So what’s the deal with orange wine lately?
Well, glad you asked.
Orange wines, sometimes also referred to as amber wines, are currently offering a new exiting style to the existing wine range.
Even better, orange wines are proofing to be the perfect match to a large range of different food.
What is orange wine?
Orange wine is a wine made of white grapes, however following the process that is used to make red wine. Which means, grapes are fermented with skin and seeds still attached.
This process gives the wine its orange like colour that can range from indeed amber to a strong orange to copper and even a light red. In addition, its responsible for the wine’s tannic structure and bitterness similar to red wines.
The fermentation process can take just a day or a couple of days, or sometimes a year or longer, depending on the desired style of the wine.
One of the reasons orange wine recently has taken off quite strongly is perhaps because it is a wine that demands natural and sustainable wine production processes both in the vineyard and in the cellar.
Furthermore, orange wines are made with only a minimum of additives and sometimes not even yeast.
The history of orange wine
The origins of orange wine can be traced back some 6,000 to 8,000 years when wine production begun in the Caucasus region.
One of the challenges ancient winemakers had was to avoid wines turning into vinegar. Therefore, they started to fill grapes in large amphora-like vessels, the so called qvevri. These were sealed and buried into the earth to keep the content at a constant and cool temperature. The grapes were kept in the amphora for about six months. The result was a wine that had a strong colour, texture and structure.
Modern time orange wines have stated to appear at first in northern Italy, more precisely in Friaul.
The region was long known to make low quality mass produced white wines but during the 1970 and 1980s – after a much needed regeneration process – started to produce world glass white wines.
Whilst having success with their wines, some wine makers soon started to be unhappy with the types of wine they were producing. This was largely because they realized that wines around the world started to largely taste the same. They were excellent, good quality wines but the winemakers missed a specific distinction in the wines.
Among these winemakers were such distinguished people like Josko Gravner and Stanislao Radikon. In the late 1980s, they started to experiment to combine historic wine making processes with modern techniques.
From this early beginning of making ‘modern’ orange wines, orange wines have quickly caught on and today are produced nearly everywhere in the world.
What grape varieties are used for orange wine?
The first orange wines produced in northern Italy some twenty years ago were made mainly with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or the less known Ribolla Gialla.
However, with the spreading to other regions and increasing innovation today the variety of grapes used in orange wine has increased. In fact, orange wine can be made with any type of white grape. That said, the main varieties currently used include Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Muscat and Silvaner. Lately, winemakers even started using Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
How does orange wine taste?
Orange wines are typically robust, bold and complex. They display flavours of stone fruit like peaches or dried apricots, tea flavours like strong oolong, and an impression of honey without actually being sweet.
Think of orange wines as bigger, more aromatic versions of the same white grape they are made with.
The intensity of their flavour is largely down to the time of fermentation, thus how long the wine had contact with the skin.
Short contact (up to three weeks) brings a subtle difference without the wines becoming too extreme. By contrast, orange wines that were fermented for a year or longer will display a very bold flavour, that in some cases my need a bit of getting used to.
What is the right drinking temperature for orange wine?
Similar to white wines, the flavours in orange wines are subtler when chilled and they will become more expressive once they warm up. Therefore, most experts suggest to serve them slightly warmer than a classic white, and slightly cooler than a red wine. Somewhere between 12-15°C should work well.
What are the best food pairings with orange wine?
As mentioned earlier, orange wines are great with many foods.
This is because orange wines are the most adaptable wines in the world thanks to their high acidity, low alcohol levels and a subtle phenolic extraction. Note: Phenolic compounds refer to a complex array of naturally occurring chemicals which are responsible for texture and flavour of the wine. Most are found only in the skins of the grapes, and since orange wines are fermented with skins and white wines are not, orange wines display a wider range of flavours.
Orange wines pair well with equally bold dishes, with spicy dishes (think hot curries) or nutty flavours, sour food and bitter vegetables like asparagus, artichokes, and kale. They also pair well to fish, white meat and specific red meats.
Where can you find a good bottle of orange wine and what will it cost you?
Despite the recent hype, orange wine is still made typically in small batches. Many are produced by small, independent boutique wineries and even where the larger labels are adding orange to their range, they only produce a limited number of bottles.
As mentioned before, orange wine is now made around the globe. Hence you can also expect a well sorted wine shop will offer a good choice of orange wines, regardless where you currently are.
However, there are some areas the currently emerge as a stronghold of orange wines. Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria are leading in Europe.
As for the pricing, orange wines tend to be a bit pricier compared to a nice Pinot Grigio. This is owed to a wine making process that requires plenty of manual work and the longer maturing process, requiring to keep the wine longer in the tank (or in many cases amphora) and later on continue maturation for a certain time in the bottle.
That said, you should still find a good orange wine already in the range of €15 – €20.
Have you ever tasted orange wine? If yes, did you like it? If not, are you interested to try it?