December 8, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Character references

By |2018-03-21T20:00:31+01:00May 26th, 2016|Food & Wine Archive|
Vino Aurora, from the Pecorino grape variety, is a standup white with a personality very much in keeping with its roots.

n wine, character and color are kindred spirits. Medium whites, full-bodied whites and fiery orange wines can each tell you who they are and where they came from if you pay attention.

For example, the old but fashionable Pecorino grape variety tends to yield deeply structured whites ideal for summer cookouts. Pecorino derives from the Italian word pecora, or sheep, and probably originated in the country’s Marche region. Take Vino Aurora, Fiobbo, Offida Pecorino DOCG, 2013 (€15), a standup white with a versatile personality in keeping with its roots. It’s dry, flinty, rich, with firm acidity and a salty touch, and goes well with a salad of calamaretti and faro (squid and felt), grilled nasello (hake), or simple dried codfish served over potatoes.

A wine’s personality is determined by many factors, including the preferences of the producer, the soil, the elevation, and the grape-growing climate. If wines were human these aspects of their “upbringing” would represent their formative traits.

Veneto’s Garganega grape, which I mentioned last month while discussing Soave, hails from the high hills of Gambellara. Volcanic, iron-rich soil nurtures these grapes and defines a wine like La Biancara, Pico, Gambellara IGT, 2011 (€20), from Angelino Maule. Pale gold in color, smoky and savory, it goes delightfully with medium-aged Asiago cheese.

So-called orange wines, now beginning to find a strong niche, have their own story. Making white wine involves pressing grapes, discarding the skins, stems and pips, and separating out the juices. This results in a pale and yellow colored beverage. But what happens if you include the skins, pips and maybe even the stems in the maceration and fermentation process? The aroma, structure, tannin and flavor are altered. The color also changes. Orange emerges.

Maceration, or seeping, can last days, months or years. There’s no steadfast rule. In the end, you get dozens of shades of orange — deep yellow, terracotta, amber. The process also produces curious flavor combinations that can give pause to those unaccustomed to whites with texture.

Orange wines are great with game, sweetbreads and risotto alla milanese with ossobuco. I enjoy pairing them with stinky cheeses and earthier kinds of risotto.

When I try convincing skeptical friends to try orange wine, I use my parents as an example. Stubborn red wine drinkers, I told them to ignore the color and poured them a glass. They loved its earthiness, nuttiness and evident tannins. Now they’re converts.

If you’ve never tasted orange wine, Elisabetta Foradori’s Nosiola from Trentino is a good starting point. The Nosiola variety likely derived from the word nocciola, or hazelnut, which gives many of these wines a toasted hazelnut flavor.

Following tradition, Elisabetta leaves the wine to macerate on the skins in amphorae — clay jars — for about eight months. Amphorae are neutral containers that allow wine to inhale and exhale. If it’s personality you want, go for Foradori, Fontanasanta Nosiola Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT, 2012 (€30). This is rich, elegant and radiant yellow wine with honey and nutty accents and gentle tannins.

My final reference takes me to the border between Friuli and Slovenia, a hot spot for skin-fermented whites and home to the ancient white variety Ribolla Gialla.

Though Josko Gravner and Stanislao Radikon are the rock stars of this movement, I’d hunt for wines by Dario Prinčič. His profile is so low he does without a website. But his Dario Prinčič, Ribolla Gialla, IGT Venezia Giulia, 2010 (€30) is enchanting, complex and bold. It seems to evolve in the glass, exuding bitter almond, honey, star anise and bubbling marmalade. If you expect to be home alone any time soon, I recommend you book some quality time with this interesting character.

This is a second in a series about the character of wine.

About the Author:

Rome-based sommelier Gina Tringali has written extensively about wine.