I recently decided to delve into a trend I’ve been hearing whisperings about: Orange Wine. So armed with budding curiosity (and a company card) I set off to procure a bottle or 12 and find out what they are really all about. My first attempt was a large liquor store chain that shall remain nameless (cough, Bottle King, cough). Three different employees later and a headache brewing I was no closer to my goal. The first two had no idea what I was talking about and the third dismissed it as a fad.
Surely a small, passionate wine shop will have what I seek, thought I! Not even close. When asked about their orange wine selection the sales person, who could not have been less happy to leave her chair and help me, brought me to the vodka section before mumbling that they didn’t have it.
The total ineptness of nameless wine shop employee aside, it hit me that there is very little awareness of this up and coming trend. Which begs several questions: what is orange wine? Should we drink it? Will it impress our friends? Read on and be more knowledgeable than your local wine shop!
Orange Wine: Not made from Oranges. It may be better described as “Amber Wine” “Golden Wine” or “Skin-Contact Wine.” In the simplest of terms, it is a white wine, made from white-fleshed grapes, that is left in contact with the skin for days, weeks, or months. This leaves the wine with an increase in tannins and color. The end result being a white more similar to a red and an overall more complex wine.
The New York Post called it “The New Rose.” Is that true? Not in this Pearl’s opinion (don’t egg my house, New York Post writers). In fact it’s a completely different experience. Let’s take a small commercial break and learn some things about Rose.
Rose is produced in three basic fashions: Skin Contact, Saignee (from the French word “to bleed”) and blending. Blending is the combination of red and white wine, banned in many places. The Saignee method is widely used and consists mainly of “bleeding” the pink color from a red wine before fermentation. However, one of the most broadly used methods is skin contact.
Orange wine is created the same way, right? Yes and no. Rose is in essence the opposite process of an Orange Wine. Yes it is also a skin contact wine. But while an orange wine is produced through longer exposure to the skins of white fleshed grapes, Rose is created in the exact opposite way. Very short exposure to black skins of the grape (maybe three days) and then the skins are discarded before the fermentation process.
So if they’re not the same, what’s the difference? Due to the difference in complexities in body, you pair them differently. Both can be paired well with a good salty cheese, but while Rose is perfect for a nice summer appetizer, an Orange wine is heartier. Pair with a meatier fish, a pork dish, or even a steak.
Much like the Spice Girls and Parachute Pants, Is Orange wine just a quick but soon to die trend? Interestingly enough, Orange wine has been around for centuries. Many give credit for its appearance on the scene to Josko Gravner, who first started producing it in the 90’s.
Tired of the technicalities, he took a card from the ancient Georgians, ordered himself a Qvevri (a giant earthen pot, don’t worry I don’t know how to pronounce it either) and started to make his wines the old fashioned way. The result was earthier wine, or “amber” wine as Gravner refers to them. Spoiler Alert! Interested in learning more about ancient wine making techniques and medicinal properties? I’ll be talking about that in an upcoming blog!
The Pearl’s Palate. Essentially you’re left with the best of both worlds: the complexity and texture of a red with the fruit of a white. Or so they say. This long and winding road (I’m a tad wordy, I know) brings us back to me, with my budding migraine, dealing with our inept salesperson.
While wine shops are seemingly of no use here, you can find the hotspots. For example, L’Apicio in NYC has an orange wine by the glass (the perfect opportunity to taste test). Brooklyn’s The Four Horsemen carries two by the glass and eight by the bottle! That seemed too good to pass up, so along with two tasting buddies I made my way to the hipster capital of the world.
Let me first say, I highly recommend the Four Horsemen. Cool atmosphere, extremely knowledgeable staff (ask for Billy, the man knows his wine) and a diverse menu. We tried three wines: IGP Terre Siciliane Grecanico Dorato Sikele 2013, Lazio Ruscum Trebbiano Tuscano, Grechetto, Malvasia Coenobium 2013, and Emilia Bianco Ageno Malvasia di Candia, Ortugo La Stoppa 2010. Here's what we found.
Orange Wines are as diverse in taste as they are in color. Coenobium’s was mild and welcoming, slightly fruit forward, with a strong nose. Sikele’s was highly tannic with deep honey notes and was on the sweeter side. The Ageno was intense! We all had different tasting experiences with this wine, but the summation was a strong musty nose with lots of notes of ginger and spice.
I found them all unique and interesting, and while I wasn’t in love with the intensity of the Ageno, one of my buddies sure was. So in this Pearl’s opinion, be adventurous with this trend. Test the waters and experience it for yourself. You may discover a new passion! Either way it’s new, it’s different, it will impress your friends, and you can shame your local wine shop owner for knowing less than you.