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.
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.