Every week, I select an orange wine (a white wine made with extended skin contact) that grabbed my attention. View the whole series here.
This autumn’s Orange wine festival (Vienna edition) was once again a busy, joyful occasion with some 80 producers from 9 countries, and 500 or more enthusiastic tasters. Many great producers were in the room – Radikon, La Castellada, Dario Prinčič, Clai, Roxanich to name only a few. Their wines served as a tough benchmark, hard to even equal, let alone surpass. But one new discovery wowed me enough to want to share it here.
Erzetič is a long established winery in Goriška Brda (effectively the Slovenian part of Friuli Collio), with 5ha of vines. Andrej Erzetič, the youngest member of the family involved in production, told me winemaking here can be traced back to 1721.
The family makes a series of wines in Georgian qvevris, in addition to a more conventional range of wines to drink younger. This raises the inevitable question “why?”. Andrej told me the idea of amphorae was suggested by the newly designed bottle comissioned by the family some 15 years ago. The bottle does indeed resemble an amphora shape, and Anton & Aleksij Erzetič were keen to find the optimum vessel for ageing their wines.
The idea of using qvevris had to be put on hold until the family moved to a larger winery in 2007, which had sufficient space to create a special qvevri cellar (qvevris are traditionally buried in the ground, providing natural temperature control). Erzetič‘s website has a great sequence of photos showing the building of the qvevri cellar, the first time I think I’ve seen this process so well illustrated.
Onto the wine: Amphora Belo 2011 is a blend of Rebula with a small amount of Pinot Blanc, which spent 6 months in qvevri on its skins. The result is an intense but extremely elegant, assured wine. Aromas of spices, honey, sage, marjoram and candied peel prepare the way for a structured wine, with decent grip, lemony freshness and a long, long finish. Particularly refreshing is the lack of any oak influence – Amphora Belo was aged for a further 18 months in large barrels, but this has only affected the texture and not the taste.
It’s always hard to deconstruct a wine like this – Rebula for me is rarely about fruit, more about texture, and what we get here is a perfect balance between the chewy tannins, liveliness from the acidity, and complexity from the grapes and the process. It’s quite possible that slew of Pinot Blanc is responsible for the refined, creamy finish – there’s a certain poise that I associate with the variety.
Regular readers will be used to the frustration that this wine is barely available outside its region of production. Some Erzetič bottles make it to the US, but none to the UK as yet. Slovenia is a beautiful country and wonderful holiday destination, so the best move is undoubtedly to head for the hills and grab some for yourself.