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Wine of the Day
- Orange wine
- Written by Fred Swan
- Created on Saturday, 06 August 2011 22:47
We see disclaimers and caution statements every day. “Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.” “This page left intentionally blank.” “Keep away from small children.”
Wine comes with its own set of warnings on every bottle, mandated by the government. But it’s rare to find a disclaimer regarding the style of a wine in a winemaker’s own tasting notes. Today’s Wine of the Day has one. “The 2010 Jeanne D’Arc is a confessed project. We like Orange wines and want to make them and drink them and encourage our customers to do the same. They are funky and hard to compare to the mass market...”
Winemaker Kenny Likitprakong wants to be clear upfront that you are about to smell, taste and feel something unusual. And, despite the wine being 100% Chenin Blanc and from a Mendocino County vineyard, the bottle is not labelled as such. It’s simply identified as a white wine from California. This wine is about process, not provenance. Due to its unique appearance and flavor, nsuspecting consumers might eveb think there’s something wrong with the wine, hence the explanation.
Warnings and oddity notwithstanding, the 2010 Jeanne D’Arc is truly good. I’m going to continue where I left off above with Kenny’s quote: “...but we feel strongly that they [orange wines] have their place and offer a complexity that is hard to match. The skins bring in a savoriness and pseudo minerality as well as a texture and mouthfeel that is unique, but also fun and food friendly. The lack of SO2 during aging lets the wine work itself out naturally, usually oxidizing a bit, but ultimately reaching a balance of acid and phenolic composition that suits itself.”
Orange wines are made from white wine grapes. But, as opposed to the traditional white wine process, orange wines are created by allowing the juice to sit, or macerate, with the grape skins and pulp for an extended period of time. Since many white wine grapes actually have pinkish or reddish hues, the long maceration time can give the juice a darker, sometimes orange, color. The juice also captures tannins and flavors from the skin. So orange wines not only look different than a white wine made from the same grapes would, they have a different flavor profile and mouthfeel.
Orange wines seem unusual to us and they really are uncommon these days. However, the process for making them is very similar to wine-making methods used for thousands of years. If we created a timeline of winemaking from its earliest days — roughly 8,000 years ago — to now, it is our crisp, clear and pale white wines fermented cold in stainless steel tanks that would be the aberration. And, while not all makers of orange wines eschew sulfur dioxide as Folk Machine did, that too is in keeping with ancient winemaking. [If you’d like to try an orange wine from “the cradle of wine civilization,” the country of Georgia, get the “white” 2008 Pheasant’s Tears made from the Rkatsitelli grape in Kakheti. I am a fan.]
The 2010 Folk Machine Jeanne D’Arc is also unfined and unfiltered. Therefore it's hazy in the glass, not crystal clear as we’ve come to expect from white wines, or even rosés and distilled spirits. Despite spending a month with the skins though, the wine does not look orange. Instead it is the color of a lemon’s flesh. Chenin Blanc is a grape that remains pale unless sunburned or picked very late.
One of the hallmarks of orange wine is complexity. And though the neutrality of Chenin Blanc and the warm, oxidative fermentation of this wine does not offer bright, fresh fruit aromas, the 2010 Folk Machine Jeanne d’Arc has a lot going on. There are butterscotch, yellow apple, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, stone fruit and something vaguely reminiscent of Bourbon or sweet corn mash on the nose. The palate is bone dry with medium body. Tasted with eyes closed, the structure, fine but drying tannins and mouthwatering acidity, could easily be confused with an Italian red wine. Flavors of under-ripe nectarine, nectarine skin and Granny Smith apple morph into strong, steely minerality for the long finish.
The 2010 Folk Machine Jeanne d'Arc will go well with food, but it’s so unusual that you won’t be able to lean on the usual rules of thumb. It should work with cheeses, from Brie to Manchego to Gouda. Strongly-flavored, somewhat oily seafood is another good bet: swordfish or grilled white sardines. I wouldn’t do salmon though. Because of the tannins, lightly-fatted meat will be good, grilled chicken with the skin on or roast pork for example.
Rating this wine is difficult. Doing so on a 100-point scale would be especially hard, since there are few, if any, benchmarks with which to compare it. I’m giving it a Highly Recommended. Not conventionally "yummy," it is nonetheless complex with attractive aromas and flavors that change over time in your glass. It is food friendly. The flavors are restrained, despite their number, and alcohol is moderate. The wine has good structure coming from both acidity and tannins. I suspect it is even age-worthy, though I wouldn't swear to it. And, while this wine doesn’t showcase varietal nor vineyard in an obvious way, it does reflect the creativity of it’s winemaker and his desire to offer something that might change the way you think about wine. That works for me, but “your mileage may vary.”
2010 Folk Machine Jeanne D’Arc California
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2016
Release Date: June, 2013
Retail Price: $18.00
Winemaker: Kenny Likitprakong
Blend: 100% Chenin Blanc
Origin: Mendocino County
Aging: 6 months in neutral French oak
Production: 68 cases
The wine above was purchased for review at the tasting room in Healdsburg.
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