Monday, August 3, 2009

Orange Wines, La Cucina di Sardegna at La Ciccia - PT. 1

This is the first in a two part post about a recent orange wine tasting held last week. As I don't have many good pictures of the evening and try not to subject you to too many in-depth wine notes at once, I'm dividing this post into two. Enjoy.

So, how'd I arrive at the 'Clockwork of Orange' tasting? It comes back to two great connectors of people: Cory Cartwright's insightful, innovative 31 Days of Natural Wine series on his blog Saignee, and San Francisco natural wine merchant/bar Terroir through which I finally met Slaton, a cool, knowledgeable wine drinker who occasionally comments on this and other blogs. He invited me to tonight's west coast version of Levi D's New York City orange wine tasting, and I was all in.

Here's how it went.

Before we begin, though, a brief definition of 'orange wine' is probably in order. Wine made from a grape traditionally used for white wine production, which when fermented with extended skin contact with the juice (as is the case for red wines, anywhere from 15 days to eight months), obtains a darker color than is usual for white wine, an appearance which may be a clear or cloudy amber, occasionally with reddish glints. Sometimes this wine is aged for an extended period of time in clay amphorae. It may likely contain the barest minimum of added sulphites, or as in the wines from Stanislaus Radikon or Franck Cornelissen, none at all.

We starting the evening with a relatively young, fresh white wine, an 06 vermentino from 6 Mura, and enjoyed a few terrific appetizers, my favorite being a spicy, calamari based seafood sautee, which had some terrific olive oil which I think really elevated the level of this dish. Paper thin, delicate slices of smoked raw tuna were also quite good, as were the sardines if you're into strong, oceanic/fishy flavors.

On to the orange wines. For each of these I will include personal tasting note, as well as some winemaking notes provided by event organizer Slaton L.

Flight 1, "California does Zin, California does chard, but can California do orange?"

1. Frank Cornelissen 2006 "MunJebel 3 Bianco," Sicilia IGT
Personal notes - Controversial to say the least. This is wine from someone who is said to produce the most natural wines in the world. Acetyl, dirty, and uniformly disliked by the crowd, this was my least favorite wine of the evening. It may well be delicious when drunk close to his vineyards around Mt Etna in eastern Sicilia. Maybe, as someone suggested, it gets better after 10 days in the fridge (if that's the case then I certainly didn't see it). But at the moment, this particular bottle tasted like band-aids mixed with cider vinegar -not a good combination.
Wine notes: Carricante, grecanico dorato, coda di volpe. Vinified like a red wine, with long skin-contact.

2. Paolo Bea 2006 "Santa Chiara," Umbria IGT

Personal notes - citric, with orange and sweetened red grapefruit flavors that struck me as direct to the point of simplicity, though the wine did open up nicely and improve with air.
Wine notes - Grechetto, malvasia, chardonnay, sauvignon, garganega. 16 day fermentation on skins, finished in stainless.

3. Monasterio Suore Cistercensi 2007 "Coenobium Rusticum," Lazio IGT

Personal notes - as good a showing of this wine as I can remember. Many other tasters also quite liked the wine. Very distinctive and one of two wines which I fairly easily guessed, probably owing more to the fact that I have drunk it within the past 6 weeks than anything else. Pure, appley and pleasantly tannic on the finish. It showed less bitter chestnut honey than when I had last tasted it, a good thing in my book.
Wine notes - Trebbiano, malvasia, verdicchio, grechetto; 15 day fermentation with
the skins, extended lees contact. Yes, as we all know by now this is harvested by nuns....

4. Movia 2005 "Lunar"

Personal notes - this was my wine of the evening. Cloudy amber hued, the wine showed a good amount of red fruit and fetching oxidative aromas. Also a hint of washed rind, stinky cheese on the nose. A terrific, spicy, cidery balance bolstered by good acidity on the palate makes this a strong bearer of orange style.
Wine notes - Ribolla gialla, 65 yr old vines. Whole grape clusters are placed in barrels. The wine is never pressed off the skins or racked, and after 7 months the free run juice is bottled unfiltered.

5. Cowan Cellars 2008 Sauvignon Blanc "Silver Pines Vineyard," Sonoma Mountain (Barrel Sample)

Personal notes - Indeed this was very SB-like on the nose, with a touch of a grassy quality, which seemed to border on stronger vegetable root aromas with a hint of mintiness as well. It tasted like it has received the least amount of skin contact of this grouping, though it is still fun, bright and not at all boring. Probably the wine that best complemented our seafood as well.
Wine notes - For those of you who know him (and I suspect many of you out there do), Florida Jim makes this wine. Sauvignon blanc. 13 day cold soak with no sulfur, followed by 15 day alcoholic fermentation before pressing off skins. Full malo.

6. Natural Process Alliance 2008 Chardonnay "Skin Fermented," Sonoma Coast

Personal notes - Another wine which I had a pretty good idea of what it was. An interesting twist on New world chardonnay flavors: clean, pure, noticeably riper than its burgundian counterparts, but also a whole lot more textural, balanced and interesting than 99.9% of other California chardonnay. I'd be curious to see what would happen if these guys were to use less ripe grapes and increase the amount of time on the skins.
Wine notes - Chardonnay. 18 days on the skins (entire alcoholic fermentation) w/ 2x daily punchdowns, then pressed off to neutral barrels.

While going through this flight, I devoured a plate of fregula pasta in a sea urchins sauce. Rich, subtly powerful, deeply satisfying flavors and textures made this my favorite dish of the night, and good sustenance to ready me for the second flight.

to be continued....


Florida Jim said...

Pleased to meet you.
As I think as been said by the NYC group that also tasted orange wines recently, too much of a good thing. It made it hard for me to distinguish these wines and I think these are better drunk by themselves with dinner, rather than in flights.
That said, the Risticum was enough to convince me to find some, so the side-by-side worked to some degree.
Thanks for the notes.
Best, Jim

David McDuff said...

Great notes, Joe, and I'm glad to see the wines from Jim and NPA made it into the mix. Just in case you haven't seen it yet, be sure to check out Thor's extensive writeup from Levi's NY event: Adventures in the skin trade.

slaton said...

Thanks Joe, I'm looking forward to part 2.

I agree with Jim's point that these wines are easier to grok on their own.

Just posted my notes @

Looks like I liked the Santa Chiara a little more than you did, and had a harder time getting a handle on the Rusticum.

Joe Manekin said...

Jim - great to meet you as well. Agreed on the difficulty of peer comparison with these orange wines.

David - thanks for reading and sharing Thor's write-up. Have been meaning to catch some notes from the more extensive New York version of this tasting.

Slaton - thanks again for putting this together. Will check your notes out in a little while.

thor iverson said...

The Cornelissen wines sure do divide opinions.

I think there's an emergent consensus that this is not the best way to showcase the qualities of orange wines. On the other hand, it's an excuse to eat sea urchin, which is never a bad thing.

Joe Manekin said...

Thor - Cornelissen divides opinions, I think, partly due to the variation in how it shows. I'd love to try another bottle and suspect that I'd get something totally different out of it.

Next year, maybe less wines, periodically revisited over the course of 10 days.