One of the key features of the wine world in recent years has been the rise to prominence of orange or amber wines. What was a traditional method of making wines on skins, for example in amphorae, in places like Georgia and Slovakia has become a trend around the world. Orange wines do not have to be based on organic grapes though that is often the idea many people have. Orange wines are simply wines made from white grapes but where the juice is left in contact with the skins to extract colour and tannin, they are sometimes referred to as skin contact wines.
So widespread are orange wines that I have decided to split up my long list of white wines of the year to post a fourth article focussed on orange wines. I tasted many such wines this year including Jeff Coutelou’s OW which is great. That is based on Muscat grapes and I often prefer orange wines based on aromatic grapes. One such is the Hungarian grape Rozsako and I was really impressed by the 2018 Rozsako of Bencze Birtok when I tasted it at The Real Wine Fair. The domaine of a young Hungarian couple produces a wine with great stone fruit character, apricots for example. Fresh, clean and with a little bite from the tannins. Very good indeed.
Still in central Europe but this time from the Franken region of Germany was another excellent wine, this time based on the often derided Sylvaner grape. In Germany and Alsace this grape often used to make dilute, flavourless wines but modern winemaking and climate change have helped to improve its reputation. I described Andi Weigand’s Skin 15 like this after tasting it at RAW in London, “Fermented in whole bunches for 8 weeks, kept in old barrels for 3 years then refermented using 20l of juice from 2018’s harvest. The result was a perfumed, peachy and clean, fresh wine, a real joy.”
I mentioned in the post on red wines of the year how much I liked Testalonga‘s range this year and Stay Brave 18 was another great wine. Chenin Blanc macerated for a shortish period of 11 days. Golden in colour with a fine texture of tannin this was my favourite orange wine this year because of its fruit and balance. Chenin is forging a new identity in South Africa, wines like Stay Brave suggest it has become the equal of its traditional Loire home.
Finally, closer to home. Ancre Hill is based in the Wye Valley in Wales, close to the English border. Its Orange Wine 2017 is predominantly based on Albarino grapes, traditionally from northern Spain. They are macerated in whole bunches for up to 50 days and aged for a minimum of 10 months on lees with no SO2 added. This is very much orange in colour but was fresh and full of flavour and lingered long in the mouth. Da iawn Cymru. It is good to see English and Welsh biodynamic wines emerging in such style.
My last post described my overall impressions from RAW, interestingly the hybrid issue has been in the news elsewhere a little, a topic I shall pick up again. To follow up I shall describe a few of my favourite wines without too much detail. If you want more technical details then the RAW site has information on each producer and wine.
Gravner is one of the most celebrated of natural domaines, a true pioneer of skin contact wine from the Friuli region. I thought these shone out against the other big names such as Radikon and Cornelissen, though I liked their wines too. Star of the show for me was my first wine tasted in the whole RAW event, Bianco Breg 2010. A blend of grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc the skin contact gave nice tannins and a firm finish but there was a lot of enjoyable white fruit flavour to add roundness.
Brand is a well established Alsace domaine which has taken a turn to natural wine as Philippe has taken the reins. I liked a lot of these wines, my favourite was the Gewurztraminer maceration Tout Terriblement 16. As I said last time I am becoming convinced that skin contact works best with aromatic grapes and this showed lovely Gewurz notes without any of its tendency to go over the top. Lovely fruit and a long finish. (Very low sulphites)
AMI is a newish domaine in Maranges using bought in organic grapes to make natural wines. I liked all the wines here, red and white from the basic Bourgognes to a Hautes Cotes and a lovely Maranges Premier Cru. Top of my list though was the St. Romain Blanc 17, classic Burgundy with citrus, hazelnut, cream and a delicious freshness. Definitely on my shopping list.
Chateau Le Puy I had tasted before and enjoyed even more this time. The main cuvee from various years was lovely but my favourite was the Barthelemy 2016, from the Francs Côtes De Bordeaux appellation. There was such a depth of fruit in the Cabernet / Merlot blend, classic Bordeaux with lift! (No added sulphites). Similarly Chateau Meylet showed a lovely 2014 of real quality, not something I usually say about a Cabernet Franc led wine. (very low sulphites)
Agricola Marino has just 1.5ha of bush vines in Sicily making just 6,000 bottles. The two wines were lovely, my favourite the Turi Bianco 18 a pure Catarratto of white fruit and texture. Lovely labels too. Please someone, support Salvatore and import these great wines.
Karim Vionnet is a well known maker of very drinkable Beaujolais. Last year in a joint venture with Domaine Viret they produced Nous, a blend of Gamay and Syrah which was generously fruity but had a lovely tannic backbone to add complexity and length of flavour. Very good.
German wines were what first got me interested in the whole topic so it was a slight disappointment that only one producer was present. However, Andi Weigand compensated in quality for lack of numbers. Some lovely wines from the Franken region using grapes such as Muller Thurgau and Silvaner. It was the latter which made my favourite. The maceration wine Skin 15 was fermented in whole bunches for 8 weeks, kept in old barrels for 3 years then refermented using 20l of juice from 2018’s harvest. The result was a perfumed, peachy and clean, fresh wine, a real joy. Unusual winemaking with no added sulphites producing great results, bravo.
The Morins of Touraize
Domaine De La Touraize is a Jura producer and the Morins showed a series of excellent wines reds, sparkling and white. I’d happily buy them all but top of my list would be the Savagnin 15, left for 2 years ‘sous voile’, i.e. under the flor of the yeasts, the method used in sherry as well as in the Jura. The result was nutty, stony, fruity – my notes simply read ‘gorgeous!’ Possibly my favourite wine of the whole RAW event. (very low sulphites)
I mentioned Thomas Niedermayr last time as I was impressed and intrigued by his hybrid grape wines such as the Souvignier Gris. However, my favourite was the 14 Solaris 2017, (the 14 refers to the year the vines were planted). Solaris was produced in 1975 by crossing various grapes in Czechoslovakia. The fruit was clean and fresh, white stone fruit, almost green and yellow fruit gum. These were fascinating wines from the Alto Adige.
Also from that region was Grawü, and another exciting range of wines though from more classic grapes this time. Lovely Pinot Grigio, the Bianco with Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurz in the blend was excellent too. There was another Bianco (16?) with more Sauvignon Blanc which gave more open flavours and I especially liked, as I did the skin contact Gewurz.
Finally I must mention the delicious Banyuls wines of Domaine Du Traginer. I enjoyed their Collioure table wines but the Banyuls were something else. A lovely Rimage 17, rich and delicious Grand Cru 08 as well as a lovely Blanc 15. However, the star was a Solera 2000 which was almost clear, light in appearance but with deep, full and fresh light fruits and a rich port like finish. A special wine.
I could mention many other wines and I feel guilty for omitting some other very good wines. RAW showed that the world of natural wine is expanding and improving in reliability and quality. To counter the most common criticism of natural wines I should also mention that amongst the 350+ wines I tasted I only detected three with a problem of mousiness and one with a very slight cork taint. Any of the wines mentioned here would enrich your wine collection.
Two days at RAW London, the natural wine fair which has become part of the establishment with fairs now taking place around the world. Isabelle Legeron’s work in organising the fairs as well as her excellent book ‘Natural Wine’ and other media work has helped boost the reputation of winemakers who work organically, biodynamically and naturally and she deserves much credit.
In a way that success is a two edged sword, Sunday afternoon’s public session was very crowded and parts of the The Store were very hot, not the best tasting conditions. Monday’s trade day was much more manageable and I was able to get to almost all the producers I had shortlisted. I shall be commenting on some of those in the next article, however, I wanted to give some general impressions first.
Simon Woolf interviewing Isabelle Legeron
Perhaps it was the fact that I spent a bit of time and lunch with Simon Woolf that orange or amber wines were to the fore of my RAW experience. Seemingly every producer is working with skin contact wine, some have been doing so for generations, some for years, some making their first experiments. Simon’s book ‘Amber Revolution’ is one of the best written wine books of recent years and I highly recommend it. As for the wines themselves, well they varied greatly. Once again I was struck by the success of skin contact wines using aromatic varieties which seem to add extra layers of aroma and flavour compared to others. Successful examples here included Riesling (Domaine Brand in Alsace), Gewurztraminer (Brand and the Alto Adige producer Grawü) and Silvaner (Franken producer Weigand). Make no mistake orange wines are here to stay.
Hybrids and cross bred grapes are gathering some attention in the wine world with climate change and disease resistance amongst the reasons for their cultivation. It was interesting to taste a few examples here notably two examples of Souvignier Gris. This grape is a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bronner, the latter a white grape produced from hybrids Merzling and GM6494 (a romantic name if ever there was one). Slovenian producer Batic and Alto Adige’s Thomas Niedermayr both had examples (they were unaware of each other’s bottles until I told them). The results were excellent in both cases, creamy but fresh white wine with plenty of good aroma and flavour. This is certainly an area of winemaking which will be interesting to see unfold.
Niedermayr wines to the left, the left bottle is Souvignier Gris, a photo showing its pink grapes is in front. The Batic example is the white bottle.
The growth of quality winemaking in Central and Eastern Europe has been well documented, the evidence was clear once again at RAW. Austria has been a source of excellent wine for a few years now, Georgia too. Add in the Friuli / Slovenia region for orange wines, Czech, Hungarian and Swiss producers too. There were some lovely wines and the story behind wineries such as the Czech Jaroslav Osicka is inspiring, a family working in organic ways, determined to do things right whilst struggling against bureaucracy and attitudes from those in authority and colleagues too. Osicka, Batic, Balog, Natenadze’s were all wineries which offered good wines from these regions and which I would recommend. My friend David Crossley regularly reports upon the growth of such wines and I recommend his report on Osicka and others here.
Miha Batic with Jaroslav Osicka
The continued success of natural wine’s big guns continues unabated. The likes of Radikon, Gravner and Cornelissen attracted large crowds on both days, rightly so. These are fascinating, unique wines. Cornelissen wines have become more consistent to my taste in recent vintages and they were showing very well. In the hunt for the new let’s not overlook the established stars.
Similarly I was struck by how much classic wine regions shone for me at RAW. My favourite ranges of wines were probably the Burgundies of AMI and the Saint Emilion wines of Château Le Puy and Château Meylet. I would not have imagined that to be the case even a year ago. These classic regions have a new wave of producers, such as AMI, who are working in organic, biodynamic and natural ways and the results are great. Expensive, perhaps, but delicious.
Finally, fairs such as RAW always throw up surprises and new discoveries. I had no intention of visiting Sicily producer Marino but an empty table on a crowded day proved fortuitous. I really liked the two wines of this small domaine, the Turi Bianco in particular. As is so often the case lovely people make lovely wines, a young couple deserving of success. I was pleased to see David liked them too in his report. Other pleasant surprises: the Welsh producer Ancre Hill, with a terrific Orange Wine (of Albarino grapes) and two PetNats; a new Languedoc producer to me, Mas Lasta with fresh, flavoursome wines including a white wine made from Grenache Noir; the excellent Banyuls wines of Domaine Du Traginer.
By Monday afternoon my tasting abilities were exhausted. As usual there were regrets at missing one or two producers but I had enjoyed myself and came away confident that RAW winemaking is in a healthy place with new, exciting producers and ideas emerging to join the wealth of talent already established. I shall be sharing more of my particular findings next time.