Gravner Breg; San Floriano Normale Scholium Project; The Prince in His Caves Scholium Project; Vodopivec Classica; Paolo Bea Arboreus
The photograph of five of the eight orange wines reviewed in this four part feature on orange wine gives you a sense of how rich the color and opacity of these wines can be. Remember too that each of those five wines shown above was made with what are otherwise thought of as white wine grapes.
Italian Orange Wines
In the orange wine phenomenon Italy stands among wine geeks generally as the most well-known, and desired center of production. Producers like Gravner in Friuli, and Bea in Umbria are famous and followed among wine geeks, seen as the originators of a new tradition of unusual wine.
Interestingly, as recently as the 1950s what we now call orange wines were being made by various producers in Italy simply as one possible way to make wine with white grapes. However, by the 1960s such practices were dwindling with the idea that more contemporary methods, including removing skin contact, was the more appropriate, technically correct way to make white wine.
As will be discussed further, in the 1990s Georgian Amber wine making tradition reintroduced the orange wine making process to Italian wine makers leading to the reintegration of extended skin contact (maceration) and the possibility of using earthenware fermentation vessels (called kvevri in Georgia, anfora in Italy). Though the use of clay is sometimes mistakenly taken as fundamental to orange wine production, in actuality it is not necessary to the process. Maceration with white grapes is definitive of orange wine, with the use of anfora being only one possible way to produce such wine.
Paolo Bea 2006 Arboreus
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100% Trebbiano Spoletino
In the Umbria region of Italy, Paolo Bea‘s farm uses 80-100 year old, pre-phylloxera vines that exhibit a unique constitution. They’ve been trained to grow like trees with the canes on the vine pointing up allowing a great space underneath. The tradition of growing vines in the arboreus fashion reaches back to pre-tractor farming when crops were planted mixed together. By teaching the vines to grow up like trees farmers could better utilize the ground underneath to produce other crops. It was not until the introduction of motorized tractors that arboreus vines were commonly removed and differing crop types were regularly planted separately.
Bea is well known for his interesting and high quality, low production, artisan style wine. His Arboreus named wine is made with full skin contact entirely of one grape–Trebbiano Spoletino–and fermented with partially dried grapes mixed in as well to add richness of flavor. Once the wine has fermented it is aged in stainless steel tanks without temperature control for 4 years. The resulting wine is rich, clean, and lovely.
Bea’s style is known for being hugely vintage specific. Because of his low intervention style of wine making, and commitment to biodynamics, the ripeness of the grapes from year to year, as well as other factors like how wet the season has been, show strong impact on the resulting wine. Incredibly, the 2006 vintage included only 80 cases, further emphasizing the low production aspects of Bea’s wine making.
Bea’s 2006 Arboreus was both lightly flavored and full body-textured in the mouth. It carried a strong soft palate focus so that the flavors of the wine hit at the back and top of the mouth showcasing the fullness. The flavors included white peach and pear alongside light passionfruit, and white flowers, filled out by anise, maple, and distinct bergamot. The acidity here is medium high keeping your mouth watering over the medium tannins. This is a sexy wine with pleasing texture.
The Bea was the favorite of at least two of the ten people that participated in a private tasting of this and four other orange wines. Everyone present (that was willing to select favorites) included it in their top two.
Coenobium Rusticum 2009
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45% Trebbiano, 35% Malvasia, 20% Verdicchio,
Just 30 miles north of Rome, the Coenobium wines are produced on site at Monastero Suore Cistercensi. There the nuns of Cistercensi tend the grapes and make the wine by hand. The nuns are invested in very low intervention practices allowing fermentation to occur based on only naturally occurring yeasts, and completely organic practices. Amazingly, the nuns draw on the talents of Giampiero Bea, son of Paolo Bea, maker of the Arboreus wine just mentioned to develop their wine making techniques.
The blend on this Coenobium Rusticum 2009 is pert and showy. It leaps from the glass ready to dance strong floral, woody, apple skin scents. The truth is this wine needs some age to really celebrate what it has to offer. Currently the youth shows as fume-y making the bouquet almost medicinal. However, the structure is there in this wine to support time in the bottle. Also, the Coenobium Rusticum has a respected recent vintage history that shows it tends to do well with some age, becoming more layered and grounded with time. That said, there are clear notes of yellow apple skin, and Macintosh apple along side vegetal characteristics and white tropical flowers here. The tannins are medium high, drying the mouth over the medium acidity.
This wine is also known for doing very well after opening. As Alder Yarrow explains on his blog Vinography, the extended maceration (skin contact) fundamental to orange wine production makes orange wines, and certainly the Coenobium Rusticum, more resistant to the negative effects of oxygen exposure. That is, while most wines will keep only a couple of days after being opened, according to Yarrow’s article on a previous vintage of the Coenobium, this orange wine can keep for several weeks after being opened when kept cool. He also recommends decanting the wine early in the day for drinking in the evening to allow the flavors to really open properly.
For those of you interested in purchasing some orange wines, the Coenobium Rusticum is available at a lesser price than the other Italian orange wines (though the Georgian orange wines reviewed Monday are of similar price, if you can locate them–they are harder to find) and so is a good value. The nuns produce the wine as part of their spiritual practices and also to support their facility but also purposefully keep their costs very low all around.
Vodopivec Classica 2005 Vitovska
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Everything about this wine is sexy. The texture is rich, and the flavors are subtle and evocative. As ridiculous as it might sound, this wine carries the soft intensity of a woman whispering she wants you–the intimacy and sensuality of such a moment captures the feeling of giving yourself to this glass. The wine carries light oxidation offering subtle sherry-like qualities with very light fruit. The oxidation effect here pumps up the mineral-like elements and with the smaller fruit focus the glass has a lot of refreshing sea air and mineral to it. All of this is rounded out with spice notes of clove and licorice. What a lovely wine!
Paolo Vodopivec is an exciting man to study–video interviews of him online show his focused passion for the wine he makes and the land he cares for. This passion is further expressed through his commitment to a rather obscure grape indigenous to the Fruili-Slovenia border. Vodopivec’s wines are made with the Vitovska grape, which is so uncommon it appears in only one English language wine book. The grape originates from Slovenia but is now grown more over the mountain range in the Friuli region of Italy.
Though Vodopivec does make anfora wine, the Classica is made using Slovenian oak. Vitovska is kept on skin contact for two weeks in oak, then once fermentation is complete (using only indigenous yeast and no temperature control) the wine is aged for two years in Slovenian oak barrels.
This wine was one of my favorites in all the orange wines tasted–it is a lovely, approachable wine, that is also intriguing to drink, and effectively pushes all my love-for-grape-obscurity buttons.
Gravner Anfora Breg 2004
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45% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Pinot Grigio, 15% Chardonnay
Josko Gravner is the most famous of the world’s orange wine makers. As the story goes, in 1996 a friend of Gravner traveled to Georgia and witnessed wine makers there making Georgian Amber wine in kvevri–earthenware vessels. The friend was certain Gravner would enjoy experimenting with making wine in the Georgian fashion and so purchased a kvevri and sent it to Gravner in the Friuli region of Italy. Gravner spent several years learning, and experimenting with the kvevri and orange wine making techniques.
By the second half of the 1990s Gravner was already considered one of the best white wine makers in all of Italy. His abilities were famous and as a result he had numerous wine makers from around the country that would travel to Friuli to study with him. At that time his celebrated abilities were focused primarily on making white wine in a contemporary fashion (no skin contact) with fermentation and aging occurring in oak barrels. However, after several years experimenting with wine making in clay, Gravner shifted his wine portfolio completely and released his first all anfora wine collection in 2001, made too with extended skin contact, thus making them anfora-based orange wines.
In the same sweep from oak to anfora, Gravner also moved deeply into biodynamic practices speaking of the poisons created by non-biodynamic wines on the one hand, and the spirit of the wine on the other. Gravner’s website explicitly states that he bottles on the waning moon, a practice integral to fully-vested biodynamic treatises. The initial public response to Gravner’s shift was that he was crazy. His wine sales dropped, and his wines were deemed atypical to the regional type, further impacting his marketing credibility. By 2006 though orange wine had become a major geek-wine fetish with Gravner as the mystical head shaman of this cult world.
Tasting Gravner’s Breg Anfora makes clear that his work with orange wines is not merely a matter of wine-geek paradise. Gravner is doing something special here. In the private tasting that included this wine, 10 of us all in or connected to the food and wine industries tasted five orange wines side-by-side. While there was strong interest in each of the five wines, the Gravner received the most all around appreciation for its balance and complexity.
The Gravner Breg has a rich, warming effect in the mouth. It shows beautiful complexity offering dried fruits with floral characteristics, alongside leather, and forest floor with spice. This is a savory wine that would do well with salty foods. The unusual nature of these orange wines meant the group was willing throughout the tasting to fall to metaphor and brief story elements to explain the experience of drinking these wines. The regular “tastes like apple” type notes simply wouldn’t suffice. With Gravner’s Breg the comment was that this wine is like drinking oysters next to a man that had just finished a pleasantly sweaty work day. The savory aspects of this wine are seafood and sweat delicate in the most wonderful way.
Friday we’ll complete the series focusing on orange wines by looking at a couple of orange wines from California.
To read the rest of this series, follow these links:
Understanding Orange Wines 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins do to Our Saliva: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/18/understanding-orange-wines-a-quick-and-dirty-look-at-how-theyre-made-and-what-their-tannins-do-to-our-saliva/
Understanding Orange Wines 2: Georgian Amber Wines: Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, Vinoterra Kisi: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/20/understanding-orange-wines-2-georgian-amber-wines-pheasants-tears-rkatsiteli-vinoterra-kisi/
Understanding Orange Wines 4: Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project: The Prince in His Cabes 2010, San Floriano Normale 2006 http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/25/understanding-orange-wines-4-abe-schoeners-scholium-project-the-prince-in-his-caves-2010-san-floriano-normale-2006/
Thank you to Garret at Italian Wine Merchants for his help in locating the Gravner, Bea, and Vodopivec wines mentioned here.
Thanks again to Kim for writing to ask if I’d do an orange wine feature! I hope you’re enjoying it!
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