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Orange wine: more than a hype?

To start with: what is orange wine?

A simple definition might be: orange wine is white wine made like red wine. In practice, the winemaker does not immediately press the white grapes to separate the juice from the seeds and skins, as is the case with classic white wines. It allows a maceration, a maceration in which the fermenting juice remains in contact with the skins, seeds and sometimes the stems. That contact can last from a few days to even a few weeks… This maceration provides color and tannins, which in turn depends on the duration of the maceration.

Aromas and taste

Taste and aromas are of course linked to the grape variety used, but the duration of the maceration also plays a role, as does the container in which the maceration takes place (for example, traditional oak barrels will push the fracheur away a bit, while clay amphorae provide more freshness and pure fruit). Orange wines are often made as naturally as possible, with autochthonous yeasts and sometimes without added sulfites. All these factors play a role, but common aromas are those of dried fruit, peach, honey, ripe apple, field herbs, dried grass, flowers… There are also plenty of oxidative, nutty notes. In the mouth you will find a lot of structure, often with earthy notes. The acids differ from wine to wine, from low to high - the definition of orange wine itself means that they are all different anyway, luckily! 

Food pairing

You can safely say that orange wines are culinary multi-talents. They are more potent than regular white wines. If white wine is too little, and red too much, orange wine can be a solution. Think of rich risottos (also with meat), an elaborately spiced Greek dish, dishes with curry or with kimchi,...

A wine with history or hype…or both?

To the question whether orange wine is more than a hype, a personal and nuanced answer is again appropriate. The process behind orange wine is by no means new, the name is. The name was launched in 2004 by an English wine merchant while these wines were originally made mainly in Eastern Europe. Some literature tells us that in Georgia 5000 years ago there was already talk of this type of wine, made on the traditional amphora, the so-called 'qvevri'. Techniques were different back then, simpler and wine was also supposed to be made quickly. In any case, much of the tradition in that region was lost during the communist rule of the last century.

Meanwhile, orange wine was also made in Italy, for example. In the last 20 to 25 years, it has completely become fashionable again and that ensures, for example, that those old Eastern European wine countries can distinguish themselves in the enormous wine pool that has formed worldwide. Today you can find orange wine in just about every wine country. Due to the back-to-basics techniques used, a link is often made to the equally popular natural wines. As mentioned in a previous blog post: natural wines certainly have their place and the pursuit of more nature and less intervention in the wine world is both hopeful and necessary. However, wine and quality should still come first and not the term that is used inappropriately because it is well in the market. Recently a winemaker from Priorat told me that they have never made their white wines differently, but never thought of calling them anything other than… white wine from Priorat. So: orange wine? Please, if he's good!

Orange wine at Xpertvinum: Xarel-Lo Brisat (Can Rafols dels Caus), El Amigo Imaginario (Bodega Forlong), Blanc de Pissares (Costers del Priorat).