OK, lovers of truly weird wines, have I got a doozy for you. A cloudy, funky, Napa Valley partially skin-fermented 100% Semillon. It was described to me by a woman at a wine store as “a beer drinker's wine.” Others have compared it to orange wine. When first opened, it smells intensely of jalapeños, and pickles, and all kinds of crazy herbs. As it opens up (and I recommend giving it plenty of air — it changed dramatically over the two hours I had it open), it transforms to a citrus-zest, tarragon, mineral-rich wine that would be fantastic with food but is interesting enough that food might just be a distraction.
The wine is so interesting mainly because it's a blend of skin-fermented and concrete egg fermented juice. The winery's description page says: “The combination of the skin and the concrete egg fermentation created two complimentary sets of textures and aromatics. Serve at cellar temperature, give'r some air, and watch this over the course of the meal.”
It's made by a pair of former bloggers from Atlanta, one of whom — Hardy Wallace — ran the blog Dirty South Wine (with the irresistible tagline “wine is meant to be crunk”). Wallace moved to California a few years back for a job in the wine industry. In the years since he's established The Dirty and Rowdy Family Winery, along with his business partner and friend Matt “Rowdy” Richardson.
I contacted Wallace to find out what they were thinking — why 100% Semillon? Why such a weird wine? He wrote back:
I could lie and say we were Semillon geeks, really into aged Hunter Valley Sem., but we found a great vineyard, with stony-ass soil, in an amazing location, farmed by someone we knew and trusted. It could have been Scuppernong and we would have made it.
We thought that the two fermentations (concrete egg, and skin fermented) were destined to be 2 separate wines, but as fermentation finished up and the wines started to settle, we found out that they were better blended together. The concrete egg fermented half brings a pretty crazy texture. It is round, but nervously electric. The skin fermented half is full on Semillon aromatics (really intensified by the skin contact). With some orange wines, I feel like there is so much skin contact and oxidation that all you smell is “orange wine” vs the variety of grape — with this, I felt that is was still every bit Semillon.
The wine is cloudy — very cloudy. Part of that is due to the skin fermentation, another part due to moving the wine (in December of 2011 we moved the barrels / egg), and another part to some “rustic” racking before bottling.
Before bottling, Rowdy and I were convinced that this was the best of the three wines we made in 2011. It was what we wanted to drink. A textured, aromatic white, that is soil/mineral driven, grown by a friend, and that keeps changing and evolving in the glass.
In the winemaking process we follow “nothing added, nothing removed, minimal sulfur”. Everything is done by hands and feet, and we'll opt for character over clarity.
This is an extremely small-production wine, and is only available in Los Angeles, San Fransisco, New York and Singapore. The winery sold out after a month, and the winemaker says “we thought we'd have a lifetime supply of these wines. But what you can find on a wine list, or a shelf, is all there is.”
I found a bottle in the wine and gift shop Venokado in the Market in Santa Monica Place (for about $27), and the winery lists a number of Los Angeles restaurants that carry the wine, including L&E Oyster Bar, Salt's Cure and Baco Mercat. By all means, buy a bottle to drink with dinner, but my goal will be to find a few to put away for a couple of years. If this wine is this interesting a cool now, I imagine it will be even better down the road.
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