Orange Wine | A New Category with an Ancient History
Trends come and go, like bell bottoms, cronuts, and vuvuzelas. Creating sustained demand for something truly different proves a greater challenge, especially in the world of wine. Even a winemaking style with a history reaching back to 4000 BC may have a difficult time gaining acceptance. Such is the case with orange wine, but keep a close watch as the super-hued sip is about to make significant strides.
What, exactly, is orange wine?
Perhaps the first order of business is to establish what orange wine is not. Orange wine is not wine made from oranges, although there is a distinctive South African winery and distillery that does make this. It is also not wine from the Orange region of New South Wales in Australia, which produces some very good traditional wines from varietals used to make orange wine.
Is it comparable to a white wine? Not even close. White wines made from white grapes, separated from seeds and skins at crush, are light in color with fruity palates and minerality. Orange wines, on the other hand, are made from white grapes and have a definite fruit and mineral profile, but the parallel stops there. They own a completely different color, nose, and palate.
Is it more like a red wine? Sort of, but it would be a stretch to compare them. Red wines made from red grapes, left in contact with seeds and skins, have full-bodied palates of ripe fruit, big tannins, and a variety of earthy aromas. Orange wines, also left in contact with the seeds and skins, gain color and tannins in the maceration process, but the winemaking style doesn't make white grapes taste and look like red. It is most definitely not a red wine.
Is it similar to a rosé? Not really. Rosé wines are made from red grapes, and like red wines, they spend time in contact with the seeds and skins, although it is a much shorter contact period than red wine. Time spent with seeds and skins results in just a blush of color and very light tannins. Again, not like orange wine. It is truly its own category.
A Little History of Orange Wine
First made in the Caucasus region of what is now the Eurasian country of Georgia, early winemakers developed the style around 6,000 years ago. Unearthed relics carry remnants of the casks, called Qvevri, that were used by Georgians to ferment and store wine. The casks were completely lined in beeswax and buried underground, using the stable subterranean temperatures to every advantage. Similar to amphora clay vessels, Georgians take issue when comparisons between the two arise, citing older history and distinctive technology of Qvevri compared to Roman and European amphorae. The latter was used above ground, or at most, partially buried, and smaller in size with handles, to facilitate transport. Qvevri, tucked into the soil up to the neck, are stationary vessels.
Qvevri are quite large, ranging in sizes that hold from 100 and up to 10,000 liters. Pure, unglazed terra cotta constructed in the built-coil method, the smaller qvevri are preferred for fermentation and the larger for storage. Fashioned into a shape resembling an inverse cone, the seeds and skins sink to the narrow bottom, minimizing their influence on the wine. The porous material allows the wine to breathe, introducing a very small amount of oxygen during the long, slow process of gradual fermentation that, ultimately, does not present an oxidized wine but a richly textured and colored pour unlike any other.
Modern Orange Wine Production
Not all modern orange wines are aged in underground jars or casks, although many winemakers follow the ancient winemaking style. Innovative experimentation with wood, concrete, and other materials, and additional grape varieties has developed a broad interpretation of the category still searching for its place among established wine styles.
The simplicity of orange wine, often left to its own devices without additives, holds appeal as an accompaniment to rustic, farm-to-table style menus, finding favor in surprisingly sophisticated niches. Worthy orange wines are labor intensive, and as a result, expensive with small production numbers, not expected to develop a mainstream profile soon. Having such a long history, however, and showing such versatility, this option pairs well with palates preferring old school handcrafted fare to manufactured products.
Orange Wine Regions, Taste Profiles, Varietals
Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
Swartland Region Western Cape, South Africa
Long Island, NY, USA
Adelaide and Victoria, Australia
Sierra Foothills and Napa Valley, CA, USA
Grape varieties used
Varietal Flavors and Aromas
- Orange rind
- Autumnal fruit
- Brown spice
- Hay and grass
Alcohol level: 12.5 % and above
Serve at cellar temperature, or chilled slightly below room temperature
Tannins: Medium to High
AKA: Amber wine
Spices: Pepper, Curries, Morrocan and Ethiopian spices,
Vegetables: Potatoes, Beans, Peas, Rice, Mirepoix, Corn, Squash, Mushrooms, Kimchi, Radiccio
Main Courses: Duck, Pork, Beef, Seafood, Sausage, Chicken, Comfort Food menus, Pastas, Charcuterie
Cheese: Chevre, Strong and Aged Cheeses
Sauces: Gravies, Bordelaise, Brown Butter,
Avoid: Delicate Flavors
Georgian Qvevri Wine: http://www.timatkin.com/articles?803
Orange Wine: What's Old is New Again: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/orange-wine-whats-old-is-new-103281670/
Fast Co. Design: https://www.fastcodesign.com/3049731/the-rise-of-orange-wine
All You Need to Know About Qvevri: http://therealwinefair.com/all-you-needed-to-know-about-qvevri-but-were-afraid-to-ask/
Robert Parker: The Bright World of Orange Wine: https://winejournal.robertparker.com/the-bright-world-of-orange-wine
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