Orange wine 101
As a Sommelier, I get asked a lot of questions about orange wine with many people wanting to have just a taster of this mysterious new wine colour they’re hearing about.
The truth is that it’s not so new at all…If you look back a good 8000 years ago, Georgia first started making wine and this is the style they made. Grapes would be placed as whole bunches into large clay pots (called qvevri) stored underground to keep a consistent temperature. These vessels would be then sealed with stones and closed with beeswax, remaining unopened until around 6 months later. The natural yeasts found in the grape bunches kick-off the slow fermentation and the prolonged time spent between the juice and grape skins getting all close and personal create an orange colour in the wine.
Just how red grapes give a red colour to the wine due to their skin colour, the white grapes (technically amber/golden when ripe) release an orange hue into the wine. Paired with slight oxygenation, wines can be an even deeper orange, almost mimicking a glowing aperol spirtz!
Do they taste of erm…orange?
Well, not quite as fresh as that would be my answer. It may look fresh, (although not so much for the unfiltered versions..) sweet and citrusy but the flavours are slightly more mature and savoury than that. Some can be completely funky and may closer resemble a beer or lager than a wine due to the natural yeasts used for fermentation. Most however, have flavours of bruised apple, brazil nuts, sourdough bread and honey with tannins that will have you reaching for a glass of water to re-hydrate!
About those tannins…If you know about where they come from in red wine then it’s the same for orange wine, they come from the grape skins, seeds and stems. Since you have more skin contact in an orange wine, the tannins from the skins are released unlike in a white wine where the skins are quickly taken out of the juice for fermentation.
If a friend or examiner happened to be really cruel and give you an orange wine and ask you to guess it with your eyes closed, then you may well be thinking you’re drinking a red wine! And that’s because of those sneaky tannins messing with your senses.
Will this be my next go to wine?
“They will never be poolside drinkers” says U.S wine importer Chris Terrell for Wine Enthusiast. I think this is a fair comment since they are certainly more of a challenge to drink rather than the New Zealand savvy b you may be used to. The tannins and funky notes are unusual and can often make the wine feel more bitter and overpowering when paired with food. They’re certainly not a replacement for a refreshing glass of white wine, but perhaps they can be for a meaty, full-bodied red.
This is not to say that they can’t be popular, they certainly have become fashionable, with almost a third of 25-35 year olds in Summer 2020 admitting they would buy an orange wine because it would look good on their Instagram feeds…Well I suppose that’s one reason for trying it but I guess not the intended one.
If you’ve already been a fan of the low-intervention style of wines then these orange hued versions should be next on your list! Italy offers the greatest selection of orange wines to try, followed by Slovenia and Georgia, however, a lot of experimental wine regions are having a go such as the California and Australia.
Experts recommend to serve orange wines at a slightly warmer temperature than you would for a white wine and insist that decanting may be beneficial. They’re really just the semi-skimmed milk of the wine world really aren’t they?
Let me know if you’ve tried any orange wines that have converted you to the amber side or have left you with a bitter taste in your mouth.
For more information about orange wine, Simon J Woolf has literally written the book on it: