The First International Qvevri Wine Symposium held this September in Tbilisi, Georgia to promote modern Caucasus winemaking with ancient techniques (primarily the use of amphora clay pots for aging) got me thinking once again about Orange Wine. Readily attended by a couple friends (globe-trotting wine aficionados willing to travel all the way to Eurasia from Los Angeles and New York for the weekend), this three day conference invited a select sixty foreign guests to travel through the wine regions of Georgia. There they learned about the antediluvian vessels used for fermenting and aging wine in the traditional Qvevri style.
The conference was established as a multi-million dollar initiative by the US government to attract potential tourist attention to Georgia. But the tweets and pictures coming through repiqued my curiosity in the Orange Wine movement as a whole. The result of white grapes left to ferment on the skins for more than four days, Orange wine is reestablishing momentum in Northern and Central Italy. Skins contain tannins, phenols, and pigments considered undesirable in traditional white winemaking approaches. But extra skin maceration culminates in a white with more color, flavor, and texture.
Granted Orange Wine is not for everyone. It resides solidly within the category of ‘geek wine.’ But these geeky specimens are precisely what drives wine professionals: the yearning for a taste of every version of every country and culture. So on a recent weekend in New York, I set out to Inoteca Liquori with two friends, a somm from Resto and a somm from Lupa, to delve into a few bottles of Orange. Here is what we liked:
2006 Tenute Dettori Bianco: 100% Vermentino from Sardinia ferments uncrushed on the skins for four days in cement vats (which are growing in popularity especially for biodynamic winemakers) No sulfites are added. The wine is cloudy and golden with a nose of exotic flowers. Its apple-cidery component paired surprisingly well with eggplant parmesan.
2006 La Stoppa Ageno: Malvasia, Trebbiano, and the rare, indiginous-to-Emilia Ortrugo ferment for 30 days on the skins using all natural yeasts. It ages for 12 months and undergoes no filtration of any kind. Saffron and Marigold on the nose lead to brown sugar, honeysuckle, and coffee on the palate. Amber in color and only slightly cloudy, Ageno will benefit from a good decanting. The acidity is pure and refreshing.
Back in Los Angeles, an importer friend came to visit toting a bottle of 2002 Gravner Anfora Ribolla Gialla: Grapes for this Friulian showstopper come from vineyards straddling the Slovenian border. The juice ferments on the skins in large open-topped amphorae without added yeast, temperature control, or sulfites. Natural winemaking in its apogee. This Gravner is honeyed, savory, and mineral all at once. Spiced and complex, it breaks with contemporary wine convention entirely.
So if you’re a trade geek like me or simply an interested consumer, check out the new face of age-old Orange Wine. And keep an open mind. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, it’s pretty fascinating in its own right.