Wine Enthusiast Podcast: The Enthusiast 100 Round Table

Out of the 24,000 wines our editors tasted this year, learn about the bottles that made it on The Enthusiast 100 list.
Illustration by Mikel Casal

Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa, Managing Editor Lauren Buzzeo and Tasting Director Alexander Peartree talk wine styles, origins, trends, ageability and more as we discuss our list of the year’s top wines, The Enthusiast 100 of 2018.

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The Wine Enthusiast Podcast

Host: From Wine Enthusiast magazine, this is the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. Coming up on today’s podcast, each year at Wine Enthusiast, we compile a list of the top 100 wines of the year in what we call “The Enthusiast 100.” In this episode, our top two editors and our tasting director sit down to discuss those wines, and why, out of more than 24,000 wines from around the globe the Wine Enthusiast tasting panel reviewed this year, we chose them.

Lauren Buzzeo: If you’re really into, say, Spanish Rioja, typically made from Tempranillo, there are fantastic Tempranillos being made in other regions as well. You mentioned Oregon. You can turn to Southern Oregon, which we actually have a Southern Oregon Tempranillo on our top 100. If you look at something like Malbec, certainly a lot of people got really into Malbec with the Argentine wines, and the branding that they did coming out of that country with the grape, but again, you could turn to Washington State, which we have another wine on the top 100 that’s reflective of that. Again, it’s just a beautiful time to be a wine drinker if you know what you like. There’s tons of options out there. You’ve just got to dig a little bit outside of your box.

Host: Plus, what is orange wine? Hint: it’s not wine made with oranges. Contributing Editor Christina Pickard talks with Simon Woolf, who literally wrote the book on orange wine, to discuss exactly what orange wine is, and why it’s popularity is exploding around the globe.

Simon Woolf: I think orange wine fits with the way that we categorize other wines. We don’t talk about skin-contact red wines, and we don’t talk about cold-macerated red wines, we talk about rosé wines. I think given that we have white wine, rosé wine and red wine, orange is the obvious fourth combination of great color and skins. Orange wines in general are one of the most food-friendly styles that we have, I think, and I think that’s why so many have latched onto them relatively quickly.

Host: Plus, paired down pairings, wine myths, and more. All coming up on the Wine Enthusiast Podcast.

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“The Enthusiast 100” is the apex of our yearly round-ups in wine and showcases still, sparking, rosé and even sweet wines with an average score of just under 93 points and an average price of $36.

“The Enthusiast 100” is absolutely guaranteed to have something for every wine lover. Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa, Managing Editor Lauren Buzzeo and Tasting Director Alexander Peartree discuss styles, origins, ageability and the full scope of how we came to choose them for our amazing list.

Susan Kostrzewa: We’re here to talk about our Enthusiast 100 list. This is a compilation of the top wines that we’ve tasted through the year, and we taste over 24,000 wines a year in our tasting department, so I think we’ve got a pretty good perspective on some of the best wines that are available to you over the year. Let’s get started. I’d love to talk, Alex, about the number one wine of the year. Can you tell us what it is and give us a little insight on why?

Alexander Peartree: What better place to start then number one? This year our number one is the Michele Chiarlo 2015 Cipressi. It is a Barbera from Piedmont, which is a region in Northwest Italy that is kind of more well-known for Barolo and Barbaresco, which is made from the Nebbiolo grape. However, Barbera is on the upswing, and producers are now making wines with a little bit more body and a little bit more structure and bit more ageability, which this wine is the perfect example for.

Lauren Buzzeo: Like you said, now a lot of producers are really turning to the more serious side of the grape and lending a little more serious nature, a little bit more structure, ageability. You get some nice tannins. It’s not just an immediate consumption, easy going, sort of mindless wine that I think a lot of people previously believed it was. I think it’s a great time to really highlight Barbera.

SK: It’s also a pretty good price. You’re talking about $25 for a bottle. It’s got something you can hold and put in your cellar. Obviously great to drink now but hits all the points that we like to hit when we’re choosing wines for this list. It’s available, it’s a great price, and it’s representing something unique for your table.

Some of the other trends that we saw when this list was being put together were really interesting and one of them has to do with the German wines. German wines as a category when you’re talking about Riesling, obviously the most famous variety coming out of Germany for many decades. Let’s talk a little bit about what we’re seeing besides Riesling coming out of Germany and maybe as pertains to some of the wines that were on the list.

AP: Germany is also known for producing Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and a lesser known grape, Scheurebe, which is pretty exuberant and loud. It’s a very boisterous white wine, which we do have an example on the list. However, as you said, Pinot Noir is a great option coming out of Germany as well, and some people can akin it to more of a Burgundian style. It’s a little bit lighter, a little bit more savory. The great thing about these wines is they come at generally a more affordable price than you can find in Burgundies.

SK: I was in Germany last spring and had a chance to tour some of the wine regions making awesome Pinot—Spätburgunder, I hope I’m pronouncing that right—and I was really impressed with that food pairing element that these wines have. We were a large group of wine journalists with very different palates. Pretty much everyone was enjoying those wines, so I think those are great ones for people to kind of experiment with and expose to their friends and family as well. Talking about experimenting and new varieties that people might not know of, something else we saw on the list this year is examples of alternative varieties coming out of well-known areas like Oregon, California. I don’t know if you guys want to speak to that at all, as far as what you are seeing.

LB: Typically a lot of Pinot Noir drinkers might be drinking, as Alex said, either Burgundy or perhaps you’re more into California, New World style, but really exploring where certain grapes and grapes that you love, if you know that you’re into something, adventuring beyond your comfort zone and what you already know to find out what else is available in the wine world because at the rate we’re going, you could pretty much find anything anywhere and you’re going to dig it, right?

As another example, if you’re really into, say, Spanish Rioja, typically made from Tempranillo, there are fantastic Tempranillos being made in other regions as well. You mentioned Oregon. You can turn to Southern Oregon, which we actually have a Southern Oregon Tempranillo on our top 100. If you look at something like Malbec, certainly a lot of people got really into Malbec with the Argentine wines, and the branding that they did coming out of that country with the grape, but again, you could turn to Washington State, which we have another wine on the top 100 that’s reflective of that. Again, it’s just a beautiful time to be a wine drinker if you know what you like. There’s tons of options out there. You’ve just got to dig a little bit outside of your box.

SK: You mention Malbec. Lighter, brighter style of red wines and the way in which winemakers are approaching some of these varieties. Malbec’s a good example in Argentina. Alex, do you want to talk a little about what you were seeing there?

AP: Absolutely. Yeah. Everyone knows of Malbec from Argentina as being a big boisterous, sometimes heavily oaked wine, and absolutely there’s nothing wrong with that. However, winemakers nowadays are experimenting with different styles, different oak aging or different aging vessels in order to make wines that are lighter, brighter and little bit more accessible and easy to pair with food. A great example of this is Zuccardi’s Concreto Malbec, which was fermented and aged in concrete. It’s not as big and heavy as other Malbecs from Agrentina, but it has a nice bright, fruity nature and a little bit of a different texture.

LB: Another great example, like Alex was speaking of, you can turn to California. Traditional red wines out of California, Bordeaux-style blends, they’re typically pretty bold, pretty big, pretty flavorful, moderate to high alcohol, but trends now are leaning more towards vineyard techniques and winemaking techniques that are going to reserve that alcohol, restrain those characteristics just a little bit to give you a more nuance, maybe a little more complex or refined selection. The number 36 wine on our list, Idlewild Flora and Fauna Red out of Mendo, 12.8% alcohol. That’s not terribly common out of California, but we’re seeing more and more of it.

SK: I feel that, at least in the U.S., our palate has moved more toward that style of wine anyway. Maybe it is that we’re just more aware and into food and wine pairing. I think a little more sensitive too. When you say these big wines that have a lot of alcohol, and they tend to take over the palate. We’re also drinking more wine, which is great. We all love that we’re doing that and that you’re doing that. It’s easier to drink some of these wines coming out on the market. You can have a couple glasses, and you don’t feel like you’re falling out of your chair. Not to say that –

LB: Or a bottle.

SK: Or a bottle. I should say, or a bottle. We prefer you do that. I think it’s great, and I think what’s nice is a lot of the winemakers really enjoy the challenge and the refinement of making those kinds of wines, so we’re all inline on what we want to be doing.

LB: I think a lot of winemakers recognize that they didn’t want to just… the way that they drink, the tendencies of how they drink. It’s not that they just want one glass of wine and then they’re done. They want to be able to enjoy a few glasses of wine to a bottle to maybe even a few bottles if you have some company and you want to experiment around, but with overly big, overly extracted, overly alcoholic wines, you’re really limited in what you can enjoy. I think they’re really just taking that real-world practice in how they enjoy wine and implementing it for the greater consumer.

SK: Now, I do want to add one more thing before we move on which is, there is a time and a place for those big wines.

LB: Absolutely.

SK: I do love some of them, especially in context of a nice big steak. We’re pretty equal opportunity here as far as styles. I like to see that there’s a diverse opportunity for all these styles to be enjoyed by people. I think we’re getting better selection in this country of what we can have and experiment with so it’s all good.

Rosé. Rosé ain’t going nowhere. We keep saying, “Gosh. Rosé keeps getting bigger and bigger and at some point it’s going to reach the critical mass, but I don’t think we’re reaching that anytime soon. I think what we’re seeing is more diversity within the category, and I think definitely we saw that on the list this year, if you want to talk about that.

AP: Absolutely. Yeah. Obviously rosé is a huge category in every set. It’s not going anywhere. What is happening is people are now delving into the many different styles of rosé. While we do have on this list a Provençal rosé, which is the spiritual home of the category, we also have a Tavel which is from the Rhône and it’s a slightly darker, slightly bolder, more savory style of rosé that can carry you from cooler weather all the way through the winter and can pair with a wide variety of food. Styles like this can also be replicated in parts of Italy or parts of Spain, so it’s not just relegated to this one spot in France that’s producing this darker style of rosé.

LB: By darker style, it’s not necessarily just the color that we’re talking about, right? You reference rosé from Spain, so number 90 we have the Muga Rosé, which has always been one of my favorite go-to rosés, but it’s not particularly dark in color like a Tavel. However, it’s not this pale, pale, pale, pale, pale, pale pink almost non-existent color wine that has almost no flavor or really minimal flavor that really drinks more like a white. No. It actually has really vibrant, beautiful red fruit, snappy berries, strawberries, so, like you’re saying, it’s a nice bridge between that red and white world. Takes you through those cooler months, better for food pairing, a little bit more versatile than some of those super, super pale really, really light Provencal rosés. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but we did become a little oversaturated, overobsessed with that style, so it’s nice to see people venturing out.

SK: I think the key is to have the option because I do think that there are situations where a very nice, very light style, refreshing rosé is great on a hot patio sitting, and I’m having several glasses in the summer. That’s different than sitting down and having a really nice beef stew in January that maybe I still want to go rosé, but I need something that is going to stand up to all those flavors. It’s a good situation to have all those options. I think people are more open to those bolder styles of rosé now than they were before. They’ve just become more interesting in branching out on some of these categories.

AP: And some of these styles are not necessarily new. In fact, they’ve been being produced in these regions for decades or centuries, and they just need a little bit of light, a little bit of exposure so people are aware that there’s a little bit more depth to the rosé category.

SK: I have to ask you guys, thinking as we’re talking about this Tavel style or Tavel rosé, what would you pair that with, a food pairing? Lauren’s eyebrows are going up and down madly, so I think I hit a note here for her. I mentioned a beef stew but what would you guys cook this with?

LB: A roasted spaghetti squash with a pan sauce of roasted tomatoes and some nice, fresh cheese on top of it, that’s money for me with a nice, flavorful rosé.

AP: For me, I immediately think of turkey or any kind of roasted fowl.

SK: Duck?

AP: Duck, I think, would be absolutely fabulous. I think the perceptible tannin actually hold up well to a more substantial poultry dish.

SK: Wow. I’m hungry.

LB: I know.

SK: I love how Lauren just rolled off of her tongue that whole meal like it was waiting for someone to ask her about it.

AP: She made it last night. It’s no big deal.

LB: Totally. I had this exact meal.

SK: We were just talking about Tavel, and in the French category another area that’s really exciting right now and that is certainly represented on the list is Bordeaux. That is really attainable quality Bordeaux. Let’s talk a little bit about what you guys are thinking about what’s happening in that category right now.

LB: I think we’ve seen a lot of shift away from the more traditional impression that Bordeaux gives to consumers, so it’s not necessarily about those first growths, about those super high-end crus. We’re really looking to a new age of attainable and value-minded Bordeaux that people can actually find and buy. Not on pre-allocation, not with taking a second or third mortgage out on their home. But actually items that retailers stock on their shelves that you can go and pick up and you can enjoy today, three years, five years, 10 years down the road. But it’s definitely a new age and a new perception for Bordeaux enjoyment, I think. Alex, what do you think?

AP: I totally agree. And finding these Bordeaux isn’t actually that hard. And, the key that I often look for is you don’t need to go for those well-known crus. You can look to larger appellations like Fronsac and Blaye on the right bank or Médoc on the left, or you can even delve into the even more generic Bordeaux Supérieur category.

LB: There may be some perception that straight Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur AOC wines labeled that way, which encompass the entirety of the region, are somehow lesser, or not worthy of consideration. It couldn’t be further from the truth and I think a lot of wines that we review throughout the year really focus on that category because that’s really where people are drinking. Again, those are the wines that you can find, that you can buy, that you can afford, that you can enjoy on a regular basis. And who doesn’t want to enjoy wine on a regular basis?

But I think another exciting part to Bordeaux, and actually just France in particular, we talked about Rhône, we talked about Bordeaux. There’s certainly Alsace on the list. You could branch out across all the regions, but I think one of the more exciting regions that’s coming up is also Southwest France. Which we definitely saw on the list. Especially if you’re talking about a high quality-to price ratio.

So, basically venturing a little bit south form Bordeaux you’re gonna hit Southwest France. And these are wines that are typically based on either Malbec or Tannat, depending on the specific appellation and producer style. The number 13 wine, Château Bouscassé from Vignobles Brumont. You’re talking about a 90, what was it, a 94 points for $25? I mean, where can you find that?

SK: It’s not an easy thing to find.

LB: No.

AP: In Southwest France.

SK: In Southwest France.

LB: That’s really hard to beat. So, we, Wine Enthusiast, designated Southwest France its wine region of the year in 2017. It’s only continued to gain traction for consumers. And, actually this year coming up in our February issue, we have a feature devoted to the red wines of Southwest France. That’s going to focus on Madiran and Cahors, the traditional appellations of the region. So, there’s just lot of excitement and buzz that continues to build around that region as well. Which I’m particularly excited about.

SK: Another trend that we have seen that I am really excited about. I’m unabashedly a lover of bubbles. People around here know that. I think sparkling wine is a category, is another one that, like rosé, we keep saying, “Gosh, it just keeps growing and growing.” And I think there’s so many exciting wines coming out of all corners of the world right now with sparkling. So let’s talk a little bit about some of the wines on the list, or the category in general.

LB: Yeah, the category just keeps blowing up. It’s like rosé, we keep being like, “This is gonna subside, this is gonna oversaturate.” No, I don’t think it’s every going to, because, like you said Sue, people love bubbles. People love sparkling wine and what better time than now to explore again, outside of your box. There’s quality sparkling wine being made all around the globe. The Enthusiast 100 list of 2018 includes sparkling wines from California, from Italy, in Prosecco, in Franciacorta, in Lambrusco. You have wines from France. So you’re talking Champagne, Cremant d’Alsace. We have Spanish Cava. There’s literally so many different options. They’re made in different styles, from different grapes. There’s just so much to explore, that it’s, lucky for you a fabulous time to be a sparkling wine lover.

SK: Yeah, I chose well I think. It’s good timing. Sorry, I was just going to say, Alex do you want to comment on that at all? You know as far as sparkling wine?

AP: These wines don’t have to be incredibly expensive either. A lot of these wines on the list are under $50. Some of them even under 30, so-

LB: And if you want to learn more about the different types, actually in the same issue, the Best of Year 2018 issue, we have a ginormous feature on global sparkling wines. So you can really dive deep, with I believe, over 80 different recommendations from around the world for the best sparkling wines that basically we’ve tasted in the last year.

SK: Yeah, and I like that Alex brought up pricing. Because I think, for years there was discussion about the costliness of drinking some of the sparkling wines. Of course, some of the top Champagnes in the world, well-priced because they are amazing wines. But not necessarily for somebody to have on a Tuesday night, and I think now that there’s something for every occasion.

Something for everyone. These wines are really affordable. Again, when you’re talking about the Cavas and you’re talking about some of the Proseccos and some of the sparkling wines from other regions. It’s great because you kinda get a little bit of that. You certainly get the refinement of drinking a bubbly wine. But at the same times it’s costing what any other well priced wine would cost you. So, it’s a little easier to manage that.

AP: And these wines don’t need to be relegated to just a celebratory event. They can be enjoyed, like you said, on a random Tuesday. Or, just enjoyed with friends. Or, while you’re Netflix and chilling. It’s just enjoy bubbles all the time.

SK: I really love sparkling wine as a food wine, because I think they tend to bridge so many flavors. It’s a great go to at the table if you have a lot of different dishes. Especially going through the holidays, and then all the parties that go on and all the different foods that people serve. It’s a lot easier to choose some of these wines and try to pair every single dish with separate wines. So it’s a bit of a no brainer as well. Which is very good during entertaining. I always need things to be easier.

LB: To be perfectly honest, I’ve been with Wine Enthusiast for over 12 years now. And before I even started working here, the number 71 wine, which is Lucien Albrecht’s Crémant d’Alsace, I used to buy, by the case, on the reg. Because it’s so good, it’s so accessible. Everyone loves it. I never had anyone complain or question anything about the wine. It’s just such a good wine and I think it just perfectly exemplifies that high quality for not a lot of money that you can have for entertaining, for food pairing on a constant basis.

But if we want to look beyond sparkling wine, beyond wine in general. We also have the Top 100 Spirits and the Top 25 Beers also in the Best of Year issue. So just in case you’re looking for something beyond wine consumption, especially as you’re stocking up for the holidays, definitely check out those two lists also for some fantastic recommendations.

SK: Well, I think that’s about it for us. We hope everybody checks this list out. We hope that you use it as your shopping list, and your entertaining list. Thanks for drinking. See you later.

LB: Cheers.

AP: Bye.

Host: And next, Senior Editor Layla Schlack has tips for integrating simple foods and flavors into your wine lifestyle.

Layla Schlack: In today’s paired down pairing, I’m going to take one for the team and talk about bacon. That’s right, I don’t like it, but millions of you out there do. And whether you’re adding it to a salad, pasta, or a burger, or just enjoying breakfast for dinner, you should know what to pour.

Speaking of burgers, it turns out that A&W pioneered the bacon cheeseburger. The root beer stand was the first chain to top its cheeseburger with bacon, starting in 1963. While it seems like bacon mania is relatively new, its history goes back even further than the 60s.

Bacon cologne was first formulated by a Parisian butcher in 1920. During World War II, households were asked to donate bacon grease to the war effort. It’s high in glycerine, which is good for explosives. But you’re not looking to blow up your bacon. You’re just looking for the best wine to drink with it.

Fahara Zamorano, sommelier at the cured-meats-centric Gwen in Los Angeles, says you need something that will cut through the fattiness and smoke but also compliment the porky flavors. She recommends a deep sparkling rosé, like Larmandier-Bernier Rosé de Saignée from Champagne, for its earthiness and structure. Or a light red, like Manincor’s Kalterersee Keil Schiava from Alto Adige, which has lots of median earthy notes plus great acidity. So there you have it. Go forth and bring home the bacon. Thanks for listening.

Host: Blue Apron Wine. Order from any other wine club and when you get the bottles, they’ll all be labels you’ve never heard of. Blue Apron Wine, however, works only with world-class winemakers and brings you the story behind every bottle. Who made it, where it was made, and why it tastes so good. $25 off your first shipment at BlueApron.com/corkscrew. Terms and conditions apply. All orders are handled by Blue Apron Wine, Napa, California.

And you’re listening to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. The non-interventionist style and process of making orange wine is ancient. But it’s recent surge in popularity is new. Contributing Editor Christina Pickard, who reviews wines from Australia and New Zealand, sits down with Simon Woolf, the award winning English author of the world’s first book on the full history of orange wine to discuss why the world has fallen in love with this carroty colored wine.

Christina Pickard: So I love the book, first of all. I love the cover, I love the writing, I love everything. It’s, well done.

Simon Woolf: Thank you very much.

CP: I just wanted to know how it came about. Just sort of from your mouth, really of how the book came to be.

SW: The simple answer is it basically came to be because I wanted this book. And I hoped, I had hoped that someone else had written it. And then I couldn’t find it, and I got really frustrated, and I thought, “surely there must be a book about this stuff.” But there just wasn’t. So, I think it took me a few years before the realization dawned on me that maybe I’m the one that’s gonna have to write this book if no one else as.

So, that’s basically what I did. I wrote the book, that I’d always been looking for about orange wine. The fascinating culture and history that lies behind it.

CP: How did you get into orange wine to begin with?

SW: It was random. I think I got to a point where I was pretty adventurous in my wine tasting and drinking habits. And I was lucky enough to go on a trip to Friuli. And, I just remember it so well. It was just this gorgeous October Autumn day and we were in a small village called Prepotto. We visited three wine makers and by the end of that day, my mind was officially blown.

CP: And I remember drinking wine with you in, orange wine with you in Croatia as well. Was that before or after the Friuli trip?

SW: That was after. I think that was the year after actually.

CP: Yeah, okay. I thought you’d already been bitten by the bug by then.

SW: Oh, absolutely yes. I think I was a seasoned veteran then.

CP: So, let’s go back to basics. Orange wine: what is it? We know it’s not made from oranges, but can you talk how orange wine is made?

SW: Sure, it’s very simple really. My definition is, that it’s simply a wine made from white grapes that are fermented with the skins. And how long the skins stay in contact can be from just a few days to a week or multiple weeks, or even months in some cases.

CP: So your book is called, Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine. So I think it’s interesting that you managed to squeeze in two very well-known terms for this type of wine: orange and amber. I thought that was really smart to get it right out there on the title. It’s sometimes called, skin contact white. Which term do you prefer? Do you think it’s natural wine the sense that we’re sort of stuck with it, whether you like it or don’t like it? Can you explain the differences between the terms orange, amber, skin contact, and which one you think is going to be the term that really lasts.

SW: Sure. I think orange wine is the most logical term to group all of this stuff together. And we shouldn’t forget that any of these terms encompass a vast variety of wines that all fit into this paradigm. Made in all corners of the world, but given that, I think orange wine fits. It fits with the way that we categorize these other wines, you know? We don’t talk about skin-contact red wines. And we don’t talk about cold-macerated red wines. We talk about rosé wines. So I think given that we have white wine, rosé wine and red wine. Orange is the obvious fourth combination of grape color and skins.

Obviously there are people in certain parts of the world who feel very passionately about the term amber wine. And I think the Georgians are pretty much set on that now. And you can say that Georgian qvevri wines are a subset. I think they are their own thing. So that’s fine if they prefer to call them amber wines.

I think that we shouldn’t get to hung up on these color references, either. I mean one of the things that I often point out to people, is that, if you think about the term white wine, and ask yourself, “When’s the last time I had a white wine that was actually white?”

CP: Yeah, that’s a good point.

SW: You know, white wines are light green or golden yellow. You know these terms are, they’re just kind of convenient reference points really. And as much as anything else, I think they describe the technique rather than the color. The people are always saying, “How come this is an orange wine? It’s not orange.” Well, you know, is your red wine red? Or is it purple? Or is it brown? Or is it tawny?

CP: Can you talk about the history of orange wine?

SW: In one way you can say it has its roots anywhere that wine has been made for a long time. Because, if you go back, probably more than about 100 years. People in certainly most parts of Europe didn’t really have a great deal of technology. Some people had presses. Not everyone had presses. So if you wanted to do something with your white grapes, you didn’t really have any choice other than to throw them into whatever vessel you had lying around. And let them ferment skins, seeds, everything basically. So this was probably the only way to make wine for a long time until we had cultures, like, the German wine making culture. Which popularized the idea of taking the skins away from white wines to make these lighter, more elegant styles.

But, I think if there’s anywhere this culture has remained really strong over the years, then, of course, in Europe that would be the North of Italy. And particularly Friuli-Collio and its sister region in Slovenia, Goriska Brda. Which is actually the same region as the Collio, just given it’s name in a different language. And then moving beyond there to the Caucuses: Georgia, actually boasts 8,000 unbroken years of making its white wines in this way. So these are the hot spots.

CP: Which always is just a figure that blows my mind.

SW: So these are the hot spots.

CP: Which always is just a figure that blows my mind. I can’t actually wrap my head around that number.

SW: It is pretty mind-blowing, and of course the evidence that we have when you go back 8,000 years is basic. You need a good historian to piece it together, but I think that’s the unique thing about Georgia. Some people sometimes say to me, “Well, surely the cradle of wine is really further east, it’s in, I don’t know, Jerusalem or Armenia.” But none of these countries actually have this documented and continuous history of wine making. The thing with Georgia is that we have that documentation. We can be sure that that’s what they’ve always done.

CP: Can you talk about the stylistic differences between the countries and sort of different aging vessels that they might use?

SW: I mean, I guess Georgia is probably the most different, because wines have always been traditional made in qvevris, in these large clay amphoras that are buried in the ground.

CP: Well I encourage everybody to look up photos if you’ve never seen a qvevri before.

SW: They are extraordinary. I mean, they’re almost magical, really, in that they’re really such a strong part of Georgia’s culture. I mean, they don’t just make wine in them, they actually, they’ve been known to bury people in them as well. But I mean, the wines that come out of a qvevri, after they’ve been sitting there for six months are just extraordinary. They’re incredibly deep and complex and herbal and really unlike anything that you might encounter in Europe, I think.

CP: When I first tried Georgian orange wines, I found it hard to wrap my head around them. And then I remember the first time I had some traditional Georgian cuisine. I was like, “Ah, this makes sense now, I get these wines now.”

SW: Absolutely, and I think you’ve hit on an important point there, because orange wines in general are one of the most food-friendly styles that we have, I think, and that’s why sommeliers have latched onto them relatively quickly. And in Friuli and Slovenia, the tradition has always been for wood rather than clay, basically. Obviously, we’ve got this slight confusion that Josko Gravner was one of the first people to re-discover this style, ultimately decided that the Georgian way was the perfect way for him.

But if we set him aside, the tradition in that part of the world is very firmly for fermenting and aging in wood. And we’re not talking about little kind of french barriques here. We’re talking about typically 1,000 liter, 2,000 liter large Slavonian oak, so vessels that are neutral, really, that don’t particularly give their own character to wine, but they just give it a sympathetic place to mature and have a tiny little bit of microoxidation.

CP: So people are probably wondering if they’ve never had orange wine what it tastes like. So do you notice distinct flavor provide differences between, say Friuli and Slovenia and Georgia? And then of course orange wine is made all over the New World as well, so how might an Aussie orange wine, for example, differ from a Georgian or a Slovenian?

SW: In a way, it’s a difficult question, because the flavors and styles are as numerous and as varied as they are if we’re talking about all of red wine or all of white wine. I mean-

CP: Right? I know I’ve given you an impossible task.

SW: But, I mean, given that, I mean, to make some generalizations, I think in the Collio and the west of Slovenia, there’s definitely a sort of an unashamedly structured, maybe even sometimes slightly more rustic style, kind of no-holds barred with weeks or even occasionally months of skin maceration. And of course you have this wonderful grape variety in that part of the world, the Ribolla Gialla, which just has the thickest skins, and it’s really quite regal when you macerate it, and really quite dull when you don’t.

So I think the style in that little corner of Central Europe is probably, yeah, a little bit more robust, whereas, I mean, if you go to just staying in Italy for a moment, if you go to Emilia-Romagna, then there’s a long tradition of macerating this wonderful, aromatic strain of Malvasia, Malvasia Candia di Aromatica. Those wines are just so characterful, they’re so full of kind of exotic perfumes and ripe tropical fruits. They are utterly terroir wines, you might say.

I mean, it’s interesting that you mention Australia, because I hadn’t tasted a great deal of Australian orange wines before I started doing the research for my book. And then more and more that I happened across them, I realized that actually a lot of young Australian wine makers are doing the exact opposite that you might think. Certainly, when I was growing up, I always used to think that Australia’s the place where you get these very big, very ripe, massive styles, and all the orange wines that I’ve ever had from Australia, almost, bar none, have been the most light, filigree, delicate, kind of nuanced affairs. So it’s quite head-turning, really.

CP: What is the sort of most common window, I guess, of how long the skins would be left with the juice to be classified as an orange wine?

SW: So historically, Georgia is probably the most extreme, and within Georgia, Kakheti, and there, six months on the skins isn’t uncommon. In fact, if you go to the Vipava Valley area in Slovenia, there, there’s a long and very well-documented tradition of doing a few days to a week. That’s actually documented in a wine-making book from 1844. I would say in general, in most other parts of the world, usually when winemakers are starting out with this style, they’re tending to go for maybe a week or maybe a couple of weeks, sometimes. To some extent, it’s a stylistic choice, and also to some extent, it depends on what grape varieties you have as to how much there is that you might want to extract from the skins.

CP: And obviously the more that you extract, then, the more you’re getting the structure almost of a red wine, right? You’re getting those tannins and that bite and that body.

SW: You might make the assumption that longer maceration time always means a more substantial, more structured, more tannic wine, and actually it isn’t necessarily so. I mean, if you taste the wines of Elisabetta Foradori, again, in the north of Italy, but this time in the northwest, Trentino, I should say, I mean, she makes this Nosiola, Fontanasanta, which spends nine months in an amphora with the skins, and it is just the lightest, prettiest, most delicate thing. I think the point that that kind of flags up is it’s as much to do with variety with the grape variety and also the vessel that you ferment in, as anything else. It’s not necessarily linear, in terms of maceration duration and wine style.

CP: Again, I know it’s broad strokes, but if you’re having to write a tasting note for, let’s say, a Georgian wine that’s in that more structured style, what kind of taste descriptors, just to give people an idea of what these wines taste like.

SW: I think in a lot of Georgian wines, you often get these extremely complex kind of herbal, dry type, underbrush kind of flavors. Quite earthy, sometimes even pungent, sometimes even heading towards wormwood or aniseed or things like this. But you often also get very ripe, kind of slightly cooked or dried fruits in the mix there too. I mean, again and again I sort of find myself noticing things like papaya or Sharon fruits, kaki, ripe fruits like this, popping up in these wines. But I mean, there’s a lot of tertiary stuff going on, sometimes. You can even get it kind of slightly smoky hints, but not in the same way that you would get from oak, necessarily.

CP: All of those may be more difficult flavors to wrap their tongues around, suddenly are easier with food. Could you talk about some of the dishes that go well with, I guess, all sorts of orange wine?

SW: I’ve had lots of great experiences with Asian cuisine in general, and especially spicier dishes where you might find that a very sharp, fresh white wine would really clash, and a tannic red wine would also not sit well. But when you have an orange wine that sits somewhere in the middle, then it can, yeah, it can be a kind of alchemy, really. It can work with spicier flavors, more piquant elements in the cuisine. Even with meat, actually, I mean, pork is a personal favorite of mine with orange wines. But I think, yeah, autumnal flavors of slightly bruised fruit and herbs and things like this is definitely a match made in heaven.

I have to mention one match that I never thought would work until the first time I had it, and that was actually with a very full-on, super-structured orange wine by a winemaker called Nino Barraco. I had his wine, his Grillo, I think it was, with oysters. At first, I really couldn’t get my head around this, because conventional wine knowledge says that you’re supposed to have something like a Chablis with oysters. You’re supposed to have a kind of wispy, bone-dry, very light wine. But the funny thing is that again, because oysters are very rich in a salty umami-ness, that’s just brilliant with orange wines. I’ve had the most amazing experiences pairing those.

CP: Can you recommend some orange wines that might be readily available globally? I think the Le Stoppa Ageno is a great one. Any others that you’ve seen on your travels that just keep appearing in bottle shops?

SW: I think it’s always worth looking out for some of the wines from the Collio, and particularly from Oslavia, because that’s really where this kind of rebirth of the style started. If you see Gravner or Dario Princic or Radikon on a list, then you really want head for that, because it sort of gives you a starting point, I think, to understand it all from. I see the wines from Meinklang.

It’s a Austrian biodynamic producer. They seem to pop up quite often, which always makes me happy. I found their wines in Japan quite recently, and I know they’re also available on the East Coast.

CP: I would say from Georgia, Pheasant’s Tears are actually have a good presence over here, maybe because the winemaker, John Wurdeman, is American, but we definitely see a fair amount of Pheasant’s Tears over here.

SW: Pheasant’s Tears certainly has good availability. Vinoterra, who I mentioned before, I mean, because they are producing more than anyone else, they’re reasonably well available. They’re always worth looking out for. I mean, just because they’re the largest producer, it certainly doesn’t mean that there’s anything substandard about them. They make great wines. I think the wines from Miha Batic’ are always very enjoyable, and I think his availability’s pretty good. So he’s in the Vipava Valley in Slovenia, that I was talking about before. Actually, his colleagues, Mlecnik, that’s M-L-E-C-N-I-K, they’re tiny, but I’m always amazed at where I find their wines. I mean, they’re available worldwide, albeit in small quantities.

CP: So I think that from here, I should just say anybody who wants to dive in deeper, obviously try as many orange wines as you can, but try to get ahold of Simon’s book. It’s available in the States, it’s available throughout Europe?

SW: It’s available throughout Europe, yep, in all the usual places, or from my site if you get lost.

CP: Themorningclaret.com, and the book is Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine.

AP: Hey guys, I’m Alexander Peartree, Tasting Director at Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Today, I’m going to debunk a common wine myth: If you’re having fish, you can’t pair it with a red wine. This is kind of true. The tannins in red wine often clash and overpower lighter protein like fish, often creating a metallic taste when enjoyed together. However, light-body reds like Pinot Noir or Barbera can work just as well as a white wine, sometimes better. Ultimately, it comes down to this, the best pairing is the one you like.

I’m Alex Peartree, thanks for listening. If you have any wine myths that need to be debunked, email me at apeartree@wineenthusiast.net

Host: That’s it for today’s Wine Enthusiast Podcast. To read more about wine, visit winemag.com. Pick up the current issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine to see our annual Enthusiast 100 list, representing the top wines reviewed this year.

You can subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. And please, write us a review. We love to hear what you think. We’d also love to stay in touch. Use the hashtag wineenthusiastmagazine, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also send us an email at podcast@winemag.com. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Marina Vataj and Mike Sargent. See you next time.

Published on November 21, 2018
Topics: Podcast



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