Orange wines have exploded on the market, yet the question remains, are they here to stay? Critics see such wines as just a passing fad, while upbeat sommeliers extoll their virtues. In reality, very few Americans have ever even been introduced to these lovely gems.
Let’s begin by setting the record straight. Orange wines are not orange. In color, they range from a bright gold to a tawny brown. Orange wines are in fact, white grape varietals that are produced more like reds. There is a prolonged maceration of crushed grape skins and seeds. The result is a full-bodied white wine with the tannic taste of a red.
Virtually any white wine grape can be used: Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Malvasia, Ortugo, Trebbiano, Ribolla Gialla, just name a few.
The Republic of Georgia excels in this style of wine-making and skin fermented whites have been popular throughout the centuries. Since these wines are typically made in amphora pots, the mark of the Georgian style is quite evident. Renown Georgian vintner, Gela Patalishvili of Pheasant’s Tears, is the country’s leading proponent of macerated wines. I am quite fond of their Rkatsiteli. This golden amber colored wine has a honeyed nose, yet remaining dry and full-bodied. On the palate there are pleasurable notes of walnut and apricot, and memorable finish. Orange wines can be a bit more difficult to pair, yet this Rkatsiteli will go nicely with roasted chicken, duck, or quail. The alcohol content is 12.5% with a price tag of $20.
Italy’s Josko Gravner is easily one of my favorite vintners. I am often reminded of those California nights with my friend, and fellow sommelier, Coly Den Han. We would often enjoy a bottle of one of Gravner’s amphoras. I would recommend a 2003 “Breg.” This is an enticing blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Grigio. In coloring, it is a deep orange brass. The nose is concentrated and oxidized with dried persimmons and pears. This is a distinctive and refreshing wine that pairs well with pork dishes. The alcohol content is 13% with a price tag of $95.
Slovenia’s Stanko Radiko produces bold cutting edge wines that are not for the faint of heart. If you are feeling adventurous, I would recommend his 2004 Ribolla Gialla. The hand-harvested grapes have been soaking in their skins for better than a month. Next they are fermented in large oak barrels without temperature control, no added yeasts, enzymes, or sulfer. The result is a sherry-like wine that is somewhat cidery in taste. This wine not only comes alive, it maintains a favorable freshness to its character. The alcohol content is 13% with a price tag of $35.
In recent years, both California and Oregon vintners have begun experimenting, and found favor with orange wines. Such California wineries as Broc Cellars, Wind Gap, and Scholium Project are cutting edge in the realm of macerated wines. While in Oregon, Big Table Farm, Cameron, Johan Vineyards, and Antica Terra are leading the way … “But that my friends is another story …”