Table 1: The Ancient Wines - Georgia
The story of orange wine begins long ago in what is now the country of Georgia. This area has the longest continuously documented history of winemaking, dating back prior to 6000 BCE. Large clay vessels called qvevris were used to ferment the wine; lined with wax and buried in the ground up to their necks, these earthen pots allowed a natural temperature control to keep fermentation relatively cool. The process of making wine in a qvevri involves pressing the grapes and then pouring the juice, grape skins, stalks and pips into the qvevri, which is then sealed. The juice is then left to ferment into wine for at least five to six months before being decanted and bottled. Oxygen exchange through the tiny pores in the clay enhance the texture and aromatic intensity of the wine inside. All wines of this period in Georgia were fermented in qvevri, whether white or red.
Without modern technology to take advantage of anaerobic fermentation, temperature control, and fining and filtration, white wines darkened when aged in qvevris, resulting in their distinct amber hue. Phenol and tannin extraction led to complex aromatics and layered depth of the palate of these “orange wines.” Their intensity paired nicely with game and strongly flavored dishes, suiting the ancient peoples well.
Modern scientific investigation (see this article as an example) has led to the following understanding of the biological and chemical differences of amphora fermentation and aging (as compared to stainless steel tanks and wooden vessels):
Lower sulfite levels
Lower total acidity
Higher volatile acidity
Higher malic acid levels
Higher leves of dry extract (color, glycerol, colloids)
These conditions result in wines that are more floral (volatile acidity), round (glycerol), bright (malic acid), richly colored and textured (dry extract) than wines aged by different methods.
Over time, wooden barrels gradually replaced qvevri for aging everyday wines. However, the traditional style was kept alive throughout the centuries, and many Georgian producers still make an orange wine or two.
Taste the wines!
2014 Doqi Rkatsiteli - Kakheti, Georgia
German-born Burkhard Schuchmann founded his eponymous winery in 2008 after falling in love with Georgian wines and feeling compelled to share them on a global scale. Burkhard was always a wine connoisseur and discovered Georgia, one of the oldest wine producing regions, through his travels. To manage the company's wine production, Schuchmann sought out native Georgian Georgi Dakishvili, a third generation winemaker.
Kakheti's most prized "amber" wines are made in qvevris buried completely underground. This Rkatsiteli (an ancient native Georgian grape) is very fragrant with spices, dried fruit, and honey. Firmly dry, gently tannic, and positively food friendly. Macerated for 5 months, fermented and aged in the same vessel, then bottled.
2016 Casreli Mtsvivani - Tsindali, Georgia
Marani Casreli was founded in December 2014, by 5 colleagues.The winery makes natural wine exclusively from grapes from their organic vineyards, which were planted in April 2015, on specifically selected terroirs. Casreli is located in Kakheti Region, on the right bank of Alazani Valley, village Vachnadziani, on the crossroad of 4 micro-zones (Mukuzani, Vazisubani, Gurjaani and Kakheti). Marani Casreli owns 15 hectares of land, 8 of which are already planted with various wine grape varietals, including ancient Georgian varieties such as Chitistvala, Mtsvivani, Dzaganidze, Kisi, and Khikhvi.
This natural amber wine is made using traditional Georgian technology: after grape crushing, juice goes into the Qvevri together with the skins, seeds and stems and could remains there 3-6 months after fermentation. Wine fermentation happens naturally, no yeasts are added. After fermentation the Qvevri are sealed from 2 to 6 months. During this time the wine clarifies naturally through gravity and skin contact. Fining of the first fraction (70-80% of total volume) is so complete that no filtration is necessary. During winter wine is moved to stainless tanks where wine stays until June-July and then it is bottled. Sulfites are added for stabilization, but their concentration remains below 40 mg/L.
Table 2: The Orange Wine Renaissance – Friuli & Slovenia
Fast forward to the 1980’s. Josko Gravner, a winemaker in northeast Italy’s Friuli area near the Slovenian border, paid a visit to California and tasted hundreds of wines for inspiration. He concluded that the modern-day winemaking methods were beginning to result in wines with unfavorable characteristics and standardized profiles and left in a very bothered state. He began to research and study traditional winemaking methods from other areas of the world.
Gravner’s explorations led him to visit the orange wine Mecca of Georgia. There he fell in love with the prospect of amphora fermentation and shipped a few vessels back to his winery and made a few experimental vintages that received high acclaim. Gravner is still a prominent name in the orange wine movement today (and makes some very delicious wines!).
While Gravner was perfecting his style in the 1990’s, nearby Slovenia began to undergo a winemaking revolution. In 1991 Slovenia declared its independence from the Yugoslav republic and its winemakers rejoiced. Under communist rule, winemaking families with generations of history had been forced to join cooperatives and abandon their wineries, making mass-produced plonk wine instead. Many walled up secret cellars, awaiting the time when they could return to their crafts. With the fall of Yugoslavia, these hidden underground cellars were reopened, and Slovenia’s long history of winemaking dating back to the Celts began in earnest again.
The proximity (and family relations) between the northeast of Italy and the Goriška Brda region in Slovenia played a major role in creating the Slovenian wine style of today. Bottles from big names in Goriška Brda such as Movia, Edi Simčič, and Kabaj popped up in wine shops internationally, and many were influenced by Gravner’s success. His style was emulated and tweaked, resulting in Slovenia’s abundance of delicious orange wines today. It is now one of the major producers of this traditional wine style, and Slovenian orange wines appear on many high-end Michelin star wine lists worldwide.
Taste the Wines!
2008 Gravner ‘Breg’ - Friuli, Italy
We figured we just had to showcase a wine from the great Josko Gravner himself! The vineyards of this domaine curl over the hills passing seamlessly across the border of Italy into the slopes of Slovenia. Meticulously maintained, the rows of grapevines settle into terraces that are dotted throughout with trees and bodies of water designed to attract wildlife and assure biodiversity. Gravner is steadily replanting to assure the primacy of the autochthonous grape varieties of Ribolla and Pignolo. The whites, which make up about 85% of the estate’s production, spend about 10 months total in amphorae, with the reds a shorter 1 to 2 months. He insists on aging his wines in large barrels for many years so release dates for most wines are from 7 to 10 years and more from the date of harvest.
The Breg is the classic Gravner blend of Riesling Italico, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon and Chardonnay, fermented separately but blended and aged together. A textbook example of the Gravner approach: long maceration, wild yeasts, no temperature control; after the extended cuvaison and additional five months in amphorae, the wine has been aged for six years in large oak barrels; bottled unfined and unfiltered.
2016 Batič Pinela - Vipava, Slovenia
Founded in 1592, Ivan Batič and his son Miha make wine based on over 400 of years of experience. This history supercedes what’s currently fashionable, and Miha was even forbidden from attending oenological school because his father feared it would cloud his brain. Not surprisingly, there is an undeniable faith in the supernatural and a keen sense of their relationship to it. They choose techniques like extended maceration at uncontrolled temperatures, indigenous yeast fermentation, and fermenting and aging in local Slovenian oak and amphorae.
Pinela is an ancient, indigenous grape and without question the most noble of the Estate. Without the unique climate of the Vipava, Pinela would not survive. Not surprisingly, Ivan Batič devoted his soul to this grape variety. Vines are planted only in the best terroirs and according to the old Vipava Valley winemaking tradition, macerated at an unregulated temperature for five days with its own yeast. It is then matured for twenty-four months in Slovenian oak and clay vessels. Bottled according to the lunar calendar, this vintage is full bodied, textured, mineral driven, and shows a sophisticated spiciness. It’s truly unique. The Batič family pairs it with the richness of duck, herbed egg dishes, and roasted fennel.
Table 3: The Modernists
More recently (in the 2000’s) many other regions began to partake in the orange wine trend. Not all modern orange wines are aged in underground jars or casks, although many winemakers follow the ancient winemaking style. Innovative experimentation with wood, concrete, and other materials, and additional grape varieties has developed a broad interpretation of the category still searching for its place among established wine styles.
The simplicity of orange wine, often left to its own devices without additives, holds appeal as an accompaniment to rustic, farm-to-table style menus, finding favor in surprisingly sophisticated niches. Worthy orange wines are labor intensive, and as a result, expensive with small production numbers, not expected to develop a mainstream profile soon. Having such a long history, however, and showing such versatility, this option pairs well with palates preferring old school handcrafted fare to manufactured products.
Today these wines can be found in pretty much every wine producing region in the world, with excellent examples coming from Chile (Louis-Antoine Luyt), New Zealand (The Hermit Ram), California (Scholium Project, AmByth Estate), France (Jean-Yves Péron), and Spain (Vinos Ambiz, Marc Isart).
Taste the Wines!
2017 Clos du Tue-Boeuf Sauvignon Blanc ‘Qvevri’ - Loire, France
Run by vigneron brothers Thierry and Jean-Marie Puzelat, the Clos du Tue-Boeuf is an isolated 35-hectare property of rolling hills, forests, fields and vineyards in Cheverny at the eastern edge of the Touraine region of the Loires. This lieu-dit’s history goes back centuries: its name pops up in records from the Middle Ages and it is noted for the favored status of its wines under Renaissance ruler King Francis I in the early 16th century.
The Puzelat family’s roots also run deep here in the valley of Cher, back to at least the 15th century in their home village of Les Montils. In the modern era, the Puzelat brothers have put Tue-Boeuf on the wine world map through their commitment to wines made as naturally as possible from their organically farmed, hand-harvested fruit.
Floral, lemony notes with a rich, deep palate. This 100% Sauvignon Blanc is vinified and aged in amphorae. A truly unique wine from this truly unique producer!
2013 Channing Daughters ‘Mosaico’ - Long Island, NY
Walter Channing, founder and co-partner at Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton, died March 12 following a long illness, Edible East End has reported. He was 74. According to a biography on Channing Daughters’ website, he was born and raised in Boston, Mass., and graduated from Harvard College and the Business School. Later, Channing moved to New York City and became interested in “recovering and reworking discarded materials” like the wood from the demolition of Hudson Piers, transforming them into furniture, interior walls and art objects.
Since 1975, Channing’s work has been shown at venues as local as Louise Himmelfarb Galleries in Southampton and as far away as the Handschin Gallery in Basel, Switzerland. In a 1986 New York Times article, Channing said he was in the business of “creating interesting investments.” He helped found C.W. Group, a venture capital business that supports “healthcare, biotechnology and managed-care provider service sectors,” according to his biography.
Channing planted his first Chardonnay vines at his Bridgehampton farm in 1982. Since then, Channing Daughters has evolved into an operation that produces a wide assortment of white, red, pink and even orange wines that are served in restaurants as far away as San Diego. The grounds of the Scuttlehole Road winery are decorated with Channing’s sculptures, according to a 2002 New York Times article.
Six separate vineyards on Bridgehampton farm were planted from 1982 to 2007. The varieties planted in each block represent the development of Channing Daughters from Walter Channing’s first experiments, to the emerging interest in Italian grape varieties to a fascination with coplanted multi-variety blocks and wines, to a reversal from single clone plantings of Chardonnay to the inter-planted 10 clone blocks of today. All is done in pursuit of complexity and deliciousness.
This field blend of aromatic white varieties intoxicates with its exotic haze of cinnamon, orange peel and turmeric spices. It's lusciously phenolic in mouthfeel, with a deep, penetrating core of dried peach and pear flavors that lingers on and on and on.
2016 Marc Isart ‘La Maldición’ - Madrid, Spain
From Catalonia, Marc Isart is head winemaker at the much acclaimed Bernabeleva, where he is spearheading the property’s transformation to biodynamics. Isart works on “getting back in touch with the home soil, nature and farming.” The La Maldición label (translates to “The Curse”), named for the laborers’ struggles to reach and then work the land at this secluded property in Valdelichia, Madrid. These vineyards are located in the Arganda del Ray sub-zone within the Viños de Madrid DO.
Aging that includes crushed skins and stalks was the traditional way that Spanish farmers made their wines and here it has resulted in a super complex, deeply colored, ripe apple, pear- and almond-noted, packed with interest. There is some grip too as you might expect. It's rugged, yes, but it's also loaded with charisma, texture, and freshness. A wine that gives a little glimpse into the deep history of this part of Spain.
Table 4: Pet-Nats, from Roman Times to Today
Pétillant Naturel wines are fascinating little oddities of the wine world. Their quixotic aromatic complexity and wide variation of flavors and textures can be difficult to place, and many hesitate when contemplating buying a bottle. These treasures, however, offer a delightful and tasty glimpse into the history of sparkling wine, and can be excellent fun.
“Pétillant Naturel” is only one name for these fizzy gems. Méthode ancestrale, méthode rurale, and méthode gaillacoise are a few others. Pét-nats are wines that are gently bubbly, with low levels of alcohol and fruity, sometimes lightly funky aromatics. They are truly gastronomic wines, pairing with a wide array of dishes and cuisines due to their unique structure.
Flavors and aromas of pét-nats range from light, bright stone fruits to tart cherry and rhubarb to earthy, agrarian notes. They can be crisp and clean, or heavily textured. Acidity is generally quite high, making them very refreshing. And though most are dry, some classic examples can be slightly sweet. Many have whimsical labels and funny names to boot.
When people today think of sparkling wine, Champagne is what comes to mind most. The stories of Veuve Clicquot and Dom Pérignon creating the elegant style of these celebratory bubbles abound. However, long before the first cork was popped on a luxury bottle of Champagne, sparkling wines were regularly produced via the méthode ancestrale.
Legend has it that Gallic shepherds in the today’s southern Rhône accidentally invented sparkling wine by forgetting about flasks left in a river to cool, retrieving them the following year. Pliny the Elder wrote copious praises about the interesting style. This is today’s Clairette de Die. Monks in the monastery of Saint-Hilaire (in Limoux, far in the southwest of France) were churning out bottles of delicious bubbly made from the local grape Blanquette as least as far back as 1531. They inspired similar creations in neighboring Gaillac. The little French Alpine town of Bugey boasts its own historic pét-nat style: Bugey Cerdon, a red often semi-sweet bubbly made from Gamay and Poulsard grapes. Vines were first cultivated here by the Romans and later refined by monks, who made this fizzy wine legendary. Pét-nats are experiencing a comeback today thanks to some adventurous winemakers, but don’t let this fool you: this style is ancient and deserves more than just a passing glance. Now let’s see what exactly makes a wine a pét-nat.
Though pét-nats are often marketed as light-hearted natural wines, they in fact take a high level of technical skill to master. Let’s first discuss the more renowned Champagne method for comparison.
When making Champagne the first step is to pick the grapes very early, while the acid levels are still high and the flavors and aromas are fairly neutral. These grapes are pressed, and the juice is fermented completely dry. The resulting wine is rather unremarkable.
This wine is aged, blended, and bottled. Into the bottle goes the liqueur de tirage, a mixture of sugar, yeast, and wine. The bottle is capped and let to rest as a second fermentation starts up inside. This is the source of the bubbles of carbon dioxide in a Champagne: the CO2 created during fermentation has nowhere to go but into solution.
After fermentation, the bottles are positioned such that the spent yeasts gather in the neck. During the process known as disgorgement, the yeast plugs are removed using built up pressure in the bottles, and a wine-sugar solution is added to top off the bottles. They are then corked and aged.
Now, let’s discuss the pétillant naturel method.
This winemaking style begins like the Champagne method, although grapes are harvested a little riper. Juice is put in a tank and fermentation begins. After partial fermentation, the juice is cooled to below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This slows the yeast action to a crawl, effectively pausing the fermentation. This can also be achieved by using a coarse filter to remove most of the yeast, leaving just a little for the next stage.
The juice is bottled at this point. The alcohol by now has typically reached anywhere from 6-10%. The final 2-3% will be gained in the bottle. The bottles are closed with crown caps, and the temperature is allowed to rise. The yeast begins its activity again, and the fermentation completes in the bottle.
Arresting the fermentation must be done carefully, and at precisely the right time, to get an ideal finished product. Some producers claim there is a window of just a few hours to make this call. And it’s typically difficult to predict the results, as the wine is bottled with many remaining active variables. But this is the fun of pét-nats (and sometimes the bane of existence for the producers)!
Taste the Wines!
2016 Primož Štoka Vitovksa Penece - Primorska, Slovenia
The Štoka farm is located north-east of Trieste about 5 miles from the Adriatic in the village of Krajna Vas. The Kras, or “Carso” as it is called in nearby Italy, is Europe’s first recognized cross border wine region, the two countries even adhere to similar production regulations. Despite its excellent position, very little land in the Kras is suitable for grape cultivation, only 600 hectares of vines are planted between the 2 countries. The tiny amount of fertile soil is the result of various human and natural events. Historically oak forests dominated the land until the Venetians deforested nearly everything to build ships and city of Venice. The resulting erosion and the famously strong winds called the “burja” caused huge amounts of topsoil to simply blow away. People learned how to build stonewalls called “griže” to protect against the wind and small manmade lakes to gather rain called “kali” to keep crops alive. Farmers, including the Štoka family, even learned to transport soil to naturally protected locations.
For over 200 years, the Štoka family has nurtured the native red Teran and white Vitovska in the iron rich “terra rossa” that the Kras is famous for.
Believed to be a cross between Prosecco Tondo and Malvasia Bianca, Vitovska is the white grape of the Kras. Made as a "pétillant-naturel" or naturally sparkling wine. In this process, winemakers stop the normal fermentation before all the sugar has been converted to alcohol. The wine is bottled under a crown-cap, trapped with its yeast cells and some residual sugar. As the yeast eats the sugar, gentle bubbles are created. Decant off the heavy lees (sediment) and enjoy!
2017 Weingut Brand Pet Nat Rosé - Pfalz, Germany
Daniel and Jonas Brand are fifth-generation wine makers in the northern Pfalz, currently with 18 hectares in the family. Soil types in the northern Pfalz range from clay and loam, to loess, and limestone at different states of erosion. For a region that gets most of their rain in winter, the soil plays a vital role in holding water for the vines. They began experimenting with converting their vineyards to organic farming in 2011 and will be fully-certified with the 2018 vintage.
This wine is a blend of mostly Pinot Noir, with about 10% old-vine Portugieser (vine age is about 40 years old). Deep magenta, jewel-toned rose in color, with a sprightly mousse and a mélange of tart and juicy red fruits: raspberry, watermelon, sour cherry, red plum all burst forth and wash over the palate, with bright acidity priming for the next sip.
2018 Yamakiri Wines Filigreen Farm Sin Eater Pét-Nat - Mendocino, CA
Yamakiri Wines is an ongoing collaboration between Alex Crangle and Lisa Bauer. Alex is the brains and the brilliance behind the wine and cider making; Lisa mows, prunes, frets, delivers boxes and kegs of wine and cider, and is generally the owner of Yamakiri. Together, they share a commitment to biodynamic and minimally invasive growing and winemaking techniques, and a love of fermented fruit beverages that showcase the place they come from.
Nestled in the hills of Yorkville, California, Yamakiri is located in the Yorkville Highlands. One mountain range away from the Pacific ocean, they enjoy a moderate climate and benefit from warm afternoon air and cool evening breezes, which allow for an extended growing season. Yamakiri, or ‘Mountain Fog,’ is a constant presence.
This Pét-Nat, or Pétillant Naturel is made from Pinot Gris grapes. They are whole-cluster pressed and fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks. The wine is bottled while still sweet, at 2.5 g/l RS; fermentation continues in the bottle. Cloudy, with tiny bubbles, this Pét-Nat is currently off-dry, with a mouthwatering finish. A living product, it will continue to ferment for months to come and evolve over time in bottle. It carries notes of lychee, lilac and Spring honeycomb. Layers of rose, melon rind and citrus foam belay a tart russet pear flavor core. 12.5% alcohol. 118 cases produced.
NV Bernard Rondeau Bugey Cerdon - Savoie, France
Cerdon is absolutely delightful as an aperitif. Cerdon is relatively sweet and is always pink. Its white wine world equivalents are perhaps Clairette de Die or Moscato d'Asti. Its red comparisons are perhaps Brachetto d'Acqui or Lambrusco. Cerdon, however, is normally made with either pure Gamay or a combination of Gamay and Poulsard grapes.