Over the past several years, the popularity of dry rosé has soared. For restaurateurs and retailers, if they don’t preorder and secure their summer’s allocation, they may be left out of the world’s greatest rosés. For lovers of crisp whites and rosés, there’s another alternative that is continuing to gain attention: orange wine.
Orange wines are not made from oranges but rather, white grape varietals prepared in the same way one would prepare a rosé. Dry rosés gain their color from the skins of black grape varieties such as grenache, syrah, cinsault and pinot noir. The longer the maceration, or time during which the skins and juice sit together, the deeper the color of the rosé. Typically, rosés spend anywhere from 3 to 36 hours macerating. Orange wines, which are made from white grapes such as pinot grigio, chardonnay, tocai friulano and trebbiano, typically have far longer maceration times – anywhere from a week to months.
This process runs contrary to the usual method of making white wine – where the goal is to crush the grapes and quickly remove the juice off the skins in order to make a clear wine. The result is wines with a color ranging from pink to amber or orange. Because of the increased skin contact, the wines gain complexity due to additional tannins, richness and occasionally a pleasing oxidative quality.
The custom of making orange wines dates back hundreds of years in northeastern Italy and southern Slovenia. These wines are becoming fashionable once again thanks to wine professionals increasingly promoting them and ultimately saving them from extinction.
Orange wines can be produced anywhere white grapes are grown. While the majority of orange wine comes from Italy, there are also examples from California, New Zealand, Croatia, Austria and Germany.
The wines pair excellently with food because of the additional structure stemming from the extended skin contact. Have you tasted a white wine (or orange for that matter) that has tannin? Tannins are the component present in red wine that create a drying effect on your tongue. The experience can seem odd at first, as the tannins’ presence comes as a surprise in a refreshing, chilled wine. But this opens up the possibility of serving the wine with grilled red meat, stews or roasts. Typically, red wines with high tannins pair best with dishes or meats that have a savory fattiness. Orange wines are just as wonderfully versatile.
Aromatics of these wines include notes of peaches, honey, wildflowers, anise and herbs. As a result of the extended macerations, the wines can also be full-bodied, rich and voluptuous, with a crisp acidic and mineral backbone that creates a long finish. They are not inexpensive, with prices starting below $30. Some top producers offer aged wines that fetch prices upwards of $50.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.