A 100% Chardonnay, traditional method sparkling wine from Slovenia has been ‘harvested and matured in pitch darkness’.
The impact of light strike
The Slovenian wine, branded ‘Untouched by Light’, is claimed to be the first of its kind by its producer, Radgonske Gorice of Slovenia, which has been making sparkling wine for 168 years.
The Slovenian producer drew the inspiration to make the wine from research conducted in 1989 by Professor Emerita Ann C. Noble on the effect of fluorescent light on sparkling wine and its base wine.
Various research studies have shown that the UV rays from the sun or artificial lamps can dull the bright fruit flavours and add unpleasant notes such as rotten cabbage, eggs and wet wool.
Though these flavours are similar to those caused by reduction, ‘reduction is reversible, light strike isn’t’, according to the producer.
By making a sparkling wine with minimum exposure to light, the producer aims to ‘preserve the original aromatic components in the wine as much as possible’.
Made in darkness
To ensure these wines see as little light as possible, pickers conduct harvest at night wearing night-vision goggles. During transportation, the grapes are covered under the tarp.
‘Night vision goggles do help in each step of the process as you can see everything, but you have to get used to them,’ said Klavdija Topolovec Špur, the ‘Untouched by Light’ winemaker.
The oenologist noted that sometimes workers have to use their sense of touch to complete the cellar work, which includes remuage (riddling) and disgorgement.
The base wine is poured into bottles made of ‘99.8% black glass’ and matured in darkness in the estate’s 166-year-old cellar located in natural caves. Before release, the bottles are vacuum-sealed in black foil.
The Chardonnay grapes were sourced from the hilly vineyards near the town of Gornja Radgona at the northeast corner of Slovenia, between the Mura River and Ščavnica.
Influenced by the Pannonian Plain, this region has a continental climate with moderate rainfall, hot summers and cold winters.
The selected south-facing plot named ‘AJDA’ features old vines planted in 1989, with eutric brown soil and limestone gravel admixture. The altitude is between 220 to 240 metres above sea level.
After ageing on lees for 36 months, the wine was disgorged in early 2020. The result is a sparkling wine of abundant freshness and rather distinct, complex aromatic characteristics.
The inaugural 2016 vintage of ‘Untouched by Light’ has an acidity level of 8 g/l and alcohol at 12%. Residual sugar falls into the Brut category (6.9 g/l).
Only 2000 bottles were made for this vintage, with the ambition to expand to 3000 next, ‘as we have enough capacity in caves’ according to Klavdija Topolovec Špur.
How to serve it
The producer suggests sommeliers serve the wine in a dark environment and in black glasses while admitting that ‘this will not always be possible’.
The alternative, said the producer, is to taste the wine ‘as an experiment’ to observe how the impact of light can change the characteristics of the fizz in the glass.
Sparkling wine has been made in Gornja Radgona since 1852. The production was initiated by Alojz Klenošek in an era of Archduke John of Austria, a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, who expanded the wine production in this region. Later the production was continued by the Swiss-French Bouvier Family.
Untouched by Light, a sparkling wine made in the dark
The ‘Untouched by Light’ sparkling wine is sold at 100 Euros per bottle, currently only available on untouchedbylight.com.