and good acidity, with a hint of mushroom. 91/100

Gravner Ribolla Gialla 2001
Yellow/orange colour. Open, citrussy, herby and nutty nose. The palate is light, waxy and taut with citrus and herb notes and fresh lemony notes on the finish. 93/100

Gravner Ribolla Gialla 2000
This was the last year when large open barrels were used for fermentation. Yellow colour. Very fresh, precise and complex with lime, spice and mineral notes and some subtle herb and toast characters. The palate is fresh and structured with lovely precision and a long, lemony finish. Beautiful. 94/100

Gravner Ribolla Gialla 1999
Fresh, complex, herby and nutty with nice depth and freshness. There’s good structure and depth here. Fresh, tight and quite minerally. Pure. 93/100

Gravner Ribolla Gialla 1998
Complex, savoury and nutty with intense notes of herbs, lemon and wax. Firm structure and pronounced minerality. Tight and full flavoured. 93/100

Breg is classified as Venzia Guilia IGT, and is a blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico

Gravner Breg 2005
Aromatically alive, with apricot, lemon and lime blossom notes as well as richer nutty characters. The palate has lovely lightness with overt minerality and fresh acidity. Pure with some structure. 94/100

Gravner Breg 2004
Orange colour. Powerful, nutty and mineral with delicate pear and peach notes, finishing savoury and taut with nice minerality. Fine with some fruitiness. Long and mineral, with good acidity. 92/100

Gravner Breg 2003
Taut nutty nose. The palate has some toasty, nutty warmth to it with a hint of fudge. Rich yet fresh with nice tannins. Stylish and warm. 93/100

Gravner Breg 2002
Taut and intense, and quite structured. Powerful, nutty deep and a bit toasty. Long, showing real depth. 92/100

Gravner Breg 2001
Orange/brown colour. Complex, textured and subtly nutty, with beautiful balance, with notes of citrus peel. Subtly nutty and waxy with some fresh tannins. Stylish. 94/100

Gravner Breg 2000
Complex, fresh, nutty and quite pure with some pear and herb notes. There’s great precision: citrus and toast to the fore, with complex, mouthfilling character. Stunning. 95/100

Gravner Breg 1999
Yellow/orange colour. Lovely freshness with complex nutty, herby and citrus notes. Precise, mineralic and structured with good acidity and freshness. Some warmth here. 93/100

Gravner Breg 1998
Powerful, nutty and waxy with lovely minerality and stony depth. Some toasty richness. Taut with lovely structure, and real intensity. 95/100

Gravner Ribolla Reserva 1998
Orange colour. Fresh, nutty and herby with some mineral notes and firm tannins. Taut and fresh with lovely nuttiness. Fresh and long with some warmth on the finish. Complex and mouthfilling with real depth and structure. 94/100

Gravner Pignolo Rosso 2003
Impressive. Sweet nose with warm cherry fruit. The palate is dense and structured with firm, drying tannins as well as sweet, vibrant fruit. A lovely wine: complex, tannic and firm. 92/100

Wines tasted 05/10  
Find these wines with

Back to top