I find myself, under the haze of golden moons, under the influence of Croatian spells, singing the praises of this sometimes maligned, up-trending, down-trending, zeitgeist hitting, occasional darling style of wine we (unfortunately) call orange as I make my way (not solo) through a bottle of Dimitri Brečević’s Piquentum Malvazija Istarska 2019. They call it Malvasia Istriana in Italian and Istrian Malvasia in English and I’m sure you’d find other variations if you were really on the look out. The grape follows Graševina as the second most planted in Croatia and accounts for half of all plantations in Istria. And this juice is a mouthful of pure delight.
On the nose it’s white and yellow flowers and coconut and figs and a kind of sunshine that’s been stripped of its nastiness. It smells like a gym-bag sporting last weeks leotard and this weeks flannel and somewhere in the wine is all the euphoria that comes after a hard workout, only for this workout all you’ve got to do is remove the cork and upend the bottle and raise the beaker to your cake hole. It’s tough work but someones gotta do it. I also got seaweed and shortbread biscuits and a rush of camomile tea; which I’m sure is an oxymoron that I haven’t the time to unpick. There is citrus but it’s hidden by watered down honey and the ghost of chicken broth that’s gone cold. And it’s almond. And dried apricot. An absolute darling of a sniffer.
On the mouth it’s the lighter side of oily that coats the tongue and (inside) cheeks pleasantly whilst throwing cheese rind and shoelace to the back palate. It has sage and curry powder and lashings of honeycomb and sherbet and crispy chicken skin and good length and is as salty as a sailor who can’t remember the last time they saw land. You know those old messages that come in bottles that wash upon the shore in cartoons and old romance novels or as devices to service the plot in quirky independent films set near the sea? — if that message were a letter of love and that letter of love were tucked into an old bottle and that old bottle were sloshed with water on it’s long journey across the oceans and that letter fell to pieces inside that bottle and the love on its pages loosened and was absorbed by the sloshing water that eventually washed upon a distant shore and a curious passerby accidentally kicked it with an open-toed sandal and took a dangerous swig from the mirky contents, it’d taste something like the ‘Piquentum’ Malvazija Istarska. Saline. Yearning. Lustful. Sweat-laden. Luscious. And only a little bit like actual oranges. (If at all.)
The Piquentum Malvazija matures mostly in old barrique with some sitting in stainless steel after a short maceration (ie. the juice is left on the skins) for 2-3 days; though all the wine-geek (snob) chat around 2-3 days or 2-3 months is controversial as one persons 2-3 days might be with an iron fist and another persons 2-3 months might be with the unbearable lightness of being and both wines could come out looking exactly the same, with the same amount of nuttiness or minerality or tannin or funk or fun to them. So in itself the length of time on skins is not always a clear indication of much else other than another detail to spit about at the table when what you should be doing is drinking and telling each other stories about the good old days or arguing about politics or trying to figure out if you and that cute guy or that handsome girl are gonna fool around or not. What you should be doing is enjoying it. And eating. And ordering another.
They (the troublemakers, the gatekeepers, the soothsayers) should have called it amber. Or mirky white. Or on-skins. Or even pish. Not ‘orange’.
Because now every person who comes across it, across orange wine, either for the first time or the hundredth still often thinks not only of the colour orange and all its hues but actual oranges, and with a juice such as wine, that gives and attempts to give so much more than what is actually in the glass, attempts to elicit emotion and story and revelation and (sometimes) repulsion and every possible fruit or food or flavour known or unknown to the human palate, being informed of a possible tasting note, whether realised or not, it can be hard to shake it from your curious mind. And all you can think about as you push your nose into the glass, as you swirl and gargle and swallow or spit are bloody oranges.
We all know what it is, by now. (I hope.) (If not, then a five minute deep-dive on Aunty Google will set you straight.) Orange wine can, like all wine, be incredible. It can, like all things, be often less than incredible. It can come at you like a sudden rush of fear and set you in a cold sweat. It can whisper sweet nothings across the senses and leave your head spinning. It can be saline and weird and mirky and slight and soft and dry and beautiful. And it can be clear and deep and stinky and tart and off and sharp and dreamy. It can be amber, more often than orange. It can be a mouthful of pure amber delight. And yes (okay) it can sometimes taste a little of oranges. But can’t we all, sometimes?
Orange. Amber. Skins. Apricot. Sunshine. Mirky white. Cloudy plonk. Natty juice. Call it what you like.
Whatever wave it catches to greet you, be it actual and frothing and licking sand or from the gambling lips of a nervous somm, crack that love letter and listen to the Piquentum Ode on a Malvazija; a wine that tastes of hay that’d been rolled around in and could as likely sanitise a wound (for all it’s linear salinity) as liven up a dull as dishwater party. And that may well be the very thing that amber wine serves: to enliven the palate, to jerk those lazy days from slumber, to say ‘hey, it’s not all about savvy b and smokey claret!’, to lift the boring and all too earnest acoustic playlist with a little old-school electro-funk. We’re listening, Piquentum. Some of us are really listening.
tasted May 2021
by Bradley Tomlinson