Exceptional Excellent Very Good
Skin-fermented white wines, also called “orange” or “amber” wines, are a niche category that continues to grow in number and styles. They may be aged in traditional clay vessels called qvevri for a long or short period, or they may be made in more modern oak and stainless-steel vessels. Here are two available in the Washington area, plus an unusual white blend from Bulgaria, a tasty pink bubbly from Spain and a $10 California pinot noir.
Imereti, Georgia, $26
Tsolikouri is a native Georgian grape variety, known — to the extent that it is known — for wines with full body, low acidity and flavors of quince and pear, according to “Wine Grapes,” the vino-fiend’s grape bible. This wine, fermented and aged in qvevri, is rich, with moderate tannin from the skins. Yet it has delicious fruit, acidity and length. This is a small-production wine, so there isn’t a lot available, and most of that has been bought up by restaurants. But it is worth seeking out. Alcohol by volume: 13 percent.
Imported and distributed by Georgian Wine House: Available in the District at Batch 13, Potomac Wine & Spirits; on the list at Compass Rose, Himitsu, Maydan, Supra. Available in Maryland at Bin 604 Wine Sellers and Remington Wine Company in Baltimore.
Rkatsiteli might be familiar to East Coast wine lovers, as it has a small following among growers in New York, New Jersey and Virginia. Its homeland is Georgia, where its bright acidity and ripe orchard fruit flavors do well both as an “amber” wine fermented on its skins or in a more modern style. Here it is blended with another Georgian grape variety, mtsvane, and aged underground in clay qvevri in the traditional way. The wine is removed from the qvevri after one month, rather than left until the following spring; this helps preserve its freshness and acidity, while the skin exposure lends depth and tannin. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported and distributed by Georgian Wine House: Available in the District at Batch 13, Cordial Craft Wine, Beer & Spirits (Union Market, the Wharf), Potomac Wine & Spirits, Yes! Organic Market (12th Street NE); on the list at Compass Rose, Maydan, Maxwell Park, Supra, Tabard Inn, Tail Up Goat, Tyber Creek. Available in Maryland at Annebeth’s and Mills Fine Wine and Spirits in Annapolis, Bin 604 Wine Sellers and Wine Source in Baltimore.
Danube Plain, Bulgaria, $20
This lovely wine is another reminder that we drink our whites too cold. Wave this wine at the refrigerator, or better yet, just chill it slightly in the fridge door while you cook. This is best enjoyed slightly cooler than room temperature — it should taste cool, not cold. Then you will experience its tropical fruit flavors of mango, pineapple and guava, and just enough acidity to keep the wine dancing delicately balanced on your palate. It’s a quirky blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, traminer and Riesling. Frame of reference point for wine fiends: Rhone Valley white. ABV: 14 percent.
Imported by USA Wine West, distributed by Siema: Available in the District at Cork & Fork, Wagshal’s Deli (Massachusetts Avenue); on the list at City Winery. Available in Maryland at Cranberry Liquors in Westminster, Fenwick Beer & Wine in Silver Spring, Off the Rox Wine & Beer in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Department of Beer and Wine and Planet Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, Little Washington Winery in Washington.
This spicy, fruity pink bubbly is made with garnacha, the Spanish name for the grenache grape. It’s racy and tasty and fun, ideal for turning any evening into a party, as well as for washing down pre-dinner nibbles. ABV: 12 percent.
Imported by Grapes of Spain, distributed by Elite: Widely available in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
Really good California pinot noir at $10 that actually tastes like pinot noir and not some steroidal cocktail mixed from a recipe of concentrates and flavorings? I’m in. The winemakers at Avalon have sourced excellent fruit from coastal vineyards, and enough of it to get it into national distribution. The Avalon label has been known for good, inexpensive cabernet sauvignon. This delicious pinot noir is a welcome addition to the label. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Distributed by Bacchus in the District and Maryland, Republic National in Virginia: Available in the District at Ace Beverage, Magruder’s, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, Fairgrounds Discount Beverages in Timonium, Hop N Grape in North Bethesda, Total Wine & More (Laurel, Towson), the Wine Harvest (Gaithersburg, Potomac), Wine Source in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Ashburn Wine Shop in Ashburn, Dominion Wine and Beer in Falls Church, Leesburg Vintner in Leesburg, Total Wine & More (various locations), Vienna Vintner in Vienna.
Availability information is based on distributor records. Wines might not be in stock at every listed store and might be sold at additional stores. Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.