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Chamlija Kehribar 2019 - natural orange wine from Turkey

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

I don't really like pairing wine with food. This honesty might hurt me though as there's a widely accepted opinion that food makes wine better and vice versa. Maybe maybe it's because I have too good wines to allow anything altering their taste. But I'm totally supportive when it comes to another type of pairing - matching wine with emotions. I think here orange wines would be unbeatable. A white wine that is privileged to hold all the jokers of red wine, how about that?

A drop of history

Drinking natural orange wine unfiltered and unfined vegan wine tasting of Narince grape variety made by Chamlija winery
With Chamlija's Kehribar - unfiltered, unfined

Orange wine is if the not the oldest, then definitely one of the oldest vinification techniques that luckily was not only precisely preserved but also thrives in popularity. Some 8000 years ago people in Georgia used to ferment whole grape bunches crashed and placed in qvevri - their traditional clay amphorae. Then they would burry them underground and turn patience mode on :) I bet no one was calling it orange wine back then, it was just the normal way of making their beloved (and now renown) Rkatsiteli wine.

A drop of winemaking

No, orange wines are not made of oranges, and not even from orange coloured grapes ;) They're white wines made like red but from white grapes. In red winemaking you ferment the juice together with the skins, while in white winemaking you, mostly, ferment only the juice sometimes macerating it on skins for really short period of time to achieve fuller bodied whites. That would be up to 24 hours of maceration. When it comes to making orange wines you simply keep on macerating and let the fermentation finish with the skins kept - in tank, amphorae, barrels, cement eggs... Vinification vessels is another long story when it comes to the diversity that opens up when making orange wine. Depending on the producer this maceration lasts from a week to a year (or more). Once the winemaker is satisfied with the result the wine is racked and both skins and large particles are separated from the liquid using gravity. Of course, it may be more than just gravity - the wine can be fined with gelatin, casein (milk protein), albumin (egg white), bentonite and many other things. But within the boundaries of my website lets stick to wineries that prefer the low intervention winemaking and use gravity ;)

A drop of specialities

Orange wine is often associated with natural, biodynamic and organic wines. There is a reason to that. Grape skins and stems contain tannins and they not only enrich the taste of red wines with bitterness and astringency, but also are a natural preservative for ageing wines. As orange wines spend significant time on skins they get the tannic structure similar to red wines and many of them can beautifully develop with age. As tannins protect the wine from spoilage winemakers can add less or avoid at all sulphur. Thus orange wines often qualify as natural wines -''nothing removed, nothing added''. At the same time, if you as a winemaker want to increase the natural protective force of tannins you will opt for sustainable viticulture. Farming organic or biodynamic means you won't use artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, so no spraying with poison - let's call things the way they are. This will keep the bacteriological life on the vineyard alive, including on the grape skins. Healthy grapes make age worthy wines! And there's been a ton of research proving that the presence of beneficial bacteria is what keeps the wine live and developing in the bottle for dozens of years.

Healthy grapes make age worthy wines!

Visiting Chamlija winery in Turkey on a vineyard tour on a Narince vineyard hanging a martenitsa on a vine
Later on I've visited Chamlija's Narince vineyards and learned about the local Baba Marta tradition

A drop of taste

As I'm nowadays based in Turkey I'm trying to fully immerse myself in the wines of this country. A producer that interests me a lot is Chamlija - their principles seem to well align with mines. High density plantings, lots of focus on indigenous Turkish grapes, revival of forgotten varieties, wines that aren't fined or filtered, and often no added sulphur. Chamlija advocates the distinctiveness of the Thracian Strandja Massif terroir. You can learn a lot about local soil composition from their website. One of my favourites is their Kehribar - orange (amber) wine. While sipping and lisiting aromas and flavours in mind I came up with a metaphor that helped me to actually store this wine in my memory (and constantly building associations is what saves my a*s during blind tastings). I called this one Autumn in the Balkans - as I'm native to this part of world it's pretty easy to come up with pictures of super ripe apples, quince, pears, aromas of jam boiling in people's courtyards. Here and there you can smell someone's fermenting wine (or something stronger :D). The sun is still warm but the air is chilly.