Orange wine

No, it is possible to make wine from oranges – but in this case I mean something different. Orange wine is the ‘fourth wine’ after red, white and rosé. It is the result of treating white-wine grapes like red-wine grapes by fermenting them on their skins. This skin contact gives red wines its colour, tannins, mouthfeel, etc. If we apply the same approach to white grapes, the subsequent wine will often have a distinctly orange or amber colour.

In my wine-drinking life, I’ve probably only tasted a small handful of ‘orange wines’. All of them were Pinot Gris – a grape with a naturally dark red brickish/greyish colour that lends itself to some judicious skin extraction. A good example is Friedrich Becker’s Grauburgunder Kalkmergel, which acquires its vibrant salmon/amber colour from 42 hours of maceration before pressing. However, the skin-on-skin theory also applies to white grapes of a more conventional appearance – like Sylvaner.IMG_20171106_205104_179

Terms of Venery, Sylvaner 2013, Prekmurjie, Slovenia (bottles produced: 900)
Wines of Momentary Destination is the venture behind this wine. In their own words, WMD are a ‘pop-up winemaking collective, making one wine, in one place for one year only’. The result is the ‘Birds&Bats Wine range’, which currently comprises four different wines, most of which are already sold out.

Little did I know, but Slovenia is apparently one of the global epicentres of orange wine production. Uroš Valcl, the winemaker at Murof winery in north-east Slovenia, produced this particular ‘orange’ Sylvaner. Valcl probably would have become a professional basketball player had he not inherited his family’s wine estate.

As you can see from the photo, the wine is either a luscious golden or pale amber colour, depending on your perspective. Highly interesting on the nose. An initial sherry-like whiff, then expressive souk spices and nuts. I also get the impression of innate freshness (acidity) as well as red berry fruit. The sherry-like notes are less redolent of oxidation per se and more of a dried fruit character. Almost quite Christmasy. By day two, notes have emerged that remind me of quince jam and blood orange. Maybe also a hint of squash-ball rubber. Yes, really.

Rich on entry, with a slightly chewy, textural mouthfeel. It’s hard to place the wine in context, given that my practical experience of orange wines is so limited. Nevertheless, this is undeniably quite a powerhouse. The 14 per cent abv is certainly discernable but expresses itself more in terms of potency than any overt heat. Although this is more or less a dry wine, the alcohol also imparts a certain sweetness. On the first day, the wine shows a slightly dried yellow-fruit characteristic combined with a touch of bitterness. The acidic backbone is of medium strength but provides just enough counter-balancing freshness. Tannins are indeed present – not of the furry type, more in terms of a slight bitter twist on the tongue. On the next day, the wine feels less chewy. It also seems drier to me. The dried fruit is less obvious. A hint of chalkiness takes its place. By day three, the wine has become streamlined and easier to drink. I am even inclined to utter the word ‘elegant’. Throughout all three days, the finish is long.

Overall, this is a delicious wine by anyone’s standards. Certainly, it is a Sylvaner unlike all others I have drunk – and it has whetted my appetite for more. It is the type of bottle that would go equally well with salmon fillet on the one hand and a nice juicy steak on the other. This, I am sure, owes much to the skin contact afforded the grapes, which does indeed bring out an additional tactile dimension akin to red wine. Great stuff.20171109_105115

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Mütterle

Pfirmann from the sleepy village of Wollmesheim in the Südpfalz are a winery I’ve been following for a number of years. I tried, and liked, some of their wines on a trip to Prowein in Düsseldorf a number of years back. I still have no idea how I got accreditation for that event – all I said was that I was a translator who blogged about wine in his free time.

Pfir20170710_210831mann, Mütterle, Riesling trocken 2014, Pfalz
Distinct lime on the nose. Like a lime cordial. Then quite a blistering aroma that reminds me of crushed bone or sea shells. Maybe some floral nuances and starfruit too. Noticeably on the slimlined, elegant side for a wine with 13.5 per cent alcohol. But still flavoursome. There is ample inner density and complexity. The lime notes on the nose translate like-for-like onto the palate. Iodine-like mineral water notes and a touch of quince. Keen acidity and very dry. By no means austere. Serious, yes. But not austere. The longer I keep taking sips, the more grip and succulence come to the fore.  Exceedingly moreish and mouthwatering – the contents of the bottle seem to evaporate magically over the course of the evening.

The label looks so cool, it hurts.

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Scherer & Zimmer, Gutedel spontan

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Since leaving Basel at the end of April, my wife and I have been reacclimatising ourselves to everyday UK life. Although we are feeling much more settled five months on, we have no idea what awaits us in the next year or so, let alone the next five years.

Yet whatever happens in the meantime, I can always content myself with ordering the wines from my old hunting ground every so often. A sizeable proportion of my most recent order consisted of Gutedels from Markgräflerland. This was the stand-out bottle:

Felix Scherer & Micha Zimmer, Gutedel ‘spontan’ trocken 2015, Baden
Spontaneously fermented (from the grapes’ own yeasts) in used Burgundian pièces. Bright light yellow with an ever-so-slight reddish hue. Biscuity on the nose, with hints of peanut as well as well-integrated wood. Savoury and yeasty in the mouth. A refreshing lime-like tingle of acidity washes over my palate – unusually so for a Gutedel. Quite concentrated in what is ostensibly a light to medium body. Little fruit to speak of. In my mind’s eye I can visualise crushed dry white stone. The acidity returns to lend elegance on the finish. Made in much the same idiom as Ziereisen’s Steingrüble, I would say. Even the price (12 euros) is quite similar. Like Steingrüble, this represents classic ‘old school’ Gutedel. A very worthwhile handcrafted wine.

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Brenneisen, Läufelberg

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. In my case, it’s our current distance from Markgräflerland – the source of so many underestimated wines. Thankfully, I can still order wines straight from source. Orginally, I ordered three bottles of Dirk Brenneisen’s ‘Himmelreich’. The merchant (Markgräfler Weintheke) were down to their last two bottles, so I received a bottle of their ‘lesser’ Pinot Noir instead, including the resultant price difference. This was no disappointment at all, because – in the interests of full disclosure – I’ve blogged about the wine before.

Dirk Brenne20170906_202921isen, ‘Läufelberg’, Spätburgunder 2011, Baden
Aged for 20 months in used oak barrels, and unfiltered. Ruby in appearance, with a lovely immediate stemminess on a fragrant nose. Almost (rose-)watery, along with hints of strawberries. If you ‘heard’ the aromas as musical notes, they would be the top notes, so to speak: brilliant red light in a glass.

Note that none of my scribbled notes on this wine mentioned the words ‘oak’ or ‘wood’.

Unashamedly sexy and voluptuous on the palate. Medium-bodied at the very most, with oh so rounded tannins. It sounds like a cliché … but it was velvety. A wave of refreshing acidity then takes over, whipping the momentary decadence into shape. Beautiful balance. There is a meagre 0.6 g/l of residual sweetness, but this wine is still so generous. Es ist eine Wonne – a sheer delight. This is a wine that keeps on giving.

I drank the whole bottle over an evening while taking down these scant notes.

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Sven Nieger

More (b20170728_072510one) dry Riesling like this, please.

Sven Nieger, Riesling trocken 2014, Landwein, Baden
Understated straw/light yellow. After decent airing, this smells unerringly of the type of fine lemony salt crust that chefs use to season fish. We’re talking top-quality salt and lemons. It’s a beguiling aroma. Utterly dry on the palate, with heaps of salt as well as lemon, lime, herbs and not a single ounce of fat. The wine’s medium body is at once lithe, steely and electrifying. The acidity is keen but not sharp.

(A slight element of organisational chaos still reigns chez Jones since we moved back to the UK, the upshot of which I have been writing all my wine notes on small pieces of scrap paper. I may have accidently put my scribblings for this wine out with the paper recycling, so these tasting notes are missing something at the end. Suffice to say though that this is exceedingly good for an estate wine.)

Incidentally, Sven Nieger repeatedly fell foul of the tasting panel in Freiburg who are responsible for ensuring that the local wines are ‘typical’ representatives of the Qualitätswein label. They kept rejecting his wines, so he decided to bottle them as Landwein (the equivalent of vin du pays) instead. Earlier this year, he and other colleagues including Hanspeter Ziereisen helped to inaugurate the first-ever Badischer Landweinmarkt in Müllheim.

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Gegen Gerade

The wines of Christoph Hammel first came to my attention through the coverage they were getting on the Facebook discussion group, Hauptsache Wein. This one appealed to me the most on account of its name (and the philosophy behind it).

Hammel & Cie, Rie20170630_201544sling ‘Gegen Gerade’ 2015, Pfalz
Not to be confused with ‘Gegengerade’, the backstraight on an athletics track, ‘Gegen Gerade’ translates literally as ‘against straight’ and roughly as the opposite of ‘straight down the middle’ or ‘straight as a die’ – or, in this case, as the antithesis of the generic and the banal (think ‘run of the mill’ or ‘same old’), a rebellion against the straightjacket or received wisdom of modern winemaking. In practice, Hammel used hand-harvested grapes from his oldest Riesling vines, letting them ferment spontaneously in a 100-year-old wooden cask before leaving the wine to rest a while sur lie. The result is a dry-tasting wine with a very light touch of natural residual sweetness. Wines like this were, by all accounts, much more commonplace a hundred years ago as natural yeast floras are not necessarily as efficient as a cultured yeasts. Though I seem to recall that a debate raged on Facebook not so long ago as to how much residual sweetness the Rieslings of yesteryear actually used to have. The trockenistas insist that Rieslings used to be really quite dry way back when – though the question is how dry. Then again, who cares?

It is safe to say that this wine isn’t bone-dry, but neither does it taste that sweet to my palate. Admittedly, some trockenistas may be a little more ‘RS-sensitive’ than I am.

This wine shows spiciness on the nose, with lime and pineapple expressiveness the order of the day. More spice on the palate. This is highly drinkable. Pineapple again, along with peaches and a slight creaminess that belies the non-bone-dry style. This wine has a good acidic backbone, and is generous but not overly so. To borrow a steak-related phrase, the fruit is still very much à point as opposed to overripe. It might not necessarily be that complex, but it demands attention on account of its naturally pure Riesling personality on the one hand and lip-smacking succulence on the other.

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Köbelin, Grauer Burgunder Kabinett trocken 2016

As guests at the annual winery courtyard fest (or Hoffest) at Weingut Kiefer in Eichstetten back in 2011, we went on a tractor ride through some of the terraced vineyards for which the Kaiserstuhl district is very well known. As we left the village and began ascending the vine-clad foothills, the decidedly 21st-century design of Arndt Köbelin’s new vineyard building caught the eye. Köbelin’s aesthetically pleasing bottles labels are just as streaml20170704_190333ined.

Arndt Köbelin, Grauer Burgunder Kabinett trocken 2016
I would call this type of wine the Königsdisziplin or blue riband discipline for the best winegrowers on the Kaiserstuhl. Along with their entry-level Spätburgunder, this is their ‘calling call’, as it were. A wine made in considerable quantities but with the ambition of matching the country’s best entry-level Rieslings in quality.

Healthy pale yellow in appearance, with a smoky pear and peach bonanza awaiting me on the nose. Dry yet succulent on the palate, with a continuance of the pears and, again, a certain smokiness. This is a Kabinett with 13 per cent abv – which is par for the course in Baden where sprightly Kabinetts are few and far between. Entry level this may be, but the quality is outstanding. On the one hand the straight-lined fruit personality is infectious, on the other the finish is amply long, showing a savouriness and smokiness that would grace more expensive wines. It is also extremely enjoyable. The acidity is mouthwatering. It’s hard not to keep sipping.

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