Whether you call them “orange wines”, “amber wines” or “skin-contact white wines”, these postmodern wines are here to stay. However, are they going to remain a niche curiosity drunk only by the adventurous or will they break out from the independent wine specialist sector into multiples and even supermarkets? Here are two skin-contact whites which are leading the way.
Mazzei Tenuta Belguardo Codice V Maremma Vermentino 2019
I previously reviewed the “regular” Mazzei Belguardo Vermentino and found it excellent, so I was keen to taste this pull-out-all-the-stops flagship version. To make the best Vermentino they could, Mazzei started with clones from Corsica, the spiritual home and likely origin of the Vermentino grape. Of course they were planted in Maremma on the Tyrrhenian coast as the cooling effect of sea breezes is important for retaining freshness. The vineyard site is 30 to 50 metres above sea level and is orientated south / south-west on predominantly sandy soils.
Harvesting is all by hand but it’s vinification where things start to get really interesting:
- 20% is fermented and aged on the skins in amphorae for nine months
- 30% is fermented and aged on the skins in stainless steel tanks for nine months
- 50% is fermented and aged on fine lees in stainless steel tanks (I presume for nine months)
The construction material and any lining of the amphorae is not specified. After blending back together the wine is bottled and stored for a further six months before release.
If someone had already tasted the regular Vermentino then the Codice V would be quite familiar, though they might feel they had been missing half of the story. The nose shows complex aromas of citrus and stone fruit, with hints of smoke. These elements continue onto the palate where they intertwine with mellow savoury notes and layers of mixed peel and ginger. The finish is fresh and mouth-watering.
- ABV: 13.0%*
- RRP: €33
- Source: Sample
- Stockists: SC Grocer; Martins Off-licence; Clontarf Wines; Sweeneys D3; The Corkscrew; Blackrock Cellar
Gérard Bertrand Orange Gold 2020
I have reviewed Gérard Bertrand‘s wines widely over the years; his impressive range includes whites, rosés and reds from the Languedoc at several different price points, many of which are organic and / or biodynamic. To those colours he has added an orange wine, a homage to Georgian wines of 4,500 years ago. It is a real blend, being made with seven different varieties: Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Mauzac, Muscat and Clairette.
When perfectly ripe, the grapes are hand-picked in whole bunches and transferred to vat without any destemming or crushing, as with many red wines. The grapes then ferment, partially in the normal way and partially carbonicly (where the weight of the grapes causes some to ferment within their skins. After 10 to 15 days the grapes are separated and pressed to extract colour and tannin; this press wine is then added to the existing must in stainless steel tanks to finish fermenting. Finally, the wine is put into used barrels to mature.
In the glass (and in the bottle) this is a vibrant gold colour, and could be easily mistaken for a Sauternes or Tokaji. The nose is complex, with apple blossom, marmalade, apricot jam and pear drops – very enticing. The palate is dry but with fruit sweetness on the mid palate. There’s a real savoury complexity to this wine, and a light saline tang with some tannins on the finish. From one point of view it could be said that the nose and the palate offer entirely different aspects, but that is a truism for orange wines in general. Once expectations are reasonably set I think this is a tasty wine that many would enjoy.
- ABV: 13.0%
- RRP: €21.95
- Source: Sample
- Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie
These wines are quite different, taking different approaches to producing a balanced wine, and a single varietal compared to a blend. Although the number of orange wines available in Ireland is fairly low at the moment it doesn’t mean that any particular wine can represent a whole colour. What they do have in common is that they are both delicious and approachable, while maintaining a savoury character that expands their interest and versatility.
For me the Codice V is the better wine, but of course has a higher price. Due to its fairly widespread availability and lower price I think the Orange Gold is more likely to tempt more casual wine drinkers into trying an orange wine for the first time – but hopefully not the last time!
*Any wine geeks among you may have noticed that the alcohol for this wine is a little higher than the regular Vermentino I reviewed a year ago (13.39% v 12.5% on the respective tech sheets). This is due to vintage variation (2019 v 2018) rather than differences in winemaking; the 2018 vintage of the Codice V also had 12.5% alcohol.