I have had an inkling over the past decade to make an orange Gewürztraminer. In case you missed the past few episodes, orange wine is not a fine product from Florida but rather a white wine. If fermented to dryness on the skin, the wine will often take some orange hue. During the wine process, red wines are macerated on the skin at high temperatures to extract color and tannins (“polyphenols” in sexy wine lingo), while whites are fermented after pressing out the juice thus separating the skin and seeds from the liquid. In the past two decades, a group of Italian and Slovenian winemakers have brought back the old idea of fermenting whites like reds, sometimes in oak barrels or clay jars (we suggest you try a wine from Josko Gravner in Friuli).
Orange wines are hip (check this article in mainstream Bon Appetit), expensive (did we mention that Gravner’s orange wine was $120 a bottle?), sometimes oxidized or flawed, clunky and often more of a modern art statement than a great bottle of wine. Despite all the criticism one might have (here is a great rant from Jon Bonne in the San Francisco Chronicle) about the organoleptic qualities of orange wines, one cannot deny the creativity and the added diversity that this type of wine brings to the overly traditional wine business table. I suppose like many others, I find orange wine unpleasant but I am attracted to this iconoclastic winemaking. The trouble is that most orange wine makers try to be very hands off in their winemaking – OK too hands off for some. To quote an old Enology teacher: “Grape juice left alone turns into vinegar.”
Back to Gewürztraminer, always a mouthful despite the fact that it is not an Icelandic word but a good Germanic one. Gewurzt, for short, has interested me as a base for an orange wine; in fact, we’ve always had some skin contact with this grape. After all, those characteristic spicy, lychee flavors are located in the skin of this varietal. We usually let the skin sit with the juice overnight in the press, let’s call it 12 hours of skin contact.
Last year, I thought it was time to try a true orange wine. We went ahead and fermented a good amount of Gewürztraminer to dryness, on the skin with a few pump overs at relatively low temperatures (my idea was that aromas are not extracted as much with temperature but rather with contact time). The finished wine was very colored, deadly aromatic, slightly phenolic since the wine stopped fermenting at about 1% residual sugar, and quite interesting. That is, interesting to wine freaks like me! With winemaking (which is also true in many disciplines) this is where reality meets art – great, interesting wine should generate conversations but commercially, it is a disaster waiting to happen. So since we’re a disciplined winemaking team, we decided to blend away the lot into our Gewürztraminer blend. Sadly, we did not store a single bottle of the pure orange Gewurzt. Before you label us as wimps, consider that our 2012 vintage is 50% orange wine – that is fairly gutsy! This 2012 vintage is definitely more complex, the most complex we’ve made and perhaps one of the most complex Gewürztraminers around (note: shockingly, ours is available for only $10 bottle!).
Perhaps we did push it a bit hard (the wine is pretty geeky I think – would love for many to try it after reading the blog and comment about it) but we’ve learned that for us, orange winemaking can be a great tool and it is here to stay for our Gewürztraminer (not at 50% mind you – perhaps more like 20%).
Current reviews for the 2012 Pacific Rim Gewürztraminer:
90 Points & Best Buy! “Soft and quite floral, this is textbook Gewürztraminer. The spice of the grape hits you like a warm breeze, bringing pretty lychee, melon and more floral flavors with it. Charming and rather deeply colored, this is pure Gewürztraminer but one half of the blend was done in the style of an orange wine.” – Wine Enthusiast
Gold Medal – San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition
Gold Medal – Tri-Cities Wine Festival