I'm always up for something new, so when Jeff at Farmstead Cheese & Wine in Alameda pointed out a Slovenian wine made 100% from the Refosk grape, I jumped at the chance to try it. We had been talking about obscure Italian veritals (he said there are thousands, with many local types slowly being lost as growers plow them under to plant more common varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon -- such a tragedy!). Which led us to this wine, the 2005 Santomas "Big Red."
The grape type, Refosk, is an Italian grape grown in the northeastern corner of Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia, which borders Austria and Slovenia. The grape is called Refosco there. This variety is known for having concentrated tart flavors of plums heading toward bitterness, with high acidity.
The wine was in the odd-ends bin, and on sale for around $15 (normally $16.50). Upon opening this bottle, I was worried that it was corked - the cork was stained halfway to the top, and an unpleasant odor came out.
The first day this wine was just awful. The nose was funky, like super funk. I usually find those earthy-barnyard-blue cheese mold aromas interesting. Here, however, it was like smelling a dirty diaper. As a dad to a 16-month old, it's a smell I readily recognize. Behind the funk was a layer of dark wild fruits, but it just couldn't compete with the diaper.
The wine's color was dark purple/red, meaning that it's probably young. In the mouth, I found it incredibly unbalanced, with a taste of flat fruit initially, run roughshod by tannins, and after the tannins had its way with my mouth, a lingering after taste of Vicks cherry vapo-rub.
Sounds gross, I know. But I wanted to see what would happen on day two, since this was a pop-and-pour experience. The wine was ridiculously tannic, so it needed time to breath.
Last night, my friends Liz & Rob came over with some thick and hearty pea soup they made, and I decided to pour this for us. (I told my friend Becca about my initial impression of this wine and she thought I wasn't being a very nice host in offering it to Liz & Rob, but I told her I had some other bottles I could crack open if this remained a disaster. Plus, come on - Slovenian wine! how often do you get to say you've tried that, no matter what the taste!)
On day 2, this wine became better focused, although I realized it certainly could age for another decade or so in the bottle to give those tannins a chance to mellow. The horrible odor on the nose changed to more of the normal funkiness that I find appealing, and in the mouth, the dark fruit flavors livened up and were present throughout the entire sip (in other words, the tannins didn't take control this time). No Vapo-Rub on the finish either.
So, what to think of this wine? Well, it certainly is an interesting ride. If you get it, be sure to let it decant for a few hours. I'd love to see what this wine would taste like in several years. 2005 is just too soon a vintage to drink, at least from this bottle. If I saw an older vintage on the shelf or on a restaurant's wine list, I'd be tempted to order it.