Michael Barnes on Vino Vino’s Orange Wine Dinner

The following article appeared Sunday in the Austin American Statesman.

Orange Wine Dinner at Vino Vino

By Michael Barnes
Austin American Statesman
Sunday, April 11

Mostly, I kept quiet.

During the Orange Wine Dinner at Vino Vino, I was surrounded by experts. Start with restaurant owners Jeff Courington and Houston-based Kelly Bell Jr., who hosted the meal and wine tasting, dipping into their deep cellar. Continue with John Paine of New York-based Rosenthal Wine Merchant, restaurant consultant Mike Dyer and Julio C. Hernandez, president of D’Amore Wine Selections. Add Lewis Dickson, owner of La Cruz de Comal winery near Canyon Lake, and GSD&M marketplace planner John D’Aciernano and his wife Jill Skinner, whom I’d previously met at a One World Theatre event.

John D’Aciernano and Jill Skinner

Leading the expedition into the evening like a star professor on the verge of tenure was Jeremy Parzen, who writes the nimble Do Bianchi blog and whose presentation of the orange wines was a poetic concoction of history, science, art and biography. A musician and linguist, he had spent years in Italy and Slovenia, which gave him first-hand knowledge of the natural wine movement he described last night.

His wife, Tracie, sales rep for Glazers Wholesale Distributors, assisted (her superior photography can be found at Do Bianchi). Adding more than a little to the meal — although behind the scenes — was chef Esteban Escobar. He had not tasted the wines in advance, but worked from descriptions to incite his own creativity.

Jeremy Parzen, Tracie Parzen and Jeff Courington

It’s hard to believe this was perhaps only the third such public tasting of orange wines in this country; the first two occurred in New York and San Francisco. In case you were wondering, no, it’s not wine derived from citrus, but rather what would normally become white wine, receiving instead days of contact with the grape skins in the vats, rather than just hours.

Thus, the pale orange or yellow hues. And the extraordinary tastes, amplified by all sorts of eccentric winemaking techniques — aging in clay amphoras; or in casks shaped like grapes (“because the grape is the original winemaker”); or using natural, ambient yeast rather than the added type; or trellising vines into tree branches rather than in clipped rows, in the Etruscan manner; or skipping a disgorging, which leaves glorious sediment in the wine.

John Paine and Kelly Bell Jr.

We started with a Movia 2000 Puro from the Brda region of southern Slovenia, not really “orange,” by Parzen’s definition, but strikingly composed and disgorged by our guide in a bowl of cold water. (Served with flaky salmon tatare, grapefruit, lemon oil, chervil and chives.) Then came a spicy Monastero Suore Cistercensi 2008 from Lazio in central Italy, contrasted with a Paolo Bea 2008 Santa Chiara from Umbria, also in central Italy, which supported Parzen’s argument against California winemaking. (Went with calamari, chorizo and tomato coulis; I kept my lip shut about my adored California.)

Our next selection was Edoardo Valentini 1999 Trebbiano D’Abruzzo from the Adriatic coast of Italy, with its intoxicating aroma of coffee. (Paired with a stunning, salty lobster bisque with bits of porcini mushrooms and a dash of crème fraîche.) Then back to Movia for its 2007 Lunar, which gave Parzan the chance to talk about winemaking on the lunar calendar. (It went with a sliver of flounder atop pureed English peas, carrots and ginger.)

Mike Dyer, Julio Hernandez and Lewis Dickson

By this time, we were spellbound. (“These are wines that provoke a discussion about how to make wines,” Paine said.) We sampled the noble and rare Vodopivec 2005 Vitovska Amphora from Italian Friuli. (And my favorite dish: Strands of tagliolini cooked in the sediment from the earlier Puro, entwined with mussels, clams, zucchini, basil and extra-virgin olive oil.) The meal was rounded off with a light Gravner 2003 Ribolla Anfora, also from Friuli. (Served with assorted cheeses, almond brittle and honey.)

The conversation proved as rich as the servings. I learned the backgrounds of many guests and heard their reasons for kneeling before the oenophile altar. It was an extraordinary evening, with story piled upon story. Luckily, the food and wine came in small portions!

It also says something about Austin that it was the third city to embrace this rarity. How does one get started in this field? Paine: “You just start drinking good wine.”

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