How many things have passed by, and then became new again by some re-inventor that thought “Hey, this was so cool we need to show the world this thing again.”? This happens over and over again, like the swinging of a pendulum. Think about music styles, “retro” fads, and clothing styles. Did any of you ladies ever think that banana purses would come back in style? They look funky cool but really, how do you organize a banana purse? It was extremely frustrating, but you just had to have one.
Sometimes the pendulum takes a while. Reaching back around 8,000 years to the country of Georgia, there is this crazy kind of fermentation, for white grapes, in this clay pot as tall as a person. The resulting wine would be amber or orange in color. And apparently, in the 2000s, this method of wine making had a resurgence. It was the result of wine drinkers wanting to know what chemicals were being used in the production of wine, starting from the vineyard and all the fungicides that are hurting the environment. Natural wine started to become a thing. Vineyards across the globe made efforts to abide by biodynamic and organic ideology, whether they got the certification, or just did the practices. This meant the potential for cloudy wine, like pet-nats, was acceptable.
The reason for orange wine so long ago was to safeguard white wines from spoilage, for a longer period of time. The things that give wine age-ablity are tannins, acid, alcohol, and sugar, which, coincidentally, all are attributes of body. Acid, the potential for high sugar, and resulting potential for high alcohol do exist in many white varietals. Tannins in a wine are the result of either wood aging (which is the bigger case for white wines) or maceration of the skins in must (grape juice mixed with pulp, seeds, stems, and other precipitates). In the production of amber wines, maceration of the skins starts before fermentation and lasts well after fermentation causing the wine to stain. In red wine production, the skins are added to the juice to give the wine color which is accelerated when the juice starts fermenting. The same is true for these amber wines where the skins color the wine, amber or orange as we call them. The skin also introduces tannins to the white wine during and after fermentation, rather than before.
Do we need this now? We have stainless steel tanks for fermentation. We have fining and filtering machines and sterilized bottles and corks. Why would producing white wine in a red format (orange wine) be a thing? As mentioned above, there had been a push for natural wine. But there are other pressures. The wine industry has peaked, and in some places of the world, is starting to slip in sales. Things like wine cocktails are becoming more popular as well as lower-alcohol wines. But to potentially slow down the slippage is to present something completely new, or extremely old. Orange wine?
The wine maker from Vinoterra, Gogi Dakishvili, is on parallel with our own Gabrielle Rausse here in Virginia. As we call Gabrielle the modern-day father of Virginia winemaking, Gogi is the unmatched expert in the use of qvevri (pronounced KWEH-vree) in Georgia. Gogi has taken his generations of knowledge and helped other wineries in his country with the techniques of producing orange wines. He is a world advocate for his country’s wine and wine-making practices. Gogi has thus influenced Italy, Slovenia, Greece, Portugal, California, France, South Africa, Australia, and other regions to produce wine this way.
This week you get a treat as we are sampling 2019 Schuchman Vinoterra made with Rkatsiteli from Kakheti, Georgia which was made by Gogi. It is made from 100 percent Rkatsiteli, which is a white wine grape native to Georgia dating back a millennia. It boasts of a light nose, and hints of apple and pear profile, with vibrant acidity. On the palate are flavors of honeyed quince fruit and tahini-like nuttiness. It’s impressively fresh and tense until the finish, when the spiced mead-like earthy notes begin to weigh the wine down, and it has light, grippy tannins. Food pairing ideas include grilled pork with pomegranate reduction and fish.
Rkatsiteli is complex and it captivates wine enthusiasts. This grape's versatility allows for the production of a wide array of wines, from dry table wines to traditional qvevri wines, fermented and aged in clay vessels buried underground. Rkatsiteli's resilience in challenging climates and its cultural significance in Georgian winemaking make it a grape of both historical and contemporary importance. As its recognition grows on the international wine stage, Rkatsiteli has the potential to further elevate Georgia's status as a wine-producing region of note.
Similar to the Vinoterra, we will also be sampling 2021 Teleda Orgo Dilao Amber Dry Rkatsiteli Mtsvane from Kakheti, Georgia. Mtsvane is characterized by hints of vineyard peach, fruit tree blossoms, and mineral overtones. It brings an added layer of florals and complexity to the Rkatsiteli-Mtsvane blend.
When producing orange wine, winemakers seek grape varieties with certain key characteristics that enhance the final product's distinctiveness. Thicker skins are favored for their higher phenolic content, which contributes to the wine's color, texture, and tannin structure during extended skin contact. Grapes with naturally high acidity are chosen to balance the tannins, provide freshness, and counteract oxidation during the process. Complex aromatic profiles, including floral, herbal, and spicy notes, add depth to the wine as these characteristics intensify through maceration. Resistance to oxidation, a balanced tannin structure, ample sugar content for fermentation, even ripening, and regional suitability all play pivotal roles in crafting exceptional orange wines that showcase the grape's potential while embracing the unique techniques of the winemaking process.
The third and fourth wines this week both have a laundry list of varietals blended together that are great examples of what orange wines can be. First is the 2021 Cramele Recas Amber Natural Wine Trocken from Romania. It lists 43 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 24 percent Tamaioasa Romaneasca, 18.5 percent Feteasca Alba, and 6.5 percent Chardonnay. This one was produced in a stainless steel tank, so it has crisp flavors and aromas of mélange of quince, Williams pear, peach, orange peal, lemon, slightly earthy, and honey. Furthering on the palate are apple, melon, candied ginger, cinnamon bark, mushroom, petrol, with light oxidative notes. Second is the 2020 Mil Historias Manchuela Amber Blend from La Manchua, Spain. It lists White Grenache, Grey Grenache, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. This one was produced in a qvevri. It displays aromas of fruit cup, pear, ginger, orange rind, honey, honeysuckle with a touch of oxidation.
Can you find orange wines in Virginia? The Virginia Vino Organization says that King Family, Barrel Oak Winery, Horton Vineyards, North Gate Vineyard, Stinton, and Williamsburg Winery all produce Rkatsiteli! Happy hunting in your own backyard.