In the spectrum of colours that wine has it seems that our favourite drink now comes in a new hue – orange. This opens a new and interesting category which earned mixed reactions. So, will orange now become the new red? Or has this “trend” actually been around for so long and has only earned the attention just recently?
It smells like a lighter version of a red wine, however it looks darker than white wine. It is something that goes in between, but it is also not like your bottle of rose. What seems to be a newbie in the market is actually a result of wine-making throwback process.
The Back Story
Orange wines were introduced in the market five years ago, although the style has already been used for several years now. It was only in 2004 that the term “orange wine” was coined by a wine importer first encountered a bottle in a Sicily.
It was celebrated Italian winemaker Frulian Josko Gravner’s idea to go back to old winemaking techniques, when he found that most of the modern processes being used today are simply not giving quality results anymore. In his walk down the past, Gravner drew inspiration from Georgian winemaking techniques which he observed in a visit in the 90’s.
What goes behind the process
White grapes are used to make orange wine, but it was produced in a similar fashion in making reds. Instead of pressing the grapes and have the juices run off the skins immediately, as what is done with most white wines, orange wine is made to sit with the skin for a certain period of time. This results in a deeper hue that somehow resembles cognac. Gravner emphasizes the fact that no chemicals can be sprayed on the grapes while they are growing, and he also skips the chemicals during the fermentation and bottling process. This type of wine is also referred to as “contact wine” due to the contact with the grape skins.
In the wine community, orange wines are more preferably called “amber wine” since this is the most accurate description of the colour. The very few restaurants that offer this type of wine prefer to list it as , amber since sommeliers found the term “orange wine” to be rather derogatory.
A whiff of orange wine give a smell that is slightly similar to red wine, but with just that interesting edge. It gives a dry scent with fruity notes, but it is not as astringent.
Orange wine has a unique and distinct flavour that will actually surprise you. No, it doesn’t taste like white wine, and neither does it taste like red. It has a distinct slightly tannic taste just a tad bit similar to what you would get with red or a dark rose. Some experts claim that if you enjoy sherry, chances are you’d love the taste that orange wines have too. Some even describe it to be similar to watered-down bourbon that gives that slight burn after drinking.
What is interesting is that you would expect this wine to be rather sweet, but you’ll get surprised with its dryness. Depending on how the wine is made, it may also get a hint of smokiness that it may have gotten from the barrels in which it ferments. Due to the rustic nature of the wine making process this type of drink shows bumps and bruises with the distinct flavours from the methods employed by the winemakers. Overall, this drink is best described as a robust drink that is complex and challenging.
The beauty in the throwback
Vintage not only refers to good wine, but it can also mean good wine making practices. What is seemingly new about orange wines is actually Gravner simply bringing back the oldest wine making process in the world. He did this to avert from the industry that is now overshadowed by business instead of focusing on the craft. Gravner employed this technique to serve as a natural alternative to the mass-produced wines which undeniably, and quite unfortunately, has fallen short on quality.
Orange wines have not widely penetrated the market just yet, this means that a bottle of these are not easy to find. But you can always ask your local store if they have it because there is a good chance that they have tasted it, and they may still be looking at a good customer base for it.
Today, orange wines are slowly making its way to top wine lists, and restaurants are also adding it to their regular offerings. Sommeliers observed that consumers are becoming savvier and are willing to open up to this new taste based on their recommendations. However, there are some restaurants who claim that they are more careful in their choices of orange wines because their oxidative character do not fare well with their dishes. The wine’s unique texture, taste and tannins need some getting used to, which is also very important in pairing with food.
Will this “trend” catch on to the mainstream?
Technically, how can this be called a trend when the practice has been down for thousands of years? This is what makes wine interesting and relevant because winemakers can play around it, and with the right techniques they can produce plethora of flavours. Orange wines, although new to our palates, actually gives us the true essence of wine making which is actually a refreshing twist from all the mass-produced and chemically manipulated wines.
Today, prominent wineries in California, Italy, to Slovenia are making orange wines. Companies are now going back to making honest wine without the additives. According to Gravner, orange wines required great care right from the soil down to bottling. He allowed nature to dictate the process, which is actually a big risk knowing that a certain batch might not turn out.
Orange wines may freak people out because it looks, smells and tastes different. But if you are willing to open up your mind and palate to something more unconventional, orange wines is definitely worth a try.
It does not replace your red, or your whites, because it is something unique in between. It has a personality on its own, which people will also come to love as it gradually make its way in stores and restaurants.