Skin-contact whites

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Natural wine, amphora wine, orange wine,unsulfured wine. There are lots of alternative methods being trialled by
winemakers, most of them far from new. On the contrary, they hark back to the
ancients.

I’ve tasted many so-called ‘orange’ wines,
which are whites that have been fermented on skins like reds. Some are very
tannic, some are pretty ugly (sorry about the apparent non-sequitur). And I’ve
noticed a trend. The wines I like the most have been produced using just a
proportion of skins-fermented wine in the blend. Some of them are sensationally
good.

Lark Hill’s new white wine, MrV (tasting), is the
latest. It’s a blend of marsanne, roussanne and viognier from the 2013 harvest.
(The ‘r’ is in lower-case because it’s a minor component of the blend.) A
proportion of the marsanne was fermented on skins like a red wine, accounting
for about 20% of the final wine.

MrV is a beautiful wine. I didn’t find out
how it was made till after I’d tasted it blind in a large line-up of
alternative varietals and rated it a very high 96. It is a delicious wine, and
I was puzzled as to how its richness and velvety mouth-feel had been achieved –
I initially suspected a small amount of botrytis.

I
contacted winemaker Chris Carpenter, who replied: “We fermented part of the marsanne
component on skins (wild yeast ferment) – which took a little over three weeks
to kick off and go through to dry. The resulting wine (from this component) was
deeply orange, breathtakingly phenolic (grippy) and smelled and tasted of a
cross between orange-blossom and Miso paste…weird, but delicious.”

What
does he think it contributes?

“It
definitely adds both structure and a certain hint of that umami/miso/quirky
character, which I suspect might be what you are tasting as ‘perhaps Botrytis’.
I’m confident there wasn’t any Botrytis in the fruit. As all three components
are own-yeast fermented I’d expect a (relatively) high component of glycerol which
would give some viscosity…”

I agree that the technique seems to have added
something special to the blend.

And I’m reminded of the Bannockburn
Sauvignon Blanc I raved about last year (tasting), a third of which was fermented on
skins. And then there’s Leeuwin Estate’s famous Art Series Chardonnay (tastings), which
has employed a component of skins-fermented wine for many years, according to
the winemaker, although it’s not often talked about.

Skin-contact whites? If you haven’t tried
‘em, don’t knock ‘em.

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