Go Orange (Wine)

Image: Qvevri in front of the Embassy of Georgia.

On Sunday, in our Week in Review, we flagged a recent piece in the New Yorker that received some backlash.  We write about it again just to post the picture above.  Writer Troy Patterson wrote an article on “orange” wine.  His conclusion:

“In this sphere, a full-bodied orange wine, with its uncompromising austerity, approaches an absolute limit: sensation without sensuality. It tastes like an assault on pleasure. A wine with a finish like sucking on a grapefruit rind is not a wine to drink for enjoyment. It is a wine to suffer through—the suffering is proof that the drink is morally improving—and then to enjoy talking about. The talking is the proof of the drinker’s good taste.”

Patterson’s take is surprising because surely he must understand that for the wine world talking is half the fun.  It is also surprising because the piece appears in The New Yorker, that high temple of writing the hell out of a topic no matter how obscure.  To argue the philistine position in the New Yorker, including a specific critique that something is too thought-provoking, is more than ironic. It is jarring.  Like a homeless shelter in the Hamptons.

This provoked a response from some prominent voices in the wine world, including Eric Asimov and Levi Dalton.  Needless to say, those who find wine to be something thought-provoking and interesting did not look favorably on Patterson’s sneering.

It reminded me of when David Edelstein was at Slate many years ago and talked about single-malt Scotch.  I can’t find the exact article but I’m sure there is one where his wife asks something like, “why you would you drink something that smells like ass.”  Obviously I am with the geeks on this.  Both with regards to peaty distilled beverages from Scotland and orange wine from the Mediterranean.

It is Edelstein who seems to grasp why the challenging is attractive:

“Sourdough from what was alleged to be a yeast culture born before the Civil War tantalized me with what I’ll call its … offness. Off like certain cheeses. Off like Asian sauces ladled out of barrels of decomposing fish. I became a freak for all things “off.” When you put something strongly flavored or “off” in your mouth, your most primitive instincts tell you to spit it out, yet the perception of danger heightens the senses and makes the pleasure more intense. A design for living, that.”

Patterson’s tut-tutting seems all the more egregious because orange wines are not common.  Even places that carry them by the glass will limit it to two or three options.  It is not like mass-produced Chardonnay that is difficult to avoid.  While skin-contact wines may be challenging at first, there is the fact they are very popular in certain parts of the world, notably Georgia, which uses an 8000 year old tradition of earthenware pots to age.  One of them is on display in front of the embassy in Dupont Circle if you’re curious.

There are several spots in D.C. that serve the amber elixir. Places that serve food from the Balkans and Caucuses are your best bet: Ambar, Supra, Maydan.  Sebastian Zutant (now at Primrose) is a fan and put them on the opening list at Red Hen, where they have held a spot since. Zaytinya tends to have one or two.  Queen’s English’s interesting list had one by the glass when I visited last.

And of course, there are wine shops in D.C. that might carry some.  The best place to start if you want a bottle to take home is our Guide to Great D.C. Neighborhood Wine Shops.

And if you are really interested, Maydan and Compass Rose will be sponsoring a day of events in honor of the Amber Revolution on September 22.