Orange wine has nothing to do with citrus fruits, so what is it?

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When I first heard of Orange Wine, I was quietly confused.

It was about 15 years ago, I was selling wine at a wine shop and a couple of hip young wine drinkers started telling me about the last orange wines (usually from Georgia) they had tried.

At this point, the only orange wine I knew of was the one our regular Jean made in bulk with his family from each winter’s citrus harvest, a few spices, and cases of the cheapest white we could get him. to sell.

Could that be what these cool kids were talking about, was Georgia growing particularly good oranges, and were they talking about the country or the state? At least I knew how to keep my questions to myself.

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Because orange wine has nothing to do with oranges. Orange refers to the color of wine. This color, like the color of most red wines, comes from the skin of the grape.

White wine is made by vinifying grape juice after pressing the grapes and removing their skins. Orange wines, sometimes called skin-contact, skin-macerated, or skin-fermented wines, are wines made with grapes typically used to make white wines that have been vinified and sometimes aged for long periods of time, with their skin included.

New Dogs, Old Stuff

Orange wines started to become very popular about ten years ago, inextricably linked to the rise of natural wine. First found on trendy, edgy restaurant listings in foodie metropolises around the world, it’s common today to find most decent restaurants, wine shops and bars, offering at least a few orange wines.

There is definitely something new and trendy about orange wine. The way of making the wines and their aromatic profile is really different from white and red wines in the classic sense. That’s why it’s usually the young winemakers and drinkers ready to experiment, pushing the style forward.

However, the methods of making orange wine are actually not new at all, but rather as old as winemaking. Georgia, which arguably inspired the modern wave of orange wine, has been growing grapes and making wine this way for about 8,000 years.

Pheasant Tears, Chinuri Skin 2017, $47

Pheasant’s Tears has been one of the most successful producers of the modern Georgian era, reviving and promoting this style of winemaking, using, as is tradition, underground clay pots lined with beeswax or qvevri to ferment and age their wines.

Although this one has a rich pear and citrus mid-palate, it is really marked by the infusion of not only skins but also stems and natural oxidation, giving it real tannins and a complex flavor character, roasted nuts, warm spices, curry and mouth-watering umami. A whole new/very old world of flavors.

Good things take time

One of the interesting things about the natural wine phenomenon is that although it is at most a few decades old and has a willingness to challenge the norm and make wine in a new way, sometimes irreverent, he is also interested in reviving and exploring old, largely abandoned ones. , techniques and practices.

The contemporary wave of orange wines began in earnest in the late 1990s and early 2000s with wines from Friuli in Italy alongside the re-emergence of Eastern European traditions that had been suppressed during the Soviet era. .

Admittedly, there have been many jumping on the bandwagon with “skinny” wines made with a little more intention than looking cool and/or grabbing a piece of the market. . However, the most reputable producers of wines of this style are those who have devoted time and effort to understanding and developing older traditions in a quality-driven effort to move forward.

Josko Gravner was already a highly regarded producer of classically made white wines from the Friuli region when, disillusioned with “New World” wines, he turned to the Georgian tradition and totally transformed his approach to winemaking. Today, its wines are cult references for wine lovers and aspiring orange wine producers around the world.

A small number of its notable wines are imported into New Zealand by Squisito Fine Wines, best to contact them to find out how to get your hands on some. He makes two wines from white grapes, both of which have long maceration times. Look for either the blend, Gravner Breg, or the single varietal Gravner, Ribolla Gialla.

What does orange wine taste like?

The number one thing I tell first-time orange wine drinkers is, like the Hurricanes in the 2000s, expect the unexpected.

Much like this team, my first impressions of skin contact wines were that they could be overwhelming, complex and varied, showing a range of flavors and aromas that were bound to delight the senses. But in the end, they lacked incisiveness and direction.

The flavors and aromas that come from the skins of a grape, especially during their fermentation, make the wine broader, wilder and more exotic than what we know with a white of classic manufacture. Beyond the flavor, the skins also change the texture of the wine, with tannins, playing Christian Cullen style, adding angles where you wouldn’t expect them.

In white wine, I look for acidity to balance the fruit and alcohol richness, bringing laser-like sharpness, length and definition to a wine. The tannins in orange wines can give the impression that this acidity is lacking and the wine lacks tension and definition.

Over time (and more drinking), I’ve come to appreciate not only the kaleidoscopic flavors and aromas present in orange wines, but also the way they take your palate on a textural journey, leaving tantalizing sensations of salty and sometimes umami flavor, and complex sweet. – the tangy acidity, which, like a solid acidic backbone of a good white wine, acts as a hanger for delicate and complex aromas to unfold.

Millton, Libiamo, Gewurztraminer, 2020, $40

The youthful energy of Millton’s Libiamo range comes with a kaleidoscope of flavors and textures, try this as an introduction to orange wines and you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.

Listen up, beer lovers

Personally, it’s taken me forever to figure out orange wines, and for the same reason I imagine I’ve had more success introducing relatively inexperienced wine drinkers to orange wine than those with more established palaces.

Interestingly, fans of IPA-style hoppy beers seem to be quickly turning to orange wines, and there are similarities between the flavors, aromas, and texture of these fruity, tropical, resinous, and sometimes dank, hoppy brews and those that come from the skin. fermentation in wine.

Garage Project, Tropical Phantasm, 2020, $32

Ever since Garage Project started producing wine, they have always been drawn to the infusion of flavors and skin textures.

Always innovative, this one sees Sauvignon Blanc skins added to fermenting Pinot Gris juice for a relatively short six-day maceration. A far cry from the savory, complex and frankly more serious old-fashioned orange wines, this is a feast of bottled tropical fruit.

Variety is the spice of life

Of course, the diversity of orange wines is just as wide as that of white wines, the range of grape varieties, growing regions and winemaking decisions just as myriad.

Basing your opinion of this style of wine on the first ones you have tasted is short-sighted. Likewise, it’s a winemaking technique that might force you to rethink varietals that you might have overlooked in the past.

COS, Zibibbo to Pithos, 2018, $62

Zibibbo is the local Sicilian name for Moscato d’Alessandria, a grape variety, often vinified sweet (but not in this case), which can be soapy and fragrant like my girlfriend’s bathroom, and not at all to my taste.

Skin contact in this broadens and deepens the typical aromatic palate, adding above all a zesty, salty citrus edge that lends verve and freshness, making it dangerously drinkable and excellent with anything candied lemons.

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