What's Orange Wine?

Some 15 years ago a new type of wine hit the tables - orange wine. But it's only in the past couple of years that it has become popular, yet still maintaining its aura of mystery.

It's time to see together what orange wine is, where it comes from and whether it can fit your unique personal taste!


 

Orange Wine Explained

Orange wine is white wine made the way red is made. You may have heard this line already, but what does it really mean? Well, making red and white wines involves different techniques:

  • With reds, grapes are crushed and the skins are left to macerate with the juice for some time before they are removed and the wine is made. This extracts as much colour and taste as possible from the red grapes.
 
 
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  • With whites, this usually doesn’t happen; skins are taken away from the get-go as winemakers focus on preserving the aromas that the juice itself carries, without trying to extract anything else.
 
 
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At the crossroads of two techniques, orange winemaking involves leaving the skins to macerate with the juice to allow wine to get colour and taste.

 

Aren't you simply talking about rosé?

No. Rosé is made with black (aka red) grapes, and short skin contact, during or previous to fermentation. Orange however is made with white grape varieties - which are actually yellow, green or orange - and with short to long skin contact, during or before fermentation.

These wines are dry and fresh and not sweet at all. Actually, as a results of their hybrid winemaking method, orange wines turn out more similar in body and flavours to red wines than to common whites. For this reason, they're better served at room temperature (or more precisely between 16-18° C) so that the all their aromas and taste can be appreciated in full.

 

 

Where Do They Come from?

Orange wine has a long history, dating back some 5,000 years as one of the earliest winemaking techniques. The tradition continued uninterrupted in its birthplace of Georgia in former Soviet Union, but was completely lost in Western Europe.

Until they were brought back for all wine lovers' benefit in the early 2000s by Josko Gravner - pictured below - an innovative winemaker from Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Italy. In 2001 he visited Georgia and was so fascinated by the "Qvevri" - big amphorae used to ferment and age wine - that he decided to bring them back to Italy and give it a go. Bringing together skin contact maceration and the use of these unusual wine vessels, he put orange wines on the world stage.

In the past 10 years, orange wine has grown in popularity and several producers have dedicated themselves to it with success. Orange wine is now being made not only in the Italian region of Friuli Venezia-Giulia, but also in the rest of the country, in Austria and in Slovenia (to mention one among several Eastern European countries).

 
Josko Gravner.jpg
 

Orange wines are organic

Bringing back orange wines was part of a broader search for a more ‘back-to-basics’ winemaking method. Their first proponents were big supporters of the organic and biodynamic wine movement, so they went ahead spreading the gospel in such a way that to this day the vast majority of orange wines are natural. Needless to say, most are sulfite free and preservative free. 

Now, making wine in such an old-fashioned way, and not making use of chemical treatments also means that a producer has less certainty on the quantity and the quality if the wines produced each year. So it's not unusual for these wine producers to decide not to sell their production in bad years. Whilst this gives us great comfort on the average quality to be expected from orange wines, it also explains why orange wines are more expensive than regular still wines - starting from 50% more and above.

 
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See for yourself

If you feel adventurous like our team here at Pulp, give it a go to orange wines. It's going to be a love-it-or-hate-it experience, because they're very unusual in taste and aromas: on the nose they may remind more of Sherry, Port and Marsala as opposed to regular white wines. In the mouth, I find they often taste like a nice Pinot Noir but this is quite a personal judgement (and I love Pinot Noir).

In the UK a good go-to-shop that carries many orange wines is Buon Vino. From their list of options, I recommend trying Oslavje by Radikon from Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Pithos Bianco by Cos from Sicily and Malvasia by Nando from Slovenia.

Finally, if you want to feel the emotion of trying the "original" orange wine Bianco Breg by Josko Gravner, it will be "a little bit" pricer, but you're paying for innovation as well ;-)

 

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