Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In Defense of Orange Wine

Orange Wines. Some call them retro, allowing a perfectly fine bunch of white wine grapes to be crushed and fermented, even aged, on the skins. Some go as far as aging them in clay amphorae (large oval-shaped concreate vats), which are buried in the ground where the wine completes its maturation; a throwback to aceint Roman times. Most are organic and some are bio-dynamic. In the end, they are different from what most people preceive wine to be, and maybe that’s the problem.

A friend recently told me a story about how he went into a wine store and asked for an orange wine. To which the clerk replied, “We only sell wines made from grapes.”

Clay Amphorae 
It's sad to think that such an interesting category of wine, which has gained footing in regions well outside its home of Italy, is often forgotten or simply unknown. I recall one of my own experiences, while looking for a new orange wine, In which I went to a wine shop that I consider to be on the cutting edge, and with a respectable selection of Italian wine, only to find that the salespeople had never heard of orange style wines. Drat, foiled again…

It was with this in mind that I thought it was time that I address the topic of orange wine, and so a tasting was planned and e-mails were sent to the usual cronies--but no one was interested. How could this be? Yet I refused to be stopped, and so I bypassed all the rest of my usual lists of wine collectors, lovers and drinkers (the who's who of wine dining in N.Y.C.). Instead, I decided to pick and choose, inviting people who I thought were open-minded enough and eager to explore. It took some doing, but the result was one of the most enjoyable tastings that I have ever hosted. It was a mix of people from tastings going back years, and it was glorious.

So how were the wines? They were spellbinding with wild aromas and verve that are seldom found elsewhere. Each one teetered on the edge of what wine is now compared to what it may have been centuries ago. With each sniff you encounter a set of seductive aromas that would challenge the senses and incite wild fascination. What's more, they each opened up a world of exciting food pairings and combinations that I had never thought possible. Imagine a Pinot Grigio with the body and tannin to handle a steak, and you've just crossed a bridge that you never thought existed, and what if that Pinot Grigio was worth the price of admission on the aromatics alone? That's orange wine.

As for the top wines of the night, northern Italy (orange wine’s place of origin) came out on top, yet nearly all the bottles performed well, and as I tried to place them into order of my favorites, it became very difficult to choose which wine was better than the one before.

On to the notes:

2006 Cotar Malvazija – The nose showed dried apricot and peaches with sweet spice, brown sugar and dried flowers. On the palate, it was medium-bodied and balanced with more dried apricot and inner floral notes that lasted well into the finish joined by saline minerals. Although this wine changed the least with time in the glass, it was enjoyable from start to finish. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2009 Chardakhi Chinuri (Iago’s Wine) – The nose reminded me of sunshine on a summer day with yellow spring florals, peppermint and stems. On the palate, it was gruff and continued the peppermint theme along with flower petals and young pit fruit. The finish was short yet clean and fresh. (87 points)

2011 Channing Daughter’s Ramato – The nose was intoxicating and ever-changing, like a floral perfume that draws you in with aromas of peach, ginger preserves, danylion, brown sugar, honey and herbal tea leaves. On the palate, it showed brisk acidity with inner floral notes, minerals and dried apricot, yet it lost some of its momentum toward the close and finished clean and weightless. (88 points) The Channing Daughter's website!

2006 San Fereolo Coste di Riavolo – The nose showed sweet peach tarlet and a hint of lime pith yet with a savory note of minerals and veloute sauce. On the palate, it was full and juicy with zesty acidity, showing dried pineapple and sweet spices. There was a lush character to this wine that gave it an elegant feel, which was likely the result of excellent balance contrasting its higher-than-average alcohol. (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2007 La Stoppa Ageno Emilia – The nose showed lush ripe apricot, spicy florals and potpourri with a dark and soothing character that drew me in. On the palate, it showed an initial burst of acidity and almost fizante style, yet it settled with time in the glass and revealed a juciy mix of bitter citrus pith, dried orange, and inner floral notes that lasted through the long finish. My first few sips of this wine decieved me, with time it blossomed to show it’s hidden beauty. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2005 Vodopivec Vitoska Classica – The nose was dark and inviting, showing pate sucree (sweet dough) and whole butter, but not from oak, followed by peach preserves and a dusting of confectioners sugar. On the palate, it was smooth as silk and balanced with flavors of nectarine, dried pit fruits and minerals. The finish was long and lush, as dried fruits and inner floral notes slowly faded from the palate. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2004 Gravner Anfora Ribbola Gialla – After three hours in decanter, the nose remained muted yet gave hints of what might lurk below. For a moment I would get nectarine, and the next second it was gone. Dried flowers and honey graham cracker were sometimes present but never for long. On the palate, it was beautifully balanced and rich, yet again, backward with dried fruits and sweet spice, but nothing stuck out The finish was long with saline minerals and roasted nuts, or as I began to call it, hard grating cheeses. Some say it needed more time, and that may be so, so I will reserve judgement until I can taste it again. (N/R) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2005 Radikon Jakot – The nose was enticing and with each sniff, seemed to change and evolve as sweet exotic spices, roasted nuts and dried apricot filled the senses. On the palate, it was full-bodied yet lively with zesty acidity ushering in flavors of tart pit fruits, orange preserves, flower petals and earthy minerals. The finish was long, clinging to the palate. I absolutly loved this wine and wish I had hours to spend admiring its evolution as it unfurled in the glass. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!


  1. Hi Eric,
    I really love your post and having joined the great company this is a very nice memory to keep in my NY trip diary. "In defense" of Gravner's Ribolla gialla I have to tell you I had the same vintage 2004 the day after in the office and it was an amazing wine. It was opened the day before and decanted. In this way it showed all its unique complexity and texture. Hope you'll have the chance to come visit the Collio area and Gravner's cellar soon! Tasting the wines directly from the amphorae and from the barrels is a wonderful experience you can't miss! Ciao, Cristina

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