What is an orange wine? Orange wine is a mixed concept – in the sense of presentation and sensory interpretation (sight, smell, taste). Like white wine, it is made from white grape varieties. This is, in fact, the only thing these two sorts of wine have the same. The main feature of orange wine is (certainly) its color, which can range from golden to amber to copper. Vinification of orange wine in its essence also implies a specific dose of art, which is why any orange wines (and their winemakers) enjoy a cult status.
What Is an Orange Wine? Just a Fourth Color of the Wine?
When it comes to white grapes, the vinification process usually involves: picking grapes and picking berries, crushing, pressing, cold alcoholic fermentation with standard yeasts in closed stainless steel containers, clarification, filtration, and finally, filling. Now that we’ve listed it all – you can completely forget about it! Why? Because most things you know about white wines do not apply to orange wines. This may seem a little strange to you, but orange wine has some spiritual component to it.
What Is an Orange Wine Story?
The story of orange wines begins in a vineyard. The grapes are grown with minimal interventions and maximum care. Quality is more important than quantity, so winemakers sometimes opt for the so-called green harvesting. It is about removing more green (hence the name) and unripe grapes to reduce the yield and increase the remaining bunches’ quality. This practice allows the vine to invest more energy in the remaining clusters, resulting in healthier grapes.
Yeasts Define an Originality of Orange Wine
Another practice that makes a fundamental difference in the vinification of orange wine is using their own yeasts. After harvesting and removing the petiole, lightly crushed grape berries (including the seeds and skin) and grape juice are available for fermentation. Yeasts are factors that cause alcoholic fermentation by converting sugar into alcohol (or, more simply, must into wine). They are also a very sensitive issue in winemaking. Winemakers can use selected yeasts or make their own. On the one hand, selected yeasts reduce risk but add standardized characteristics. Where is the problem? Since these artificial, selected yeasts are obtained from the Chardonnay and Sauvignon varieties, you eventually have a sea of wines with very similar sensory properties. On the other hand, wild yeasts characteristic of a particular vineyard and location help create the unique flavor of a particular terroir. So how do winemakers come up with their own wild yeasts? In fact, it’s very simple. The grapes are pre-harvested a few days before the actual harvest and are allowed to ferment spontaneously. So, those grapes that have already started fermenting serve as yeast for other grapes in the regular harvest. The main feature of this practice is that it allows the wine to retain the variety – the main characteristics of the grape variety (very important, right?). The disadvantage is that the risk of something going wrong is greater than with the selected yeasts.
Maceration and Aging
Maceration and aging are key stages in the vinification of orange wines. Maceration is the process in which the grape juice is in contact with the skin and seed of the berry in order to extract the color, taste, and fruit tannins. Historically, all wines have been macerated even before because it is a natural way to preserve wines. So this is not some new fad, just for the purpose of returning to the beginning, to the source. However, in today’s method, long maceration is common in red wine, during which these wines get their color and intensity of taste. Whites are usually macerated briefly (if at all) – from a few hours to the time of day. Orange wines go through a remarkably significant period of maceration. This is the reason why they are often described as red wines in white. This maceration process can take several months before the rest of the grapes are pressed. At this point, the art of vinification makes a big difference. Furthermore, it all depends on the individual style of the winemaker. And trust me; they tend to be very creative.
Where Do Orange Wines Age?
Orange wines are aged in wooden drums or barrels, amphorae that close with beeswax, and are buried in the ground to the brim with concrete eggs, ceramic, or clay pots of various sizes. Each material adds unique features to the wine. Wines are grown in wood sooner become more elegant than those worn in amphorae, which, in turn, have a specific taste (somewhat austere) because of the clay. I remember tasting one Georgia wine (the cradle of winemaking and the homeland of almost all grape varieties) from their indigenous grapes, aged for years in amphorae (they are called qvevri), and I can still smell that specific taste. And you would believe me because I felt like I bit the quince. This wine will be ready for consumption after 20 years of aging; only then will it become elegant and rounded. The possibilities are endless, but one thing is for sure – each such wine has a specific character. I immediately visualize them – they are amber and literally look like old liquid gold in a glass. They detect intense, sometimes sweet, scents on the nose but are completely dry. They have a rich and velvety taste in the mouth, reflecting the terroir they come from. They are simply looking for another glass!
People of the Fourth Color of the Wine
Orange wines are a niche in terms of the market and their lovers. First of all, vinification is a long and expensive sport, so it will never become mainstream. Furthermore, the number of lovers of such wines is growing (and these people are forever lost to fresh white wines).
What fascinates me is that you can testify that the characteristics of the wines match the personalities of their winemakers. Incredible, but true!
How to Enjoy This Type of Wine?
You need to drink, drink, drink! The more wine you drink, the more you will understand – about the grape variety, the process of making wine, particular philosophies, different styles, winemakers, about life in general.