I’m a huge fan of Georgian qvevri wines – that’s to say, wines made in the 8,000 year old traditional manner, where grapes, skins and sometimes stems are piled into a 500 – 2,000 litre clay amphora-like vessel, buried up to its neck in the ground.
The challenge has always been how to get hold of them. A tiny amount is imported into the UK, even less to the Netherlands where I currently reside. And what little there is often ends up languishing on restaurant lists, as it’s mostly too pricey to be easily sold in shops.
But times are changing, awareness of the wines seems to be increasing (admitedly from a very low base), and one adventurous Dutch wine merchant “Andere Wijn” has hugely expanded their Georgian range.
It started with a seemingly innocent question from Oscar Quevedo: “Simon, do you know how to make an orange wine?”. Oscar isn’t stupid of course, he knew damn well I’d have something to say on the subject. We were sat in the tasting room at Quevedo, a port and still wine producer in the Cima Corgo […]
There are a small number of winemakers out there who defy any attempt at categorisation, apart from superlatives. Elisabetta Foradori is one. She’s the darling of the Italian biodynamic wine movement, an early convert to amphorae, and a peerless exponent of long skin maceration for white wines. But it feels clumsy to describe Foradori’s output with such limiting terms and techniques.
This is Grüner Veltliner, but not as you know it. Martin Diwald fermented it in open plastic tubs, on its skins for 7 days. The result – Zündstoff – was destined for a blend, but turned out to be so delicious that it’s been bottled in its own right.
I’ve featured wines from several of the Schmecke das Leben producers in this series, but not Tauss until now. Roland and Alice Tauss are perhaps the least well known winery in the group, partly due to their very small size – there’s a mere 6 hectares of vines at their bucolic estate in Southern Styria.
The spiritual and traditional nub of Georgian winemaking is the qvevri – a clay, amphora like vessel buried in the ground and described by Josko Gravner as “a womb for the wine”. Wellmade qvevri white wines can be revelatory in their freshness, intensity and uniqueness. Qvevris have become hip, and producers all over the globe are buying them up. But sometimes you need to go back to the source, to find a winemaker who really knows how to make the style sing. Gogi Dakishvili is just such a chap – head winemaker at Schuchmann estate in Kakheti, Georgia.
Sandi Skerk must have one of the most idyllically sited vineyards in Friuli, if not the world. Grassed terraces curve gently around the contours of the Carso hills, and lead your eye out towards the Adriatic coast. I’m profoundly happy to be standing by his albarello-pruned Vitovska vines, almost four years to the day after a previous eye-opening visit in 2011. Sandi is of course the same as ever – gentle, rather shy, yet somehow dogmatic and politely forceful when he needs to be.
Definitions are tricky things – often cumbersome, frequently inconvenient, sometimes merely hard to pin down. By way of example, I’m slowly refining my personal reference point for what constitutes orange wine and what doesn’t – particularly fraught, as there’s nothing in the way of a legal definition, and indeed the term was coined as recently as 2004, by wine importer David Harvey.
For Josip Brkić, every year is an experiment – “Sometimes I bottle them, sometimes I don’t”, he tells me as we talk in his rather well appointed tasting room in central Čitluk (a winemaking town in Bosnia & Herzogovina’s Mostar region).
Mjeseċąr is one that made the grade. Translated as “Moonwalker”, the name is a homage to Brkić’s conversion to biodynamic farming. It’s both a sensitive interpretation of the region’s indigenous Žilavka grape variety, and a successful “orange wine”.
I’ve heard many stories about why winemakers have returned to traditional skin maceration for white wines – or why they were inspired to experiment with the style. But Martin Arndorfer’s is quite unique: “It was actually my Danish importer who suggested I start making an orange wine – his clients were demanding the style, and he felt it could work well with the terroir and the grape varieties we have here”.