Branko Čotar has a very straightforward answer for me when I ask when he started using extended skin macerations for his white wines: “I’ve macerated my wines for 40 years – it’s the tradition here (in the Slovenian Kras region)”.
The production methods for Tscheppe’s Erdfass (“earth barrel”), also known as Hirschkäfer (Stag beetle), seem bizarre at first glance. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnary ferments on the skins for two weeks, and is then transferred into a 600 litre oak barrel which is buried in the ground over the winter months. After the winter, the barrel is dug up, the wine continues to mature and is then bottled after 24 months.
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”.
I employ a crude rating system when I’m jotting down tasting notes in the field. A wine gets either no stars (anything from terrible to quite good), one star (very good/excellent), or very rarely two stars (outstanding). 2015’s first two star wine was Josko Renčel’s stunning white blend, simply called “cuvée”.
Skin contact traminers are a bit like London buses – you don’t see one for ages, then all of a sudden, two appear at once. I discovered this Czech beauty from Milan Nestarec at last week’s Raw Fair – always an inspiring event, and a fertile hunting ground for orange wines.
Every week, I select an orange wine (a white wine made with extended skin contact) that grabbed my attention. View the whole series here. There’s a bit of a myth that aromatic white varieties don’t work well with extended skin contact. It is true that non-aromatic varieties like Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio and Malvasia Istriana take
This wine is one of relatively few standard bearers for the extended skin contact revival that’s not from Collio or Slovenian Brda. La Stoppa are based in Emilia Romagna, home to a rich, meaty cuisine and of course Lambrusco. Elena Pantaleoni makes this blend of Malvasia di Candia Aromatic, Ortugo and Trebbiano in honour of the estate’s founder Giancarlo Ageno.
Aleks Klinec is brutally honest when I ask about his decision to switch entirely to traditional long skin maceration in 2005 – making only “orange wines” instead of some conventional white wines which were still in the portfolio: “We lost the entire Slovenian market – but it didn’t matter, because these wines sell well in the UK, Australia, US and so on”.
Josko Gravner and Stanko Radikon, both hailing from Oslavje in north-eastern Friuli, pretty much kickstarted the revival of extended skin contact white wine making, in western Europe (In Georgia it has an unbroken history of 8000 years). For me, this makes uncorking a wine from either producer a special event.
Gravner’s wines are as uncompromising as they are brilliant, produced solely in Georgian qvevris (amphorae) since 2001. This bright amber coloured Breg 2004, a white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling Italico and Pinot Grigio still feels youthful and rather closed.
Valais, Switzerland isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a Georgian qvevri, but Amédée Mathier has no less than 20 of them. Since 2008, his estate Albert Mathier et Fils (he’s the extant “Fils”) has been making two amphora, or rather qvevri matured wines, one white and one red. Sorry, I mean one orange and one red!