Grapes to bubbles, in a void of light
No, the chap in the picture isn't a secret agent, nor a surgeon. He's sommelier Pierre-Yves Bournerias of the Institut Oenologique de Champagne, standing in a pitch-dark Slovenian cellar and about to pop open a bottle of classic-method sparkling wine entirely made in the complete absence of light. Crazy, uh?
The world of wine isn’t really prone to innovation. But from time to time someone defies the dogma by investing in experimental, or should I say quirky ideas. As it’s certainly the case of Radgonske Gorice, a Slovenian winery with a remarkable pedigree when it comes to sparkling winemaking. Inaugurated by Alojz Klenošek when the House of Habsburg-Lorraine introduced wine production in the region, Radgonske Gorice boasts some 168 years of history.
Four years ago, the winery decided to combine the fight against lightstrike* with perhaps a good dose of gimmickry and launched Untouched by Light, the world’s first sparkling wine “made, sold and tasted in complete darkness”.
The wine is a classic-method brut blanc de blancs made of 100% Chardonnay grapes from the 2016 harvest by winemaker Klavdija Topolovec Špur (pictured right). It’s been disgorged with 6.9g/l of sugar, has 8 g/l of acidity and 12% abv.
Grapes from Radgonske Gorice’s Radgona vineyards were picked at night in complete darkness, using night-vision goggles rather than lights.
Following the fermentation process, the wine was left to mature in the Gornja Radgona cave, in a lightproof environment, “untouched by the outside world.” The winery ensures that the wine has never seen light throughout the entire process: night-vision goggles were even used for riddling and packing. To ensure full protection until opening, the wine’s black lightproof bottle is packed in a vacuum-sealed bag, which blocks any additional light or air contact.
Needless to say, the entire process is rather costly. The wine has therefore been released in limited quantities – just 2000 bottles – and is available to buy from the winery's website at the perhaps justifiable price of €100 plus shipping.
Untouched by Light
As advised by the producer, I've tasted the wine in the dark – a touch of theatre that can certainly season the overall drinking experience with extra spice.
Untouched by Light is an elegant, somewhat restrained blanc de blancs. The nose displays little autolytic character but shows fresh, pleasant green fruit notes. The palate is gentle, with fine bubbles and a creamy texture. Overall, a graceful sparkling wine.
I certainly couldn't "taste the darkness" though. Annoyingly, no control sample has been produced, which makes evaluating the experiment impossible.
Despite some evident weaknesses though, Radgonske Gorice's attempt to dig deeper into the effects of lightstrike on wine (and must, and grapes) is laudable. A second iteration of the experiment – involving a test sample – would be warmly welcomed.
*Lightstrike occurs when a wine is exposed to sunlight or fluorescent light and results in the development of off-flavours such as sewage, cooked cabbage or damp cardboard.
To know more about the science behind lightstrike, you can read Professor Ann C. Noble’s original research on the subject here.