Wine editor MARY DOWEY selects a SAVOURY ORANGE WINE from Georgia as her bottle of the week …
Tbilvino Qvevris 2015
If you’re open-minded and adventurous, you may already have tried or at least heard of orange wines. More conservative drinkers should also consider catching up with an accelerating trend. This weekend’s recommendation comes from Marks & Spencer rather than a niche retailer of offbeat bottles – proof that orange is the new white.
So what exactly are orange wines? Highly prized by hip young sommeliers who support the natural wine movement, these are whites made in the same way as reds – leaving the grape skins in contact with the juice for a significant period. Depending on how long that period is, they end up ranging in colour from old gold to deep amber. And they taste quite different from conventional white wines – more of which in a minute.
While producers in various parts of the world are having a go at this ancient but now fashionable approach, one country has stuck with the tradition for millennia. Georgia, whose history of winemaking stretches back 8,000 years, has recently begun to attract attention for its classic orange wines fermented in large, amphora-like clay jars known as qvevri which are left for months half-buried in the earth.
Typically, very low levels of sulphur dioxide are used when orange wines are bottled – a key aspect of their popularity with natural wine fans. Sometimes, as a result, they may develop downright nasty smells and flavours, although happily such faults are becoming rarer.
There are certainly no off-notes in Tbilvino Qvevris (which, by the way, is made entirely from the Rkatsiteli grape). Instead, you’ll notice the pithy, appley notes that typify many skin-contact whites, here combined with a hint of buttery richness. Like all the best orange wines, this one is savoury, almost slightly salty, with a lingering presence and a firm grip. It’s not a wine to sip by itself but one to enjoy with a main course. Try it with salmon (fresh or smoked) or pork – especially if accompanied by some of the fermented foods that belong to the parallel back-to-the-future food trend.
From Marks & Spencer, €15
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