Orange wine has the potential to be great if handled with care. If you’re unfamiliar with orange wines or have had a bad experience with some of the clumsy examples on the market, this is the one to try.
Orange wines are made from white grapes. But unlike white wines in which the juice is pulled off the skins after pressing, orange wine is allowed to rest on the skins, often for several months, extracting compounds similar to red wines, hence the orange hue and tannin-induced textures that are giving some contemporary wine geeks epiphanies and ecstasies. The best orange wines I tasted on my trip to Italy and Slovenia last summer were from Ribolla Gialla grapes grown in vineyards near the border town of Gorezia. That is where Gravner is located. Gravner is the gold standard of orange wine gaining high scores from a variety of critics. The accolades are wholly deserved.
The wine shows a beautiful copper hue with a glowing orange rim. It exudes aromas of apple, apricot and coriander highlighted by orange zest, subtle mushroom, and a light touch of intriguing spirit-infused wood notes. The complex nose continually throws new aromas, hay and ginger, as it sits in the glass.
Anchored by the bristly textures from skin contact, the palate has a supple viscosity yet remains fresh and vibrant 11 years after the vintage date. The wine sneaks up on you. Light and elegant as it opens, it gains volume at midpalate marching forward with that serrated mouthfeel cosseted by a halo of fresh mineral water even as it launches high-toned, dried orange peel and floral notes. The finish is very long and meandering showing dried apricot, then sherry notes and finally salinity at terminus.
There is great oscillating tension between the hi-toned fruit amped up by searing acidity and the textured foundation that makes this a thoroughly exciting wine.
Both atmospheric and earthy, it combines mystical exoticism with relentless friction and drive, resonating with Peter Gabriel’s “I Have the Touch” from Security one of the finest rock albums ever made.
The technical notes are fascinating: Legendary winemaker Josko Gravner ferments the wine in amphorae buried in the ground where the wine remains on the skins for 6 months after completing malolactic fermentation. The wine is then racked off the lees and returned to the amphorae where it remains for an additional 5 months after which its placed in large Slovenia oak barrels for 5 years. Unfined, unfiltered, and native yeasts only with some sulfur added during racking and at bottling. In 2008 the grapes had a touch of botrytis.
Price: $80 (Imported by Rosenthal)