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07.12.2009

2007 Point Concepcion "Celestina" Pinot Grigio, Santa Barbara County

celestina_label.jpgI make it my habit to seek out and try a particular kind of wine that flies well under the radar of most wine lovers. Indeed, this kind of wine is all but unknown to most, yet some of my favorite wines in the world fall into this category -- a category that is not included in any book, classification, or encyclopedia of wines anywhere.

These wines have something very special in common. Not the grapes used, nor the soils on which they are grown; not the country they come from, nor the climate in which they are grown. The one thing that all these wines have in common is their color.

They are orange.

Regular readers know that every once in a while I wax poetic about an orange wine here on Vinography. Usually these wines are made by eccentric Italian or Slovenian winemakers, and rarely see the light of day in California. But now and again, orange wines have been popping up in other corners of the world, including right here in California, which is where I stumbled across this little wine almost by accident.

First, a little background on the category of orange wines. Most, but not all, orange wines have historically come from Northeastern Italy and Slovenia, where they have an obscure tradition of making wines of this color by treating white grapes like red ones. That is to say, the winemaking processes for an orange wine are much more like those used to make red wine, in particular the use of extended maceration and fermentation "on the skins."

Maceration is the fancy word for soaking the crushed grape skins and juice together for a period of time before fermentation begins in order to extract color, tannins, and flavor compounds that are trapped in the skins of the grapes. Such cold-soaking is not commonly performed on white grapes, mostly because there is no need to extract color.

Yet color is exactly what you get when you leave white wines on their skins for long periods of time, along with flavors that can truly be otherworldly. And that's why orange wines should be sought out and sampled by anyone interested in broadening their wine horizons.

This particular wine is the product of experimentation by a well known winegrower and winemaker named Peter Cargasacchi. Peter has been growing top quality Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills appellation of Santa Barbara County since 1998, when he planted the vineyard that bears his family name. The fifth generation of his family to live and work in California, but the first to be born here, Peter is carrying on a long family history of farming on the Central Coast of California that stretches back to the 1900s.

Cargasacchi Vineyards have become well known to lovers of Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, bottled both under Peter's eponymous label as well as in the renditions of many top producers, including Brewer-Clifton, Loring, and Siduri, among others.

Peter and his wife Julia also have a second label called Point Concepcion wines, under which they make a variety of wines, leaving the Cargasacchi label to focus exclusively on Pinot Noir.

In 2005 Peter set out to solve a long standing food and wine pairing problem for himself. Specifically, he couldn't find any wines that he thought paired well with artichokes, asparagus, and other bitter green vegetables. In his opinion, these vegetables needed tannic structure married with acidity, but without red and black fruit flavors. So taking a page from his Italian forbears, he decided to take some of his ripe Pinot Gris grapes and let them soak on the skins for 4 days (as opposed to 4 hours, which would have been normal). During this time he kept fermentation from starting using dry ice (a common technique for keeping the mash of juice and skins below the temperature required for yeast metabolism to kick in), and then pressed off the juice to be fermented in one-year-old oak barrels.

The result is a unique and special wine that, despite landing somewhere between orange and pink on the color scale, most definitely fits into my pantheon of orange wines. Peter has made about 400 cases of this wine each year since his first experiments in 2005 and if we all buy it, maybe he'll keep making it.

I've had the 2008 recently as well, which is just as good as this 2007, if not slightly better, but I didn't make tasting notes on it, so that's why this is a review of the 2007.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is a stunning shade of what might be described as orange-pink, not quite salmon colored, not quite baby pink. It has an intoxicating nose of orange peel, roasted nuts, and bee pollen aromas. In the mouth it is just as surprising. Weighty on the tongue, with a gorgeous texture, it delivers flavors of candied orange peel, mango, orange pith, and then as the wine finishes, strawberry and other red berries. Reasonable acid and crispness, though it betrays a hint of its slightly elevated alcohol: 14.5%. A very unusual and distinctive wine.

Food Pairing:
Well, you should definitely try it with grilled asparagus or roasted artichokes at the winemakers suggestion. I had it with an arugula and prosciutto pizza topped with an egg, and thought it was divine.

Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5

How Much?: $18

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.


Comments (11)

Dylan wrote:
07.13.09 at 7:36 AM

Thanks for the lesson in orange wines, Alder. For as many wines as you've tried you may have the answer to this: have any great results been garnered from treating red grapes as we would usually do white grapes?

Loweeel wrote:
07.13.09 at 8:11 AM

Alder -- I agree (to some extent) -- orange wines are a lot of fun!

But while PG is usually used to make a white WINE, it does not necessarily follow that the grapes themselves are green/white/orange.

Just look at the pictures of ripe PG grapes, which are usually a light purple, not gold/green/white. Unlike those grapes, or even orange/copper colored grapes, there are still plenty of anthocynanins to extract from the skins of most PG.

Sitting an SB on its skins (like Abe Schoener has does with at least one of his Scholium SBs) won't give it the same color because it's not in the skin to begin with.

Alder wrote:
07.13.09 at 8:35 AM

Dylan,

I'm happy to answer your question so easily and with one word: Champagne.

Arthur wrote:
07.13.09 at 2:52 PM

Maceration is, more correctly, the breakdown or softening of tissues - in this case grapes.
It does not require crushing or submerging the cap in the must. Ex: carbonic maceration - which is immediately associated with Beaujolais, but is done to all varieties to perk up their "fruitiness". In either instance (dry, wet, carbonic or not), you end up with the release of anthocyanins - for color and structure.

jeremy wrote:
07.14.09 at 4:05 PM

It's so funny how things line up sometimes. I was just reading yesterday in the new Wine & Spirits about Wind Gap Pinot Gris. It too is modeled after some northern Italian whites. I think it is exciting that more and more California winemakers are experimenting with different styles.

For Dylan's question, I was lucky enough to try a still Pinot Nero in Bianco a few years ago. Unfortunately I only had a taste and never saw the bottle. I do recall that it was from the Piedmonte area though. It was very interesting.

Great post.

07.15.09 at 10:44 AM

"First, a little background on the category of orange wines."

At least this category of orange wines. As you know, there are also those made not through extended skin contact but extended oxygen contact. And they're more common than the Slovenian-Northern Italian type of orange wine, though still not common. Madeira, the oloroso family of sherries, Tokaji Aszu. And of course old wines.

Daniel wrote:
07.15.09 at 3:42 PM

I see the comments betray an expertise that I would be hesitant to attempt to match.

Like many others, I suspect, the orange wine you suggest sound fun and I am generally interested in trying Point Concepcion "Celestina," however, I am surprised by the alcohol level (14.5% is, in the words of my mathematics friends, "nontrivial"). Your tasting note suggests that the wine maintains balance, but I can't help wonder if you would think that a lower alcohol level would better bring out the unusual characteristics of the discussed process (i.e., acidity and tannins).

I will wait until another day to lament that my favorite winemakers also tend to sell their "experiments" for $18 or more.

Alder wrote:
07.15.09 at 4:20 PM

Daniel,

I asked Peter about the alcohol levels (with similar concerns) and he said that the grapes had to be really ripe (not raisined, but very ripe) to avoid producing flavors that were undesirable. He'd love to make a 12.5% wine, but he couldn't do that, he says, with Pinot Gris at his site.

rs wrote:
07.19.09 at 6:19 PM

Growing up in New Orleans in the 50's I drank many a glass of orange wine, i.e. made from oranges. Sort of like a vodka-less screwdriver.

Rodolfo wrote:
07.21.09 at 2:24 PM

Yes. That was very, very good. I learned something from you, and it was very much appreciated.

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