WineMason is an Irish wine importer run by husband and wife team Ben Mason and Barbara Boyle MW. They specialise in wines from Germany, Portugal and Austria, but their expanding portfolio now encompasses France, South Africa, Spain and Italy.
Here are a pair of outstanding wines from the Languedoc that I tried for the first time earlier this year:
Domaine Turner Pageot “Le Blanc” Coteaux du Languedoc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €23, though currently only in restaurants)
At first the name of this producer might mislead you in to saying “Turner” with French pronunciation, just like Palmer of Margaux, but in fact it is the surname of anglophone Karen Turner, the Australian lady who is half of this partnership. The other half is her other half, Frenchman Emmanuel Pageot. After over ten years of making wine around the world, they set up a domaine together in the Languedoc of just 3.5 hectares, now expanded to 10 Ha. These 10 Ha are split over 17 different parcels, mainly facing north or north west (which makes sense in these southerly latitudes. Viticulture is biodynamic – they even feature quotations from Rudolf Steiner on their website.
Le Blanc is a blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, though the latter punches above its weight due to 30 days of fermentation on skins to extract as many varietal aromas as possible. This wine therefore gives an introduction to the orange wine category. It’s quite full bodied for a white and combines stone fruit (apricot, peach) with nuts, beeswax and tropical fruits. A very impressive wine.
Domaine Turner Pageot “Les Choix” Vin de France 2014 (13.5%, RRP €39, though currently only in restaurants)
If Le Blanc was an introduction into orange wine, then Les Choix is at the forefront. This is 100% Marsanne from steep north – north-west slopes, fermented in whole bunches. The juice spends five weeks being macerated on the skins, including regular pigeages(punching down the floating cap of solids) and wild yeast fermentation is not temperature controlled – this helps to bring the funk!
Perhaps showing the power of suggestion, I did imagine some orange notes when tasting this orange wine – and what a great ambassador for the category it is! It has texture and tannin but fruit too – an incredibly complex wine that deserves serious consideration and contemplation. Orange wine is still something of a rarity, but wines like this show what they can do; they really do belong in their own category beside red, white and rosé!
Being a bit of a geek (in wine, but other things as well) and possibly with a few ADHD tendencies, I’m a sucker for patterns and lists. On my recent holiday in Portugal I started jotting down the different colours associated with wine, whether often used in descriptions, grape names or something else, and came up with A LIST.
Now, this is only from my own thoughts, so I’ve very happy to add any suggestions that you may have (leave a comment or send a Twitter message).
And did I mention I’m partially colourblind? That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…
So, in alphabetical order…
A WSET term for a deep dark gold colour, often apt for aged / oaked / sweet wines.
Georgian Amber Wine is made in the traditional way in clay pots (a bit like amphorae) called Quevris which are buried underground.
As a general rule, the grapes that make red wine are black, not red.
Some always have black as part of their name – e.g. Pinot Noir – where there are different versions of the grape in different colours.
Some black grapes don’t usually need the suffix “Noir” as they are far better known than their siblings, unless a comparison is being made – e.g. Grenache is assumed to be the black version (as opposed to Blanc or Gris), but sometimes it is annotated as Grenache Noir.
The famous Black wine of Cahors which is a deep, dark, opaque Malbec blend.
The definition of Black Wine according to the motto of the Domaine Le Bout du Lieu: “If you can see your fingers through the glass, it’s not a Cahors.”
Pinot Meunier is sometimes known as Schwarzriesling – literally “Black Riesling” – in Germany!
Blau is of course German for “blue”, so this variety commonly found in Austria is a blue Frankish grape, evoking Charlemagne and his empire.
In Hungary the grape is known as Kékfrankos, which has the same literal meaning but sounds like a Greek ailment.
A term used to describe Californian rosé, especially the sweetish stuff made from Zinfandel.
What any self-respecting wino does when drinking the above wine (miaow!)
Obviously a shade of red, it’s usually connected to older red wines
For some reason Burgundy as a colour only ever refers to the region’s red rather than white wines.
Quite well established as a colour outside of the wine world…I bet few garment wearers think of Pinot Noir…
The oft litigious organisation that represents Champagne, the CIVC, don’t like Champagne being used as a colour when not directly connected to one of their member’s products.
However, it’s probably too late, the cat is out of the bag for describing a silvery-goldy colour – and to be honest, should they really complain if it’s an Aston Martin?
The well known term for red Bordeaux wine.
However, the term actually originates from Clairette, a dark rosé style wine still made in Bordeaux (and was actually how most Bordeaux looked back in the day).
Now often used to mean wine- (or blood-) coloured.
A WSET approved term for a mid shade of red, in between Ruby (another gemstone) and Tawny.
Mature and / or sweet white wine is often described as gold, particularly Tokaji.
Burgundy’s heartland subregion of the Côte d’Or is literally the “Slope of Gold”.
While “green wine” might not sound that pleasant a concept, it is of course the literal translation of Vinho Verde from northern Portugal.
By extension, used as a term for certain flavours which either invoke youth or the taste of something green (e.g. asparagus in Sauvignon Blanc)
Mid coloured grapes such as Pinot Gris (yay!) or the Italian equivalent Pinot Grigio (boo!)
Vin Gris (literally “Grey Wine”) is the term used for a white(ish) wine made from black grapes.
Often has a little more colour than a Blanc de Noirs, e.g. the Gamay-based AOC Côtes de Toul from Lorraine.
Quite a trendy type of wine at the moment, basically making a wine from white grapes using red wine methods, particularly lots of contact between the juice and the skins – different but interesting.
Orange Muscat is a variant of the ancient but popular Muscat family
Also a wine growing town in New South Wales, Australia, whose symbol is an apple – go figure!
In fairness, orchard regions are often good for making wine.
David Bird (author of Understanding Wine Technology) makes a valid point asking why we use the term rosé in English when we say red and white quite happily instead of rouge and blanc.
While reading a book on Port I came across a new colour category of grape: Roxo
Many grapes – and actually many wines – look quite purple, but Portugal is the first country I have seen to actually have a recognised term for it.
Obviously the huge category of red wine as a whole.
Tinta / Tinto, the Portuguese and Spanish words for red (when applied to wine) is used for many grape varieties and their pseudonyms, including Tinto Aragon and Tinta Cão.
One of the few grapes in French to have red in its name is Rouge du Pays, also known as Cornalin du Valais or Cornalin.
However, without Red Wine would faux-reggae band UB40 have been so popular? Everything has its downsides…
A bright shade of red, usually signifying a young wine.
A style of Port, often the least expensive, bottle young and so retains a bright red colour.
The grape Ruby Cabernet is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, though usually included in cheap fruity blends.
A light shade of red, tending to brown, usually signifying an older but not necessarily fully mature wine
A style of Port which has usually been aged in wood rather than bottle, with colour fading over time.
White wine, of course, which covers a multitude of grapes and styles
White grapes (well many of them are of course more green than white) particularly those whose name includes white (in English or any other language) to distinguish them from darker coloured siblings, e.g. Pinot Blanc / Pinot Bianco / Weissburgunder.
Of course the Jura’s famous “Vin Jaune” (literally “yellow wine”) leaps to mind here.
Ribolla Gialla (thanks Jim) is the yellow version of Ribolla, generally found in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy and over the border into Slovenia.
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!