Dario Prinčič is amongst the mavericks who have lead the modern resurgence for skin fermented ‘orange’ wines using indigenous white varieties and traditional winemaking techniques. Today’s focus is Prinčič’s Jakot and Pinot Grigio, both of which have undergone extended skin maceration to produce extremely distinctive and characterful wines, that remain superbly balanced and approachable.
Skin Contact ‘Orange’ Wines
Skin contact ‘orange’ wines are a divisive facet of the modern vogue for traditional and minimally invasive winemaking techniques, with many naysayers inaccurately suggesting that the colour indicates oxidation, and that skin contact intrinsically spoils the wine. Rather than oxidation, the colour comes from the grape skins, and although these wines are frequently made in an oxidative style, that is not a prerequisite. Lack of distinction from, and confusion with that amorphous category natural wines, made using low sulphur and minimal intervention, also rings alarm bells for many.
What exactly are orange wines? White wine production usually involves crushing the grapes, then quickly pressing the crushed grapes to separate the juice from the skins before fermentation, which contain colour, phenols and tannins that are conventionally not wanted in white wines. With skin contact ‘orange’ wines, the juice is left in contact with the skins for a period of days, weeks or months, similar to red wine making. This period of maceration gives the resulting wines greater colour, flavour, aroma and texture. This is effectively the opposite of rosé production, where the juice from red wine grapes is quickly pressed to separate it from the skins, giving the wine only a pinkish hue.
The history of skin contact white wines stretches back at least 5000 years, when Georgian winemakers were making wine in conical clay amphorae ‘qvevris’ buried in the ground, the wines typically spending 6 months on their skins. Josko Gravner was one of the first modern pioneers to adopt this technique, with many other winemakers following his lead, though Prinčič himself is not amongst them, choosing to ferment in open top oak and chestnut fermenters.
The grape variety Friulano was previously known in Italy as Tocai or Tocai Friulano, until the Hungarians had that name outlawed in 2007 to avoid confusion with the sweet wine Tokaji, made from the grape Furmint. Friulano is related to Sauvignon Blanc and is also known as Sauvignon Vert and Sauvignonasse, in fact it was originally mistaken for Sauvignon Blanc in Chile, where it is widely planted.
The Slovenians originally opted to use the name Sauvignonasse, but was changed this to Jakot (roughly Tokaji spelt backwards) in 2013. Italians generally use the name Friulano, although some producers do not like the association with the region, and prefer to use Jakot.
The wines are usually single varietal and range in style, from light and crisp to richer and full bodied. In Friuli and Western Slovenia the wines are usually fruit driven, with moderate acidity and full bodied, whereas Chilean Sauvignon Vert has aromas of green apples in youth that fade with age, and is more medium bodied. Aromas range from delicate floral, green apple, pear and citrus, to more rounded apricot, peach, and tropical. Most wines show some mineral character, and have notes of spice and nutmeg, often with hazelnut or almond. Friulano produces produces wines with high potential alcohol levels.
A History Lesson
Oslavia (Brda in Slovenian) was devastated by the two world wars and following power struggle between Russia and the US, divided by an artificial border between Italy and Yugoslavia that split families and vineyards, only rebuilt since the second world war.
Before the first world war the region belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose taste was predominantly for white wines, but when Collio was integrated into Italy, it adopted a mostly red wine drinking culture. It is in this history that the tradition for vinifying white grapes as if they were red grapes is rooted, in the modern idiom of an orange wine.
The area was devastated again by the second world war, and in the latter half of the twentieth century many of the region’s producers followed the international trend for prominent oak and crisp fresh whites. At the beginning of the 1990’s a small group of producers committed to indigenous varieties and traditional winemaking again started skin fermenting white wines in the traditional way. Josko Gravner and Stanislao ‘Stanko’ Radikon are the best known mavericks, but Dario Prinčič was also very influential in this movement.
One of the pioneers of the modern skin contact ‘orange’ wine movement, Dario Prinčič crafts his wines in north eastern Italy, near Collio DOC’s town of Oslavia in Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Friuli), bordering Slovenia and sharing many of its winemaking traditions.
The vineyards are close to the Julian Alps and the Adriatic sea, the mountains helping protect them from the cold winds of central Europe and the sea moderating the annual temperature variation. These benefit from the continuous cool dry airflow of the Bora wind, retaining freshness and acidity in the grapes and helping to practice organic viticulture. The steep sloped, terraced vineyards have predominantly limestone soils, called ‘ponca’ or ‘flysch’ in local dialect, that layers minerals (friable calcium and limestone marl) from the prehistoric sea bed, clay and sandstone.
Prinčič has worked his family vineyards since childhood, since 1988 has been farming 17 acres by hand, and although not certified as such, organically, and with some aspects of biodynamic viticulture. The vines are fertilised with manure, with only copper and sulphur used to control diseases in the vineyard. In the winery he uses only wild yeasts, with no temperature control, filtering or fining, and only the minimum of sulphites he deems essential.
Before founding his winery in 1993, Prinčič sold grapes to others, and now his wines are made exclusively from grapes grown in his vineyards, from which the yields are extremely low.
Dario Prinčič Jakot 2012
From a single hectare of eight year old vines. The grapes undergo twenty days skin maceration, with punching down, in large open top oak and chestnut fermenters, before ageing for two years in botti, tonneaux, and used barriques.
Deep, burnt rusty orange colour.
Pronounced and funky. Rhubarb and ginger jam, with pear drops, cough medicine and throat sweets. Aromas of rose petal and icing sugared Turkish delight mingle with sweet spices of cardamon and ginger, and a core of wild strawberry and cherry fruit.
Pronounced and full bodied. On the palate there’s dried fruits, date and prune, with hints of almond nougat. Quite a dry mouthfeel, with grippy but restrained tannins. The marrow and ginger jam character gives a sweeter sensation, with sour and dried apple.
Dario Prinčič Pinot Grigio 2013
From a 1.5 hectare of 12 to 18 year old vines. The grapes undergo seven or eight days skin maceration in open top oak and chestnut fermenters, then the wine is aged for two years in botti, tonneaux, and used barriques.
Distinctly red in colour, brown hues, autumnal cider.
Pronounced and developing. Quite odd and funky on the nose. Phenolic, chemical hints, with lots of red, rotting apple, compost heap, silage and cow pats. Balsamic notes mingle with raisened, autumnal red berries, cranberry and redcurrant jelly, reminiscent of Christmas hedgerow fruit.
Dry, medium tannins. Nuttier on the palate, with hazelnut and fluffy roasted chestnuts. Baked apple, sweet clove, cinnamon and anise spices, with pear juice and russet apple. Oaky, woody tannins. Medium plus acidity, medium body. Developing.
Outstanding. Crunchy Barbera like fruit, earthy and leathery.
These wines give a new perspective on what can be produced using two varieties more commonly associated with neutral and unexciting wines. Both are intriguing and characterful, while remaining superbly balanced and approachable, and without the negative characteristics sometimes associated with wines of this genre. They offer something different and distinctive, setting them apart from many other skin contact white wines, well worth searching out for those with more adventurous palates.