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Gravner Amber Wines

Amber is Gravner’s Colour: Joško Gravner, Part 3

Part 1 of this article (Back to the Future) describes how Joško Gravner’s Amber wines originated. Then, Part 2 (Qvevri Revolution) delved into his revolutionary use of Qvevri, which had never been seen outside their Georgian homeland. Consequently, in Part 3 (Amber is Gravner’s Colour), it’s time to focus on the wines themselves. Naturally, this will also include suggestions for serving and food-matching.

First Encounter

Many years ago, I attended an unusual wine dinner in Edinburgh. Each guest was required to bring a bottle, the only stipulation being that it had to be “excellent”. You may imagine that the wines were mostly big names from Bordeaux, the Rhône and Burgundy. By chance, sitting next to me at the table that night was Zubair Mohamed, who I quickly discovered was responsible for growing Raeburn Fine Wines, his family’s wine business in Edinburgh. I also found Zubair to be both delightful and incredibly knowledgeable company. He pulled a bottle out of his bag, opened it and poured a glass for me.

It was amber-coloured, like old polished gold. The complex nose had dried flowers, bergamot, polish, and saffron. The brackish palate was tannic yet rich and slightly creamy, showing dried white fruits, savoury notes and subtle oxidation and botrytis before a considerable length. In short, it was an extraordinary and emotional wine that made you wonder about its creation, unlike anything I had encountered before. All those other wines on the table seem to pale in comparison. It was revealed as Joško Gravner’s Breg Bianco. The next day, I returned home with two bottles, forever changing my perceptions of what wine can be. Since then, there have been other bottles, including a memorable vertical tasting with Mateja in Verona.

However, all the wines listed below were tasted over two consecutive days in June 2024 with Mateja and Joško Gravner at the winery and nearby restaurants in the Collio.

Ribolla Gialla vertical tasting

Having explained the Ribolla Gialla grape variety, let’s start with a vertical tasting of those wines, from the youngest to the oldest. All are IGT Venezia Giulia. Each one is different and fully embraces the vintage year.

Gravner Lable


14% abv. This is the most recent release. A light amber colour, bright and clear. A hefty open nose featuring dried fruits and autumn leaves. The palate shows dried apricot and peach, with loose tea (bergamot). Touch of honey and tangerine. Weightless balance, savoury tannins, colossal saline length. No aggression – very refined and precise!


14.5% abv. Quite a contrast to 2016, with boisterous adolescent energy! Light amber again. More honey and honeycomb, more tangerine and lime, definite Botrytis. Angular, tannins, acidity and alcohol are more discernable yet still in balance. Dried fruits and buttery caramel on the dry mineral finish. Joško thinks this might be the best vintage he has made.


14% abv. Deeper amber. Complex aromas include loose tea/bergamot notes, dried flowers and candied fruits (apricot, yellow plum). The fuller palate is darker and more brooding with an umami savouriness, finishing super-dry and slightly (and attractively) astringent. Has a length measured in minutes.


14% abv. Darker again, more deep amber, caramel with a tinge of rosé. Softer texture, creamier, pillowed. Peach, apricot and loose tea. Elegant tannins, less oxidative, balanced wine. Something mysterious here, too, a rare and profound harmony. It makes you ask questions.


16.5% Riserva. Lighter-coloured, almost rosé-like onion skins. Dried tea leaves on the nose. More structure means higher acidity, more grainy tannin, more alcohol, and more body. Shows natural vintage variation and no botrytis in his year at all. It is salty and dry yet has an elusive richness that’s a reminder of Palo Cortado sherry in that respect.


14% abv. Joyous! Dark amber, clear and bright. It seems like a pity to deconstruct it. It is fresh from acidity and perfectly balances alcohol and silky tannins. Dried fruits, walnuts, umami, minerality. Anise and Bergamot. Something new with every sip, with such life and energy, elegance personified. A true Vino di Meditazione – intellectually stimulating as well as pleasure-giving.


16.5% abv. Riserva has unusually 90g of residual sugar, though it doesn’t show as much sweetness because of the high acidity. Huge nose featuring coffee, button polish and caramel. More wintergreen-like bitterness that cuts the honeyed apricot and quince, polished smooth tannins, no botrytis, and a very long finish. This one could even be served with a light dessert.


14% abv. Rosé colour (onion skin), highly complex aromas, savoury and underbrush components, wafting and ethereal. The palate has dried apricots, tangerine, ginger, anise, herbs, and nuts. Savoury mineral finish. It seems a little lighter in style – it was a rainy year.

Favourites? As usual, whichever was in the glass! But at a push, the 2013 and 2010 just had that extra elusive sense of being a witness to something more than mere wine, something spiritual perhaps? And a reminder that, unlike many natural/orange wines, these wines all offer purity and freshness. You won’t find dirty, funky notes, cider flavours, Brett, or volatile acidity here – all unnatural faults that introduce false complexity at best and total spoilage at worst.

Interlude #1 – Serving suggestions

Gravner Glass

Gravner Glass

Serving Temperature

The first thing to say is do not chill Gravner’s wines! Ribolla Gialla may be a white variety, but it has been made with red wine techniques. Hence, always serve it as a red wine (see here for the avoidance of doubt). If you chill it, you will lose all nuance and subtlety.

Trust me, I’ve mistakenly done it at home and learned the hard way. With Gravner, I even compared a Ribolla Gialla wine chilled and unchilled to reinforce this point. An open bottle will keep and improve for several days, so if you have chilled one, leave it; all is not lost!


There is no need—the wines are not fined or filtered, but they’ve had six years in barrel to clarify. Similarly, there is no need to give them extra air to open up—these are super stable but will slowly evolve in the glass.


Talking of glasses, using dedicated glassware isn’t essential, but it maximises these wines’ enjoyment. Choose a wine glass with a wide shallow bowl – the additional surface area will encourage the aromatics. However, you can use Gravner’s glass! This stemless glass with indents for the fingers is based on a stemless clay wine cup that served wine to Gravner at a monastery in the hills of Tbilisi in Georgia. Hand-blown at Massimo Lunardon, the bespoke glass shape encourages the aroma, taste, texture and finish of Gravner’s wines. Joško also thinks it’s a more straightforward and intimate way of drinking wine, and there’s no stem to break either. It’s pretty good for other wines, too!

Other Gravner wines

Now, for two wines no longer made.

2009 Pinot Grigio Bianco Sivi

15% abv. Riserva style. Shows the pink skins of Pinot Grigio – more of a light red. The Gravners saw this as the poorest wine in the range; the last vintage was in 2011. But poor is a relative concept. This is a lovely wine, even if it is less complex. There is less fruit and flower aroma and more underbrush. A massive palate, dried quince fruit, yet still balanced. There is no aggression, just a harmonious and satisfying wine, very good with fresh trout.

2010 Breg Bianco

15% abv. Breg Bianco blended Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Laski Rizling.  But here’s a reminder of what an outstanding wine Breg Bianco was! Indeed, as Breg was my introduction to Gravner, I lamented its demise at the time, though Gravner’s decision to concentrate only on Ribolla Gialla was right. Mostly Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio, the Laski Riesling (Riesling Italico) is a tiny component that lends length and texture. Rose-coloured, it opens up and changes in aroma and flavour. Bergamot and saffron, bright acidity, a massive dry palate that somehow seems without mass, a little more oxidative notes, with pears, honey, and spices. Very complete.


Interlude #2 – Pignolo

Pignolo is one of those ancient Italian native grape varieties. It was rescued from near extinction in its Friuli homeland (but in the nearby Colli Orientale rather than the Collio Goriziano) in the 1970s. After being devastated by Phylloxera, it wasn’t often replanted as there were many commercially straightforward alternatives. It grows best on sunny and breezy sites such as hilltops, and because it has excellent quality potential, it has now made something of a comeback, though yields are low and unpredictable. However, this variety is so rich in tannins that this is its Achilles heel.

The tannins make it undrinkable when young and can take years to subside—save blending, time alone can tame it. Fortunately, Gravner’s winegrowing regime, using Qvevri and seven years of ageing, is ideal on both counts. Since its first vintage in 2003, Pignolo has become Gravner’s principal red wine, labelled as Breg Rosso, and is destined to become the only red wine.

2009 Pignolo Rosso Breg

16.5% abv. Riserva level. A fantastic deep purplish colour, it looks brand new, belying its 14 years of age. Remarkably open straight from the bottle. No decanting is required. The plentiful tannins have faded into the background, still present but highly polished and grainless. Still plenty of power, though again, a naturally achieved balance with alcohol, fresh acidity, tannins and fruit. Has a lush, velveteen, compelling richness—Super-ripe blackberry and blueberry fruit, balsamic and herbal notes. Brilliant wine.

2007 Pignolo Rosso Breg

14% abv. It’s a creamily textured wine from a rainy year, so it is a little lighter in style, though that is relative. The tannins have melted away, but the freshness hasn’t, and a glorious complexity is now revealed, with the fruit being in the dark cherry/plum category, overlaying balsam/leather/earth. Again, a kind of incense quality on the nose and palate – Myrrh, or is that too fanciful?


And don’t forget the grappa!

Gravner Grappa - Capovilla

Gravner Grappa – Capovilla

Capovilla Gravner Grappa examples – Breg 2008, Ribolla 2011, Ribolla 2013

Joško Gravner doesn’t make grappa. Even if he wanted to, winegrowers can’t legally make it, as grappa must be made in a separate licensed distillery. However, in recent years, there has been a rejuvenation in artisanal grappa production using the pomace from single wineries, even producing grappa based on single grape varieties. It’s a world away from the more familiar huge-volume industrial spirit.

Vittorio Gianni Capovilla is one of the great artisanal distillers, based near Vicenza at Bassano del Grappa. His small-volume grappa has no additives (such as sugar or flavourings), just a pure aromatic spirit slowly derived from a Bain-Marie. It is then aged five years in stainless steel and cut to 52% abv (about 10% stronger than his other distillates) with spring water.

Colourless, the powerful aromas are intensely floral, with forest floor scents entwined. The smooth palate shows roses, spice and herbaceous notes before a final fiery kick. The Ribolla examples have an earthier underlying note than the Breg, which trades that for lavender and camomile top notes. You’ll find these grappe at specialist spirits retailers in the UK.

Food Matching

The most important observation is that amber wines are incredibly versatile with food. They will pair with fish, like white wine. Or with meat, such as red wine, from charcuterie to game and roasts. They are happy with vegetables, even tricky items like artichoke and horseradish. Hence, these wines can be drunk throughout a meal. For example, green and white asparagus, roasted fennel, morel mushrooms, lobster, swordfish and game are all terrific. Cheese is also good, particularly harder-aged or blue cheese.

As for authentic cuisine, try Slovenian Žlikrofti (potato and chive-filled Tortellini pasta) or dishes from Georgia such as Badrijani Nigvzit (aubergine and walnut rolls).

In terms of “fine dining”, this versatility also brings a significant advantage, with many restaurants now having a “Tasting Menu”. Indeed, sometimes, this is their only offering. Hence, unless you match each course by the glass, the sheer complexity and diversity involved mean that a tasting menu is impossible to match with only one wine. However, with amber/orange wines like Gravner’s, most dishes will pair, even, in some cases, with chocolate-based desserts like Tiramisu or profiteroles.


And Finally

This article has been quite a journey, but Gravner’s Ribolla Gialla is the Montrachet of the amber/orange wine world and fully deserves such an appraisal.

The UK agent for Joško Gravner’s wines is (still) Raeburn Fine Wines in Edinburgh and London, so contact them for prices and availability. I also dedicate this piece to Zubair Mohamed.

Links to Part 1 and Part 2 of this article,

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