|The sublime orange wine from the Alaverdi Monastery in Kakheti, Republic of Georgia|
When I was first introduced to orange wine, I had no idea what to expect – is it wine flavored with orange peel? Is it some kind of more complex alcoholic beverage made from fermented oranges? Or is it none of the above?
Turns out, it’s the latter. This trendy new wine phenomenon has nothing at all to do with citrus. Believe it or not, orange wine is made from the same white grapes that make traditional wine. Orange wine is, simply put, wine made from these white grapes, but produced and fermented like red. New to the world of wine as I am, however, I need more than the simple definition to gain an actual understanding of what orange wine is.
When making a traditional white wine, producers crush the grapes, immediately separating the juice from the skins before fermentation. When making a red wine, however, producers leave the grapes to macerate and ferment with their skins, a vital part of flavor development that contributes to the red wine’s color, texture, and bitterness.
The discarded skins from white grapes contain color pigments and tannins that detract from the light and bright flavor typical of white wine. However, although leaving the grapes in contact with their skins doesn’t produce the “typical” flavor, it produces something equally desirable: a smoky, spicy, acidic, and orange wine that pairs well with almost all savory dishes.
Although this wine trend may only recently be gaining popularity among modern wine enthusiasts, its roots can be traced back thousands of years to Armenia and Georgia. It’s how white wines used to be made, and it’s now experiencing a renaissance from wineries in northern Italy, Georgia, Croatia, Slovenia, and parts of France and California.
If you sip an orange wine with the expectation that it will be light like a white, you will be entirely thrown off. That is why some people initially dislike the stronger, more pungent taste. These wines may take some getting used to; but even I enjoyed the complex flavors I tasted in the orange wine Sarah introduced me to at Litro.
Orange wine is usually made in small quantities by small producers, so they don’t come cheap and cannot be picked up at your local supermarket. In researching online, I kept running into a few labels that reviewers frequently recommended – Gravner and Vodopivec from Italy, and Lagvinari from Georgia. If you can’t locate these, just find a natural wine bar and try a glass, served at cellar temperature, as a test run. If you try it with an open mind, I’m willing to bet that you will enjoy the indescribable flavors that explode from the smallest sip of orange wine.
If you are interested in organizing a tasting of Orange Wine, please feel free to contact us.