Troon Vineyard “Orange Wine:” Whole Grape Ferment Riesling

I’m not going to lie, besides the chance to taste my first single varietal Tannat, one of the things that drew me to Troon Vineyard was the opportunity to taste my first “orange wine.” This, of course, refers to the wine’s color, achieved by keeping the grape-skins on during fermentation — much like the process used for making red wine. This can be done with any white grape, most commonly Pinot Gris, but Troon Vineyard takes an interesting approach with their whole grape fermented Riesling.

About the Wine: The Riesling grape is happiest in cooler environments — like Germany where Riesling originates. Cool climate Rieslings will have a notable crisp acidity and dominant pome fruit-forward flavors. While warmer climates can grow Riesling — certainly parts of California do — the wines tend to have a higher amount of residual sugars, taste more of stone fruits and, certainly to my palate, can be borderline “sweet.” In fact, in many of the warmer climates that do grow Riesling, winemakers will opt for the late harvest, wait for some noble rot, and create dessert-style wines.

Troon Vineyard Applegate Valley location is, in fact, too warm for Riesling, but they’ve chosen to create a different expression of the Rhine grape. General Manager Craig Camp explains, “Our region is in-between Napa and the Willamette Valley in climate. It’s too warm here for Pinot, but the season is not long enough for Cabernet. However, it is just right for the Mediterranean varieties of Italy, Spain and France. I do not think Riesling is right for this area as it’s too warm. We have a small block and that’s what inspired us to make an ‘orange wine.’ The fruit is perfect for that, but not for making a classic German style riesling.”

Read more about Troon Vineyard’s Applegate Valley AVA location.

Troon Vineyard 2016 Whole Grape Ferment Riesling is made from 100% Riesling grapes harvested from their estate vineyards in the Applegate Valley region of the Southern Oregon AVA. After harvest, the grapes were foot-trodden then left to ferment, skin-on while undergoing native yeast fermentation to dryness. The wine was pressed into seasoned French Oak barrels to age for just 3 months further.
12% ABV

Flavor Profile: The only word to describe the scent after popping the cork of the Troon Vineyard Riesling is “funky.” Scratch that, my notes read, “super funky.” It’s like a fruit salad of sour grapes, rotting pomelos, and deteriorating mandarin oranges. In the glass, the Riesling is more of a thick yellow than a real “orange” color, reminiscent of — well — extremely concentrated pee.

When I first poured the wine, I used a standard Reidel “white wine” glass. This gave the wine much more concentrated aromatics of citrus and floral notes, as if the remnants of an orange tree — blossoms and all — sat in a pile on the floor under the sun all day long. There’s a bit of a musky undertone.

I found this unpleasant, but more importantly, I couldn’t get any more layers from the wine. So I poured the contents of the small glass into a standard Reidel “Bordeaux” glass — much larger — and swirled away. Here I found hints of honey and lemon, crystalized brown sugar, and a hint of something grassy that breaks up those heavier aromatics and adds a bit of freshness to the nose.

On the palate the “orange wine” is surprisingly light given the intensity of the nose. In fact, those intense aromas seem to dissipate and become background aromatics to the almost tannic texture and the overwhelmingly citrusy (borderline sour) components. This Riesling is not sweet — not at all — and yet that crystalized honey-ginger flavor seems to be constant throughout the taste.

And here’s the fun part — the finish and aftertaste. That slightly tannic texture you’ll start to sense about mid-palate delicately and subtly intensifies on the finish. The finishing flavor is a bit sour, but the texture — it’s not the kind of tannic you’d think of with red wine, it’s more that tacky texture of the dregs of a chai or white tea. In fact, the aftertaste is quite reminiscent of a mango chai tea I have in my cupboard…

Food Pairing: I paired the Troon Vineyard 2016 Whole Grape Ferment Riesling with pan-friend salmon and a mandarin-orange salad, topped with crumbled feta. You’ll want an oily fish like salmon (trout or even sea bass would also work well), as it helps round out the mouthfeel of this funky, textural white (sorry, orange) wine. Meanwhile, the sour notes on the wine will do well to cut through those same fatty elements in the fish. Meanwhile, the tartness of the feta also contrasts the flavors in the wine in a fun way — although I will add a note that opting for a goats cheese (or a similarly creamier cheese) would probably work even better.

This was a great pairing, but I’d also like to re-try this wine with a similarly cooked salmon with a side of teriyaki stir-fried vegetables (specifically with this orange glaze recipe), as I think a bit of sweetness in the dish would be welcomed and appreciated alongside the dry orange wine.

More Info: Other Troon Vineyard wines to try: Troon Vineyard 2014 Estate Tannat; Troon Vineyard 2014 Tannat-Malbec Reserve.

I received the Troon Vineyard 2014 Riesling as a sample for review. (Cheers, Craig!) Retail: $20. Stay tuned for more information about Troon Vineyard and their wines as I continue my series on Oregon Wines. Until then, you can find out more information and purchase wines directly from the Troon Vineyard website.

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