Tasting orange wines with Hugh Johnson

I’m not sure that I have heroes anymore – and those I once had were certainly not wine writers. That said, if I did, and if they were, Hugh Johnson OBE would be a candidate. Several of his books are on my shelf, and his writings have accompanied my entire journey into wine over the last 25 […]

Year zero at Radikon – Ribolla Gialla 1995

“The really big change was when I tasted the wine. It was something completely new, totally different and exciting. It made me crazy, just tasting it.”

This is how Stanko Radikon describes the life changing moment in 1995 which prompted him to change the family’s entire wine production to what we now know and love as “orange wines”.

Prinčič and the peronospera: A fable

You can tell a great winemaker not by what they produce in a good year, but by what they pull together from a catastrophic one. And it didn’t get much worse than Dario Prinčič’s 2008 vintage, where some 90% of his harvest was infected with Peronospora (downy mildew). Prinčič salvaged a pitiful amount of grapes, blended the entire output together and made a one off – the aptly named “Favola”, meaning fable or legend.

Le Due Terre – Sacrisassi Bianco 2013

It’s starting to become a theme in this series – edge cases which are not really orange wines. Take the sole white wine from microscopic but world reknowned Le Due Terre, in Friuli Colli Orientali. A blend of Friulano with 30% Ribolla Gialla, it has 10-12 days of skin contact, and is spontaneously fermented without temperature control. Yet it definitely doesn’t fit the “orange wine” moniker in a stylistic sense.

A new discovery at the Orange Wine Festival – Erzetič Amphora Belo 2011

This autumn’s Orange wine festival (Vienna edition) was once again a busy, joyful occasion with some 80 producers from 9 countries, and 500 or more enthusiastic tasters. Many great producers were in the room, but one new discovery wowed me enough to want to share it here. Erzetič is a long established winery in Goriška Brda (effectively the Slovenian part of Friuli Collio), with 5ha of vines. Andrej Erzetič, the youngest member of the family involved in production, told me winemaking here can be traced back to 1721.

A maceration masterclass at Il Carpino – Ribolla Gialla 2011

If you want to have a masterclass in how skin contact affects white wines, there’s probably no better place than Franco and Anna Sosol’s tasting room. Il Carpino is their 17ha estate, situated on the same winding hill road as Radikon and Gravner, in Friuli Collio.

Burja Estate – Selection Bela 2010

Last week’s wine was definitely an edge case, with only two days of maceration, yet utterly inhabiting the “orange wine” end of the flavour spectrum. Burja is another. Primož Lavrenčič’s 7.4 hectares are situated in the stunning Vipava valley, about 40 km east of the Italian border.

An extreme Ribolla Gialla from Renato Keber

Keber is typical of many small producers in Friuli Collio, in producing a range varying from the more conventional fresh, fruity varietal wines, to the more traditional. Keber’s Ribolla Gialla Extreme is a nod to the long skin maceration technique that has been embedded in Friuli’s wine traditions for centuries.

Orange weekly: Guerila – Rebula 2010

Guerila’s Rebula 2010 is restrained and pure on the nose, with attractive honeyed notes.

Rebula is the Slovenian alias for Friuli Collio’s Ribolla Gialla, and there’s no mistaking the characteristic chewiness which is this variety’s calling card. At least if you leave it on the skins for 14 days, as here. If that sounds scary, it’s not at all – the structure of this wine is accessible and refined.

Orange weekly: La Castellada – Ribolla Gialla 2009

This 2009 Ribolla Gialla shows absolute mastery of Oslavia’s cherished variety and the extended skin maceration technique which is increasingly associated with this village.

Brothers Niccolò & Giorgio Bensa started bottling wine at this estate in Oslavia, Friuli Collio in 1985 – their reputation has built impressively ever since. Niccolò’s sons Stefano and Matteo are now involved too. The Bensas were part of the “Gravner group” during the late 1990s, which was so pivotal in reintroducing the traditional methods of extended skin contact and wild yeast ferments.