Eating Las Vegas first encountered Josko Gravner‘s “Breg” white wine in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome (Italy, not Georgia) some six years ago. It was at Sabatini, a notable seafood ristorante on a charming square not far from where Hugh Alexander Curtas (The Official Number Two Son Of ELV) was attending a semester abroad.
The sommelier suggested we try something different, and boy was it ever. As the bottle was being decanted, a scowl came across our face, as we thought something must be wrong with a wine that was almost the color of light maple syrup. To our untrained eyes, it resembled a white wine that had been cooked and become terribly spoiled.
He assured us the appearance was exactly as it was supposed to be, and then explained in broken English how this crazy wine maker in northeastern Italy (bordering Slovenia), has returned to the earth in making wines the old-fashioned way. And by “returned to the earth” and “old-fashioned” he wasn’t talking about hand-picking grapes and minimal processing (although those are part of the process). No, he was talking old-school as in: making wine the way the Romans did 2,000 years ago — by fermenting and storing the juice in giant amphorae, sealed with beeswax, and buried in the ground.
Extended skin contact (sometimes up to 6 months) is what gives this white its distinctive amber color (and a tannic structure unlike any white wine you’ve ever encountered). The aroma is elusively floral, but tastes like an orange creamsicle with a bit of retsina thrown in. It is velvety in the mouth and packed with whiffs of citrus fruits and honey and simply one of the most extraordinary white wines in the world.
Along with all those exotic smells and flavor profiles, you’re also getting a bit of history, as this may be the closest on earth you can get to tasting wine the way it did when this guy was walking around.
Carnevino might be the only wine list in Vegas where you can find this beauty, so when we saw it, we were in faster than you can say “That’s Amore.” As spectacular as the Breg was, our Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella (1998) was every bit as stunning. Rich and raisiny, with plenty of spice notes and a finish till next Tuesday, it was the perfect foil for a 6 month old aged porterhouse, woodsy wild mushroom pasta, and some roasted vegetables.
All in all, it was the perfect way to spend a 27th birthday. Not ours, silly, but Justin Greene‘s — a recent addition to the management team at Le Cirque and Circo and an Official Friend Of ELV and ELV’s Number Two Son.
JG was looking to celebrate the occasion with a guy’s night of fine wine drinking, without the petty and prosaic annoyances females usually bring to the table…you know, with constant chirping about: “How is that prepared?” “Would I like that?” and “May I have the sauce on the side?”
Thanks to the staff, the food, the amazing wine list, and super-somm Victor Pinkston, that’s just what we did.
None of these thrills came cheap, however. Our bill was as big as those wines. The Gravner was $140/bottle and the Giuseppe $525. Although expensive, both are good examples of the moderate markups at Carnevino, as the Gravner retails for around $90 on the internet, and the Guiseppe’s price hovers around $350-$400 if you buy it on line.
* ELV barely remembers his 27th birthday…mainly because he spent it doing something more along the lines of this.