Drink the rainbow

Forget rosé. This summer I’ll be drinking co-ferments.

Chenoa Ashton-Lewis of Ashanta Wines. —Courtesy Ashanta Wines

The world has changed. We’ve entered a new era of climatic instability — and in it, adaptability is king. While this is bad news for large industrial wineries whose proficiency lies in churning out millions of highly predictable products year after year, it’s a renaissance for wine’s creative class: small, natural producers who are responding to these environmental changes with sustainable solutions.

Perhaps no solution is more relevant (or exciting) than co-ferments — a new wine category that lies at the intersection of natural wine experimentation and our increasingly dire climate reality. 

Technically speaking, co-ferments aren’t actually new. Defined as any wine made by fermenting two or more different grape varieties together, co-fements have been around for as long as wine itself. Chianti Classico? Hermitage? Both are historic examples of reds whose recipes involve adding small percentages of white grapes for freshness and (unintuitively) deeper color (it’s a chemistry thing). 

Chenoa Ashton-Lewis and Will Basanta of Ashanta Wines. —Courtesy Ashanta Wines

But the co-ferments I’m talking about are an entirely different breed. For one, they’re often made using equal parts red and white grapes, which makes them difficult to categorize. Less so to enjoy, especially in summer, when their rosé-like freshness — not to mention their combination of chutzpah and unfussy grace — is in high demand. Serve them cold and pair them with almost anything, from slabs of juicy heirlooms to grilled swordfish to late-night tacos. 

Here are three of my favorites — all from natural producers in California. You can find them at wineandpeace.com

Ashanta Mawu 2020 ($33) A co-ferment of Merlot and Chardonnay, Ashanta Mawu is like a liquid magic eye — shimmering layers of raspberries, rose hips, and zingy herbs (with each sip, new dimensions emerge). Founded in 2019 by third-generation winemaker Chenoa Ashton-Lewis and cinematographer Will Basanta, Ashanta has arrived on the scene with the galvanizing force of a movement. Only 96 cases were produced; zero sulfur additions. 

Petite Sirah & Gewürztraminer 2020 ($32) Vinca Minor Mendocino Carignan is brisk and flinty with flavors of late summer peaches and yuzu gummies. The Carignan and Petite Sirah (both red grapes) were co-fermented, while Gewürztraminer, a white wine, was blended in at the end. Winemaker Jason Charles is pushing the boundaries of fermentation on multiple fronts: check out his new beyond-wine project, Moonland, which incorporates organic apples and pears grown throughout Mendocino.

Broc Cellars Amore Blendo 2020 ($29) is joyful and atmospheric — how it probably feels to do cartwheels on the moon. For flavors, think fleshy cherries and zingy pink peppercorns. Founded by Omaha native Chris Brockway in 2009, Broc Cellars has contributed as much as any single winery to the breadth and vibrancy of California’s natural wine scene today.