A pair of funky “whites” from the Quintessential wines tasting earlier this year:
Pierluigi Zampaglione Don Chisciotte Fiano 2015 (12.5%, RRP €26.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)
This actual colour of this wine is why these wines are described as “whites” and not whites – it’s orange, which is a whole new category and kettle of fish. In simple terms, orange wines are made with white grapes but using red wine instead of white wine production methods – the major difference of course being the time that the juice has in contact with the skins (where the colour comes from). It’s also a naturalwine as the grapes are farmed organically, wild yeast is used and intervention during winemaking is minimal.
Pier Luigi Zampaglione makes this wine from a 2 hectare vineyard at 800 metres above sea-level in Campania – the altitude results in high acidity levels which help with ageing and make for a fresh wine. The number of days of skin contact varies from year to year depending on the quality and style of the grapes harvested – in some years it can be apparently as long as 20 days (2011) but was 6 days for the 2016 vintage.
Ignoring its origins for a moment, this is just a thoroughly enjoyable wine. It’s not the most extreme orange wine around so it would serve as a great introduction. The key flavours for me were almond and ginger biscuits!
If the Fiano above would serve as a moderate example of a natural, orange wine then this is a no-holds-barred full-on example. Again it’s a 100% varietal, but this time with Catalonia’s Xarel-lo, better known as one of the three traditional Cava grapes. As before the grapes are grown organically, but also biodynamically; wild yeast are used for fermentation and there is skin contact, but much more than in the A Pèl. With no fining or filtration the wine ends up somewhat cloudy in the bottle.
Quintessential Wines are known for having some unusual wines in their portfolio and I would suggest that this is the most left-field of the lot! Aromas and flavours are not so much about the grape or the soil, but more about the natural microbial environment. It’s definitely not for everyone but it really brings the funk and so deserves to be tried.
Have you ever wondered why white wine varies in colour?
Some are almost water white, while others can be lemon though to golden amber. Surely there must be somelogic to this?
Of course there is, but there are lots of inter-related factors which affect the colour of white wines. Let’s have a look at them one by one. Hold on to your hats, this might get a bit geeky by the end…
More specifically maturation in new(er) small(er) oak barrels adds colour. Certain types of wine are more likely to be barrel aged – Californian Chardonnays, for example – so much so, in fact, that you can see the difference before your nose gets anywhere near the glass.
The sweeter a wine is, the darker it will generally be. If you take a dessert wine (such as Hungary’s famous Tokaji) which comes in varying levels of sweetness, the depth of colour is a good guide to the level of residual sugar.
In fact, even on the basis of a mobile phone snap on twitter, I’ve had people make a good guess as to the number of Puttonyos* of a Tokaji – totes amazeballs, as the kids say nowadays.
(* putts for short, refers to the number of buckets of sweet grape paste added to a vat of fermenting wine)
As a general truism, red wine gets paler with age and white wines get darker. An illustration: the unique red and white wines of Chateau Musar in Lebanon move closer and closer in appearance as they mature in bottle. Even Champagne goes golden when mature.
If you’ve got a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that looks quite golden though a clear glass bottle, the chances are that it is past its best…
This factor is the one that most people would guess at. Some white grapes have a slightly darker juice than others which affects what you see in your glass. Good examples of this from my favoured region of Alsace are Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.
The Spanish region of Rueda is known for its excellent yet inexpensive whites made from the fairly clear Verdejo grape, but wines of the same vintage do vary in hue. This is down to a certain proportion of Viura in the blend, a permitted grape in Rueda and Rioja plus Catalonia under the name Macabeo. So there you go!
Oxygen is both the friend and the enemy of all wine, red, white and all the diverse colours in-between.
a) Oxidised– when exposed to too much oxygen white wines go darker in hue quite quickly. When it happens this can be known as premature oxidation, or premox for short, and has spoiled many a white Burgundy lover’s treasures.
b) Oxidative – this descriptor is used when a wine is deliberately exposed to oxygen, for example with traditional white Rioja. This style of wine will generally be darker than one in a non-oxidative style.
6. Skin contact
The biggest fundamental difference between red and white wines is not the colour of the juice when grapes are pressed – with some exceptions, the juice is normally clear. The difference in colour is down to the time that the juice for red wines has in contact with the skins so that colour, flavour and tannin is leached out.
A very short time gives a rosé, an extended period can give an opaque, dense looking wine.
If you use the red wine approach with white grapes you get….orange wine! This is actually a very ancient method of wine making that has become trendy again. It’s arguable that, rather than being a darker type of white wine, orange is actually its own class of wine by itself.
This is a fancy French term for stirring with a stick (which sounds somewhat less glamourous). After fermentation some styles of white wine are left to stand on their lees, i.e. the spent yeast cells which have turned sugar into alcohol. It is particularly useful in Burgundy where it gives a certain creaminess to Chardonnay.
Wines made with lees contact tend to be markedly paler than those fermented in stainless steel and then transferred to cask for barrel maturation because darker pigments are absorbed by the lees.
White wine colour is also affected by the wine’s levels of pH and the amount of acid (usually given as the equivalent in grams of tartaric acid for the chemists out there). Very simply, more acidity leads to paler white wines.
As part of the modern winemaking process, wines are usually filtered before bottling to remove any tiny particles which might give them a cloudy appearance. It depends on the substance used, but some such as charcoal will lighten a wine as tiny coloured particles (as well as some of the flavour) are removed.
Sulphur occurs naturally in wine, which is why pretty much every bottle in the shop has the caution “Contains Sulphites”. Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is added as a preservative agent at different parts of the wine-making process, and in different amounts. There is a growing movements among artisan and “Natural” winemakers to reduce or even eliminate these additions.
Particularly in tandem with a low pH (i.e. high acidity), high SO2 concentration has a bleaching effect and removes colour from wine.
Of course, it’s difficult to see the effect in isolation as those producers who don’t add sulphur are often the same ones who allow skin contact…
Of course, these factors don’t act in isolation, and it might be several of them in concert which apply to a particular wine. For example, a traditional white Rioja is likely to be made from Viura, barrel matured and made in an oxidative style. Add a few years in the cellar then you will have quite an amber wine.
It’s not possible to point to any of these factors individually, but we can have a damned good guess!
Grüner Veltliner became the go-to wine for New York’s sommeliers in the late 1990s because it is an accommodating wine to pair with so many different types of food – fish, vegetables, white meat and even some red meat. It can age beautifully and takes on a texture and richness than is comparable to the great whites of the Côte d’Or. With a somewhat intimidating Germanic name it was given the sobriquet “Grü-Vee” or “Groovy” – and I just can’t but help think of Austin Powers when I hear that!
Since the 90s Grüner has fallen out of fashion somewhat in the big apple, but this doesn’t really upset the producers in its homeland of Austria as they can sell as much as they produce in the domestic market. It accounts for around a third of all vineyard plantings in Austria and is particularly valued given its status as the signature variety of the country. Riesling can produce profound wines in Austria, perhaps even more than Grüner, but Austrians don’t have the same sense of ownership (after all, the Germans and Alsatians have something of a claim to Riesling as well!)
The name actually means Green grape from Veltlin, which is in Lombardy. In the days before passport controls when borders were fluid it was difficult to say where was Germanic and where was Italic. Indeed a village called Tramin in the northern Italian region South Tyrol is thought to have given its name to the grape Traminer which is one of the parents of Grüner Veltliner. The white version of Traminer is also important as Savagnin in the Jura, and the pink version is also known as Klevener when grown in the northern Alsace village of Heiligenstein. A further mutation and it became Gewürztraminer “Spicy Traminer” – even more expressive.
The other parent of Grüner is the almost-extinct St. Georgener-Rebe which is just holding on in the village of Sankt Georgen am Leithagebirge in the Burgenland. If you can find a bottle of that you are a true wine geek!
Outside the Eastern Kingdom
Grüner is known as Veltlinske Zelené in Slovakia where it is the most widely planted grape. It also flourishes in the Czech Republic and just over the border from Austria into Italy. Germany,Hungary and Bulgaria also have a small amount planted.
In the New World it also has a foothold in the cooler regions of the USA (Finger Lakes, Oregon…), Australia (Adelaide Hills), New Zealand (Gisbourne, Marlborough) and Canada (Okanagan Valley, BC).
Grüner often does best on loess– silt, sand and a bit of clay mixed together. Other sites with loam tend to produce more full-bodied The sunny days and cool nights of Austrian summers are perfect for ripening with enough sugar and flavour but maintaining lively acidity.
So, is now the time to say “Anti-Freeze”?
For those (like me) old enough to remember, Austrian wine was enveloped in an adulteration scandal in 1985. Though the facts were slightly misconstrued, the damage stuck and the Austrian wine industry all but collapsed.
When trying to rebuild out of the scandal, super-tough regulations were announced so that no-one could doubt the quality of the product. Like many other wine producing areas, Austria set up an “Appellation Contrôlée” type system, using the Latin “Districtus Austriae Controllatus” or DAC for short. Interestingly (for geeks like me), instead of using Brix or Oechsle as measures of must weight (and therefore potential alcohol), the common measure in Austria is KMW. That’s one for the memory bank.
The drawback of having a DAC for a region is that wines must be made in an prescribed style to carry the name, otherwise they don’t have the right to use their home region’s name at all. This is one of the regions why the Wachau has stuck to its own classification system:
Steinfeder for wines up to 11.5% alcohol level
Federspiel for wines between 11.5–12.5%
Smaragd must have a minimum of 12.5%
The D6 Wine Club Grüner Veltliner Tasting at Wine Workshop
And so to the event that prompted this post in the first place – a tasting at Dublin’s newest wine shop, The Wine Workshop, focused solely on “Austria’s Golden Child”. Our host(ess)-with-the-most(ess) Morgan Vanderkam will be writing her own blog on the event sometime soon, so I will link into that when published.
Ingrid Groiss Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel DAC 2013
Ingrid Groiss is a talented and passionate young winemaker from the Weinviertel. The Hare on the label represents the fertility of the land and harmony with Mother Nature (yeah OK, it does sound a bit hippyish!) Her vineyards are located in the Pulkautal at Haugsdorf and at Fahndorf near Ziersdorf – google maps is your friend! – and mainly have loess soils.
Weinviertel has a DAC designation for white wine only, and currently only for Grüner Veltliner. It was the first DAC to be created in 2003, effective for the 2002 vintage and onwards. This example has the secondary designation Klassik, which means it is made in a clean, un-oaked style with no botrytis apparent. If you like Alsace Riesling, give this a try.
Birgit Eichinger is another star from Kamptal. This is a single vineyard wine – that vineyard being Wechselberg. Although this is technically dry (2.1g/L of RS) it would still be a good match for spicy dishes – the fruit flavours make it taste sweeter than it actually is.
Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner “Tradition” Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
Schloss Gobelsburg is a major producer in Kamptal, and thankfully (given the quality) it appears on several wine merchants’ shelves in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere.
This “Tradition” is a clean, racy example that starts to show plenty of fruit a little while after being poured, with just a little of Grüner’s signature white pepper on the finish.
Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
This was probably my favourite wine of the tasting! Tasted blind I might have guessed an an Alsace Pinot Gris – it has the same oily, rich texture. Acidity isn’t forgotten, there’s a streak running through the middle of the richness that keeps it fresh and balanced.
If you were paying attention above you will see that this is the biggest, boldest type of Wachau wine. From a single vineyard site, it is made in a fruit forward style but is robust enough to even pair with beef. Fermented to dry, it can reach 14.0% abv – that’s pretty robust in a white wine!
Let’s tackle Natural first: The vineyard is certified Biodynamic and the wine is made with as little modern technology and intervention as possible. Zero sulphur is added at any stage, even bottling.
And Orange? Red wine is generally made with black grapes, and white wine is generally made with green grapes – in a different way, mainly in that the juice is pressed out of the skins then taken off quickly before colour and tannin leach into the juice. Now imagine green grapes given the red wine process – then you have orange wine! This has more colour than a typical white and noticeable tannin.
It’s not for everyone, but if you want to step out onto the ledge of wine’s high-rise, here it is!