(the beauty of) orange wine is more than skin deep
‘Orange’ is a vital wine category with a long history; the term describes wines made with white grapes whose juice is intentionally left in contact with its skins anywhere from a few weeks to several months. This gives the wine a coppery, orange color, deeper than most rosés. In northeast Italy (Friuli-Venezia Giulia), pinot grigio, whose berries have a tendency to darken on the vine, has long been made in this fashion, under the moniker ‘Ramato’ (‘rame’ in Italian = ‘copper’ in English; ‘Ramato’ loosely translates as ‘coppery’). Today, the majority of orange wine is still made in this region, including western Slovenia and northern Croatia, from a host of white grapes; malvasia, vitovska, ribolla gialla, and others. On the Slovenian border, Ales Kristancic at Movia makes a wine called ‘Lunar’ from ribolla gialla which sees 7 months on its skins and is bottled unfiltered; in the decanter, its appearance is fairly typical for the style:
Often, orange wines can even be darker than this. On the southern end of the island of Sardegna, Gianfranco Manca crafts a superlative orange wine called ‘Alvas’ from a blend of local varietals under the label ‘Panevino’. I recently tasted it next to a unique, unpasturized, unfiltered Norman triple Cider from Dupont, made from bitter apples, and was impressed by their nearly identical hue (the wine is on the right):
‘Intentional’ is stressed above because most of us have been trained to see this kind of color in a ‘white’ wine as a flaw, a sign of oxidation. Some tasters I talk to still see it that way, and regard the orange category as freakish, or too similar to each other to capture interest. I disagree, and side instead with Eric Asimov, who, after a tasting of 30+ orange wines in 2009, wrote that they “offer some of the most compelling and intriguing experiences to be found in a glass.” Far from oxidized, these wines are vibrant and full of life, and most benefit greatly from lengthy decantation – I’ve enjoyed many which have, left in a decanter at room temperature, continued to improve over the course of several days. At a recent tasting of orange wines with the Telegraph staff, we were thrilled to see the diversity of flavors, aromas, and textures they conveyed.
There do bear a relationship, however; they tend to show pronounced tannin (that of black, or raspberry tea), higher alcohols, arresting salinity, a backdrop of strong acidity, and an undeniable sense of umami (mushroom, sun-dried tomato, and soy) – also, perhaps surprisingly, they also make amazing pairs with a whole range of cuisine. Served at 55-60F, just under room temperature, they can marry beautifully with everything from venison to river-fish, guinea-hen to brussel sprouts.
Orange wines are still rare; always artisinal, often pricey, they can be very hard to find: some of the leading producers are Radikon, Cornelissen, Gravner, and Panevino (Italy), Clai (Croatia), Vodopivec and Movia (Slovenia), Mendall (Spain), Channing Daughters (New York), and The Scholium Project (California). At Telegraph, we’re glad for the privilege to offer a continuing list of the finest, most approachable, and food-friendly orange wines made today; many of the above, and more.
- Jeremy Quinn