Monday, December 5, 2011

Brown White Wine: A Happy Accident in Drinking

A "brown white" wine from Dettori Bianco
I imagine many people have been in my shoes- order a bottle of wine, think you know what you are getting, and something entirely different shows up, opened and decanted before you have time to protest.  Not all accidents are so happy (I’ll save you the story of that $180 half bottle of Bordeaux at Gary Danko for another time).  But sometimes, the accident is an altogether joyous one, as with what happened to me this past weekend, introducing something that is a complete surprise in the best possible way.

This past Saturday night my boyfriend ordered a wine he thought we’d like off the unique list at Tasting Kitchen in Venice Beach, California.  It was Sardinian, a region we are loving right now.  But like much of the wines of Italy, we still have a lot of learning to go when it comes to understanding the complex varietals and growing methods of this Mediterranean island.

Mistake Number One: we thought we were ordering red.  Puzzled, we watched as an amber colored, unfiltered liquid was decanted in front of us, quite unlike any wine color I’ve seen before, white or red.

Noting our initial shock, and obvious mistake, the mustachioed hipster sommelier walked us through the story of this unusual wine. 

Dettori Bianco, we learned, is technically a white wine made of the vermentino grape, part of a category of wines sometimes called “brown whites” for their distinctive color not unlike apple cider.  Grown in the highlands of the Sennori commune in Sardinia, this particular wine is made according to the tradition of the region, through a process of macerating the wine in the skins for 2-4 days then drawing off the juice by hand- no crushing allowed.  The wine then ages in traditional cement vats for 2-3 years before bottling.

Our hipster friend’s story was intriguing.  We tentatively swirled and sniffed.  The Dettori had mustiness and raisin-like notes reminiscent of certain fortified wines but without the heat.  Most vermentinos I’ve had are clear and crisp with a nice acidity that pairs well with food.  This particular fermentation method produces a much richer flavor, one that may not pair was well with lighter seafood but tasted excellent alongside a seared tuna dish as it did with a plate of bucatini amatriciana.   

Was the wine a mistake?  Maybe to order, but not to drink.  Not everyday we get to drink a “brown wine”… and like it. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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