From €5.90, £11, AU$39
I find some orange wines (new entry in the 4th edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine – did I tell you it was published yesterday?) just too orange and too tannic from their extended contact with the grape skins. But in the last week I happen to have come across two delightful examples of orange wine, wines that are pale orange and in which there is quite enough fruit as well as a bit of chew and an amazing amount of interest.
At the little party at Vinoteca King's Cross that we gave for contributors, friends and family on Monday, we served a couple of wines from Château Reynon, the home farm of our esteemed Oenology Editor Professor Denis Dubourdieu, the Sauvignon 2014 and the red 2011. This pair hit the spot for Anthony Hanson MW of Christie's, who tweeted this picture of 'Vinoteca + Dubourdieu delights'. (He was invited as husband of contributor Rosi Hanson - harvest traditions.)
But at a late stage David Harvey of Raeburn Fine Wines in Edinburgh volunteered a third wine, a pale orange wine from La Mancha: Esencia Rural, Pampaneo 2014 Vino de la Tierra de Castilla. It was a massive hit with everyone, whether a wine professional or not, because of its intensity yet vitality.
This is a wine based on the humble Airén, the most planted grape in the world when the first edition of the Companion was published back in 1994. This is not usually the most characterful grape but the vines responsible for Pampaneo (known colloquially as Green Legs, as opposed to the Red Legs red wine produced by Julian Ruiz, a convert to natural wine), are extremely old bush vines.
The grapes are then macerated for two or three months, intense orange peel and mild varnish flavours leeched from the skins, but there is not aggressive astringency – just truly impressive, still very lively, fruit - despite the relatively low alcohol of 12%. It certainly provided a good counterpoint to the sleek, super-fresh, almost searingly youthful Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc.
I found this description by Julian Ruiz (pictured) in the catalogue of Isabelle Legeron MW's RAW Wine Fair in London and thought it worth publishing in full: 'We are a family of farmers, for centuries convinced of the quality of our fruit. We have around 150 ha in polyculture, 50 ha of which are vines. We work mainly with local grape varieties. We believe in and practise organic agriculture with some biodynamic elements. We harvest by hand in 14kg crates, destem and lightly crush, and macerate both white and red grapes for some months. Other products include herbs for Weleda cosmetics, Japanese-style fermented black garlic and manchego cheese.
'We started to work in the "natural" model in 2006. To us this means only using grapes from our own 50 ha of vineyards, which are mostly extremely old and ungrafted dry-farmed bush vines. These are farmed, fermented and long macerated without adding any chemical component in the vines or cellar, or indeed any clarification. The labels are Pampaneo (aka Legs) Natural, and Cepas Centenarias (100 year-old vines). Part of our production receives a tiny dose of sulphites (10-20 mg/l) and a coarse filtration.
'Organic farming is nothing new: just the opposite. Over millennia farmers have been observing natural cycles, growing and working according to the rules of nature. This in order to take advantage of the benefits that mother nature offered us, respecting her rules and also trying to return to her, so that she can continue to be generous year after year.
'But with technological and scientific advances, mankind thought itself beyond such annoying drawbacks as weather and phases of the moon, having to share natural resources with other species which lived on our lands, etc.
'At Esencia Rural we concern ourselves with health: ours, yours and that of our planet. To ensure all of them, we try to respect the self-regulation and cleansing capacity of these organisms to help maintain equilibrium. This principle defines and marks our daily work. We believe it is possible to prevent many of the vine diseases, which would otherwise limit our potential, with a little common sense.'
Wine-searcher can find only one stockist – in France, funnily enough. But Raeburn tell me that the wine is available not just from Raeburn's Edinburgh shop (at £11 a bottle) but also from the Wapping Victualler in London E1W (who charge £16), Fin & Flounder in London E8 (£12.50), Rawduck in London E8, Ducksoup in London W1 and RS Wines in Bristol. The links are for the 2013 vintage.
Almost a week ago I had enjoyed a tasting with Vanya Cullen of Margaret River, who was in London recently. The wine that really stood out – in a stunning array of successes – was a new orange wine she is making. Cullen, Amber 2014 Margaret River is the first vintage of a wine inspired by the Pheasant's Tears Georgian wines she tasted at Rootstock, described in When ocker meets organic by our Australian columnist Max Allen.
It's also a pale apricot colour and was made from 64% late-picked Sémillon and 36% Sauvignon Blanc, of which 79% was fermented in new oak for four months, skins and pips included. This is an even finer wine than the Pampeneo (more expensive too – around £25 a bottle), but is similarly tangy and chock full of flavour. In fact it almost tastes sweet but hasn't any residual sugar; it's just the richness of the late-picked grapes, and the 15% alcohol. Like the Spanish wine, this is not extreme, but it is fun – which is why Vanya had a go at making it. Julia loved it when she tasted it too, as you can see from this tasting note taken earlier this year.
Alas there will be no 2015 Amber thanks to birds pecking away at the grapes and some ill-timed rain. But for the moment you can find it from a wide range of retailers in both Australia and the UK. Click on the link below.