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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.

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