Skin-fermented white wine – all talk and no action?

by | Mar 7, 2017 | Opinion, News

An impressive line-up of skin-fermented wines.

When I started writing this blog, an old adage came to mind, “there is more than one way to skin a cat”. If you believe thatthere are many different ways to achieve an objective and that the reason for drinking wine is enjoyment, then skin-fermented wines could be the means to an end.

I tasted skin-fermented white wine (henceforth referred to as orange wine) for the first time in Croatia last year and during that tasting surmised that this type of wine is not for everybody. My second experience with orange wine was last week at a wine tasting chaired by James Pietersen of Wine Cellar (Observatory, Cape Town). During this tasting I was bombarded with so many new (and sometimes weird) aromas, that I soon realised that I was out of my depth. Take a look at Table 1 at the end of this blog for more details.

After the tasting, Edo Heyns (also present at the tasting) and I discussed the wines and he reckoned that this was probably the most difficult tasting that I could have kicked off with (I started at WineLand on 1 February 2017). Edo supplied this quote, “This burgeoning niche category offers some truly delicious wines. Chenin Blanc has particularly risen to the occasion, but there are also impressive blends and Sauvignon Blancs made in this style. The tasting yielded an intriguing list of descriptors and discussions, which is part of the category’s appeal. I specifically enjoyed wines that had a neat balance of texture and acidity. Judging this style definitely tests your tolerance for funkiness. While this is part of the excitement, it could also be its Achilles heel. Skin-fermented wines should first and foremost be good wines. To me, that was not the case for some of the wines in the line-up.”

And judging by how well some of these wines are selling locally, regardless of the relatively higher price, orange wine is doing a lot of well-placed scratching. Speaking of price, these five wines ranged from R135 to R275. While a lot is said about orange wines and their sometimes obvious faults, consider that one of the browner wines at this tasting scored quite well, because of the nose and palate. As it turns out, one cannot solely judge a book by its cover (I’m on a roll with proverbs today.

The highest scoring wine at this tasting with 92 out of 100, the 2016 Testalonga El Bandito (a skin-fermented Chenin Blanc), made me wonder about benchmarks for this style of wine. If you click here, you’ll experience a fascinating account of some of the efforts (in terms of legislation), travels, unique brands and varying winemaking practices of local orange wine pioneers. Why not track down some of these wines? You might be pleasantly surprised. Happy hunting!

TABLE 1. Details of wines tasted and their scores.

Wine Vintage Score Price
Testalonga El Bandito Skin Contact Chenin Blanc 2016 92 R240
Joostenberg Small Batch Kaalgat Steen 2015 91 R175
Avondale Cyclus 2013 89 R275
Mullineux Skin Contact Chenin Blanc 2013 87 R270
Mother Rock Liquid Skin 2015 87 R135


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