About orange wines
Once there was just white, red and rosé. Now, orange wines are on the lips of trend-setting wine drinkers everywhere.
Whereas white wine is made by pressing grapes and immediately transferring the juice to a fermentation vessel, red wine ferments the juice, skins and seeds all together. This adds colour (most red grapes actually have white flesh) along with extra flavour and tannins – the bitter, astringent compounds that are also found in tea and which lend structure and texture. Orange wine, also known as amber or skin-contact wine, is essentially a white wine made the same way as a red.
But orange wine is nothing new; in fact, it is the original style of wine. In Georgia, evidence of wine-making dates back 8,000 years – the oldest in the world. Wine back then was made with whole bunches of grapes in huge clay pots. Called qvevri, they were the height of a man and were buried upright in the ground.
Qvevri are still commonly used in Georgia, and are increasingly adopted by winemakers across the world. But they are not essential to the making of orange wine. Some orange wine will stay in contact with the skins for only hours or days; some for weeks or even months. The longer the skin contact, the more pronounced the orange characteristics – a crunchy texture along with pleasing sourness, scents of apricots, peaches and/or quince, and a gentle, savoury spice.
This complexity means they appeal to those who, like me, generally prefer red to white wines, while white-wine drinkers enjoy them for their freshness (orange wine is best served slightly chilled).
Orange wine food pairings
What really makes these wines so user-friendly is their versatility with food. Orange wines are great with anything cheesy – a classic match is with khachapuri, an easy-to-make Georgian bread containing cooked cheese. The astringency in orange wine counters rich and fatty dishes (they are perfect with roast pork or anything deep-fried) while their depth of flavour sits really well with North African, Middle Eastern, Indian and Korean spices, as well as with Eastern European cuisines.
The best orange wines to buy…
The more extreme orange wines might contain mouth-puckering tannins and can smell quite funky, almost cidery, especially if they’ve been made with natural wine-making techniques (fermented with native yeasts and having little or no added sulphites or filtration). These are for the die-hard fans. Newcomers to orange wines should start with less challenging examples, such as those recommended here, and approach them with an open mind to be seduced by their charms.
Made in South Africa from organically grown grapes with three weeks’ skin contact, this has lovely scents of tangerine, orchard fruits and toasted almonds. Medium-bodied with a crisp, lemony finish, it’s great value, too. Try it with oily fish.
English grapes are used to make this nutty, herbaceous wine that’s tinged with a little white pepper. White bacchus grapes are fermented on their skins, then a little oak-aged pinot noir with no skin contact is added to the blend. Generous fruit with a little grippy astringency adds complexity to this really drinkable wine. Great with roast pork or dishes with some gentle spice.
Gérard Bertrand was a star rugby player who returned to his family wine business on the unexpected death of his father, and now makes immaculate biodynamic wines combining traditional methods and modern technology. This is his first orange wine, a blend of southern French grapes that give a great balance of warm apricots, jasmine and a whisper of cigar-box woodiness. Really pure and poised; a fresh and modern orange wine that’s very easy to like.
This blend of aromatic grapes ticks all the natural wine boxes – organic grapes, native yeasts, no added sulphur – as well as a proportion of the wine being fermented in on-trend clay amphorae. Made by Romania’s biggest and most forward-thinking winery, it’s a great introduction to orange wine that won’t scare any horses. Clean and dry with pretty notes of honeysuckle, pears, mandarin and fennel, it’s really versatile with food and is an ace match with roast chicken.