Are You Not Glad I Didn’t Title This “Orange You Glad You Don’t Have To Drink Rombauer?”?

The time has come to add a new category to our city’s wine lists.  Orange wines!  No these wines are not made from citrus fruits nor are they really a brand new concept.  Orange wines have origins from 5000 BC and are being rediscovered by fascinating and forward thinking wine growers who are forgoing fancy technology and instead making wine the old fashion way.

What are Orange wines? Back in the old days, white wines were made in a similar fashion as reds.  Basically white grapes were gathered, crushed and left to ferment and mature with all the bits of skin and seeds still in contact.  More color was extracted along with more alcohol and tannin creating natural, protective anti-oxidants.  This was the normal way of doing things in the cradle of wine civilization that is know as Georgia.  The Georgians utilized giant amphora earthenware vessels (known as Kvevri) which were filled with juice, skins and all and buried in the earth where cool temperatures were regulated and a slow fermentation would commence.

In the past decade or so winemakers from Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region started utilizing these old techniques to give their white wines more power and texture.   Making wines in this fashion with long skin contact results in extra stability from tannin and mannoproteins meaning wine growers don’t have to resort to adding extra chemical preservatives or sulfur dioxide.  The wines get turned inside out and become indestructible and can age magnificently.  Orange wines are generally fuller in flavor, have exotic aromas, sometimes a chalky dryness and are a wonderful addition to the dinner table.

2009 Radikon “Slatnik”.  $45. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections.

From the Slovenian side of the Collio which is located on the north-eastern most Italian border comes this blend of Chardonnay (yes, really) and Tocai.  The hand harvested grapes are fermented with their native yeasts for fourteen days in old oak barrels and matured for eighteen months before being bottled.  The wine is complex, full and tastes of salty, dried peaches.  It is perfect alongside a carpaccio or a rich polenta.

2005 La Stoppa “Ageno” IGT Emilia. $35. Imported by Williams Corner Wine.

La Stoppa is a hundred some year old estate that lies on the ancient slopes of Val Trebbiola in the northern part of Emilia-Romagna.  This bottling of Ageno is a blend of pesticide free Malvasia di Candia, Trebbiano and a little bit of the obscure Ortrugo.  After a month long maceration on the skins half of the juice goes into stainless steel tanks and the other half goes to old wood barrels to rest for 1 year.  Another 2 years in bottle then the unfiltered and un-fined wine is released. Ageno is big, lush and spicy with tea like aromatics, some rough edges keeps it real interesting.  A real treat with pork chops.

Léon Barral Vin de France Blanc. $55. Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.  

A little harder to find but worth the hunt.  This is technically a VDT (Vin de Table) wine, the lowest category in France for wine.  It means you can’t list the region from where it comes from on the label, you can’t give any indication of what kind of grapes are inside and you can’t list the vintage date.  We do know that the producer is Domaine  Léon Barral and their bio-dynamic estate in the Faugères appellation of the Languedoc grows some of the best wine ever.  The grapes are probably typical grapes of the sun drenched Mediterranean (Roussane, Viognier, Terret). What is exactly in it you will have to ask the wine grower Didier Barral.  Grapes are just ingredients anyway, the climate and soil can be more important.  The wine is fully ripe and graceful.  Refreshing and very intriguing.

These orange wines come from small production and are made with great care and are not cheap, but compared to similarly priced mass produced wines (like Rombauer Chardonnay) you get ten times the wine.  They will deliver a rewarding and unforgettable drinking experience.

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