Tricky things these artisan-made natural wines. Some days they sing, others they sulk. I presented 17 orange wines to a large group of Dutch sommeliers back in May, and although there were gems, many of the classics just weren’t showing their best. La Castellada’s Ribolla Gialla and COS’s Pithos Bianco seemed particularly grumpy, passing muster but not expressing their potential.
It was great to be able to repeat some parts of that tasting, this time for a more intimate group of orange newbies and longtime enthusiasts culled from some of Amsterdam’s best restaurants. And today either the heavens were aligned or Maria Thun’s bones must have got out of bed the right side. Technically I believe it was a flower day, mutating into a leaf day, so biodynamic karma was on our side.
Job Seuren from Amsterdam’s Cafe de Klepel suggested we organise this ad hoc tasting of orange wines. Not needing much encouragement, I put together ten examples to showcase the style’s huge variety. And they were all stunning, really showing their best.
Here’s a brief rundown of what we tasted, with my hurriedly scribbled notes (it’s not so easy making notes while presenting).
Today’s scoring system: ** = singing like an angel, * = singing like Freddie Mercury, no stars = singing like Shaun Ryder.
** Diwald – Zündstoff #2 (2015) 7 days maceration, stainless steel. Wagram, Austria
Martin Diwald’s second vintage of skin contact is made from Riesling, rather than the previous year’s Grüner Veltliner. I’d been hoarding this bottle for six months, on his advice that it needed time. It was glorious today, with loads of spicy gooseberry fruit, real Riesling expression and decent grip. Very lively, typical acids and a fine, elegant finish.
* Andreas Gsellmann – Traminer 2015 14 days maceration, steel/oak. Burgenland, Austria
I always love the lychee and floral aromas of this wine, but the 2015 could use a smidge more acidity. That said, it’s a hedonistic mouthful in terms of texture and fruit – much softer and finer tannins than the Zündstoff.
*(*) Meinklang – Graupert 2015 11 days maceration, concrete egg/steel. Burgenland, Austria
Super expressive mango and papaya fruit, showing just how aromatic Pinot Gris can be with some skin contact. A lovely fine seam of tannins glides through the wine. Very fresh and lively too.
* Supernatural Wine Co – Spook Light 2015 21 days maceration, steel. Hawke’s Bay, NZ.
Another Pinot Gris, this time really deep rosé in colour. Ripe, broad tannins, with a lovely nuttiness. Perhaps less nuanced than the Graupert. Lots of crunchy red berry fruit. The only no added SO2 in today’s lineup – and beautifully clean and pure to boot.
** Intellego – Elementis 2012 21 days maceration, steel/oak. Swartland, South Africa.
What a treat to try this mature example of Jurgen Gouw’s electric Chenin Blanc. Still razor sharp, with youthful sour apple fruit, but now there are fascinating vegetal, herbal notes creeping into the back palate and the finish, with some chamomile tea hints. Great expression of Chenin!
* Rossidi – Orange 2015 30 days maceration, stainless steel. Thrace, Bulgaria.
I’ve followed the evolution of this wine for about 18 months, and its possibly as good as it’s ever been now. Concentrated apricot and apple fruit with crunchy tannins that lift and balance. The alcohol felt a bit hot and spirity today. But then again at 13.5% this was also the most potent wine of the tasting thus far.
** La Castellada – Ribolla Gialla 2015 60 days maceration, oak. Friuli Collio, Italy.
If it had disappointed back in May, this wine soared to the heights today. Textbook Ribolla Gialla, in all its meaty, honeyed glory. Grippy, but open, with red fruit and wonderful maturation notes adding to the appeal. So integrated and complete.
** COS – Pithos Bianco 2014 190 days maceration, 440lt Amphora. Vittoria, Sicily, Italy.
Another great joy today, bounding with electricity, crunchy cranberry fruit, dried herbs and assertive but open tannins. Taut and nervy, but somehow with a feeling of ripeness underneath it all. Packs a real punch for 11.5% ABV.
Joan de la Casa – Nimi 2012 7 days maceration, stainless steel. Alicante, Spain.
Nice grapey aromas (it’s 100% moscatel) on the nose, loaded with fruit but a little heavy and oxidative on the palate. We felt its 15.5% ABV which didn’t seem entirely balanced.
** Gravner – Breg 2008 180 days maceration, qvevri. Friuli Collio, Italy.
One of Gravner’s ripest, hottest vintages so far (this is the current release at the time of writing). The botrytis influence is perceptible, there’s an almost overripe character on the nose. But it’s so thrillingly complex, aromatic and well balanced that it gets away with it. Superb grip, with the tannins really freshening up the finish. As always, this showed its colours and wowed everyone (one participant simply said “I’m overwhelmed by this!”).
Many thanks to Job and the team at Cafe de Klepel for hosting. And to the producers for the wines.
(Most bottles were media samples).