Discovering Orange Wine in a Rose’ World

Photo by Justin Aikin on Unsplash

I recently attended a cocktail exchange — as opposed to the conventional cocktail party where six feet apart simply cannot apply in our social-distancing new normal. With spring-like weather, and lawn chairs separated appropriately, commanding center stage was an ice bucket replete with chardonnay and rose’. Or so I thought. Using purple latex gloves that the host provided as an added fashion kick, I poured a glass of Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla and to my surprise my white wine was not white. It wasn’t blush. It was a lovely amber hue. This crisp wine coated my palate and confused my wine intellect. It was savory, almost bitter, which I didn’t expect; dry and with depth. I fell in love.

I don’t claim to be a wine snob, just a quasi-connoisseur. I like what I like and I don’t like sweet wine. I tend to migrate to the complexity of a bold red, and when drinking non-reds, I enjoy the richness of an oaky chardonnay. I can talk the talk with the best of them, and admittedly I’ve had years of practice. I love being pleasantly surprised and I’m rarely taken aback. Until now.

Move Over Rose’. There’s a New Gal in Town

In a wine world of non-reds, chardonnay reined queen. Then rose’ unabashedly grabbed the crown AND sash and has crushed the competition. Nearly 19 million cases of rose’ was sold in the US alone in 2018.

Millenials made rose’ hip and cool and it became that perfect crossover wine for both red and white wine drinkers. It’s light and refreshing and represents warm months and happy gatherings. Its versatility has traversed across all seasons and cuisines.

Now, “orange wine” is stealing a slice of the spotlight and is hitting the mainstream rose’ market with a punch.

Contrary to its title, no oranges are used in producing this wine. Orange is the color, not the technique. The method of making orange wine, known as skin-contact white wine, or skin-fermented white wine, has been around for over 6000 years, originating in Georgia, the country, not the state. Most orange winemaking takes place in northern Italy, but also in Croatia, Germany, Slovenia, New Zealand, and Spain and a bit here in the US. However it’s still considered a secret.

To make orange wine, white grapes are mashed up, with their skins, seeds, and stems called must, for four days up to several months. The longer the contact, the bolder the color and depth. The result is a wine with rich tones ranging from deep gold to copper pennies to tangerine. The color variations range from subtle to extreme the longer the wine ferments with its skin, a process known as maceration. It can also contain visible sediment, with a ‘cloudy’ appearance, which is not a bad thing! It just means that certain binding elements in conventional winemaking are not used.

Because the skin-contact process is similar to red wine, tannins are present. So orange wine has the liveliness and acidity of white wine, while retaining the boldness and body of red wine. But the big difference is that NO yeast or sulfites are added in the fermentation of orange wine. In fact, there is little to no intervention in this natural wine. The flavors that are released are not subtle. They are layered and complex. It’s this distinct taste that truly sets orange wine apart.

How is this process different to rose’ winemaking?

For rose’, the skin of the red grape is allowed to remain in contact with the juice for two hours up to 24 hours to produce a light pink color. Like orange wine, the longer the skins remain, the darker the color. Rose’ wines contain no tannins due to the limited skin maceration, and the taste can range from dry to very sweet.

Photo by fran hogan on Unsplash

How do you drink orange wine?

Chilled, but not too much, as it will mask the flavors. Once the wine is open, it will keep longer because of the tannins. You can decant orange wine for twenty minutes to elevate the aromas and flavor.

With flavors like bruised fruits, varnish, linseed oil, oolong tea, and sourdough, it stands alone in its uniqueness, yet gets along with everyone. More menus and wine bars are showcasing orange wines because the tannins and acid make them ideal for pairing with foods.

What pairs best? Think strong spicy foods. Salty nuts and cheeses, like pecorino and aged Gouda, and grilled bitter vegetables like spicy mustard greens, kale, and artichokes. Also red meat dishes, curries, and Moroccan foods pair well.

Health Benefits Too

When boiling potatoes, carrots, broccoli, or squash with the skins on, or throwing the entire apple, seeds and all, into your smoothie, the good stuff stays in. When we discard these items, we throw away healthy parts. It is similar to skin-contact winemaking. The antioxidants seep into the wine from the skins and seeds.

According to the National Institute of Health, studies have shown that this fermentation process can deliver up to six times more antioxidants, such as catechins and resveratrol, than white wine, which reduce inflammation and lower the risk of some cancers.

Also, orange wine contains higher levels of polyphenols, which have been linked through numerous studies to slow mental decline and reduce risks of heart disease, similar to red wine.

Because orange wine is a natural wine, the chemicals are ditched. No pesticides are used when growing the grapes, nor any additives used in the fermentation process. Natural wine contains loads of gut healthy bacteria and wild yeasts. Even with the highly debated discussion if sulfites trigger headaches, we can argue that natural wines are a better choice for our bodies and can potentially reduce headaches and hangovers.

Next time you pour your anticipated libation into your glass, challenge your perception. Think orange.

Wine not?




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