We’re seeing more and more interest in orange wine across all of our shops and in restaurants and bars up and down the country.
The trend seems to have been given life by hipsters, people wanting to avoid sulphites (in the hope it will save them from a hangover) and curious oenophiles. And it's showing no signs of slowing down or going away.
Orange wine goes hand in hand with the natural wine movement, but the two shouldn't be seen as the same thing. Whilst natural wine has no official definition, it is seen to be wine made from grapes which are hand-harvested, organically farmed with minimal use of chemicals in the vineyard and often using biodynamic techniques. Then once it gets to the winery, it’s a hands-off approach using only wild yeast ferments and minimal use of added sulphur.
Orange wine, on the other hand, is simply used to describe white wines which undergo extended contact with the skins during fermentation - just like the way red and rose wines are made, except this time you're typically using white grapes. Whilst many skin contact wines are made using the same principals as natural wines, they can't strictly be described as natural. Confusing isn't it - in an already confusing topic, with no definitive answers and plenty of opinions.
One thing's for sure - orange wines are tasty. The time fermenting and ageing the wine on the skins does all kinds of wonders to the flavour profile, bringing in more dried fruit notes, nutty characteristics and adding a level of often pithy, tea-like tannins balanced with laser sharp acidity.
The technique of fermentation and ageing white wines on skins goes back around 8,000 years to Georgia, where the grape juice together with the skins were placed in large terracotta vessels called qvevris. These were buried under the ground and sealed shut with beeswax. Traditionally, these were called ‘amber’ wines, with the term 'orange wine' only being coined around 2004 by a British wine merchant.
The truth is, they can vary wildly in colour depending on the varieties used and the length of time in contact with the skins, as well as the vessel used during the ageing. Wines aged for longer in qvevris will naturally become much deeper in colour than a wine aged for 24 hours on skins in a stainless steel vat for example. Whilst qvevris were the traditional method and are still used all over the world today, they aren’t always the best option - nor are they always easily available. Popular alternatives are stainless steel, concrete vats and fibre glass tanks. Oak barrels can also be used.
Whether you're a die-hard orange wines fan or a total novice, we've some cracking bottles to try. Below I’ve picked out some of my favourites from the range, showcasing a few different styles. I've also suggested some potential food pairings you could try out too.
This Catarratto produced by the Vesco family on Siciliy is perfect for anyone who is looking to start their journey into orange wines. Since taking over the 100 hectare estate the philosophy of the winery has focused on organic farming, hand harvesting and wild yeast fermentation. They harvest the grapes at night when they're cooler to retain as much fresh fruit as possible before fermenting on the skins for a couple of weeks. During this time the temperature is kept cooler, meaning a gentle extraction of tannins and colour and ensures the fruit character of the wine isn't blown away by the tannins.
The result is a fantastic, rich, pithy wine full of green apple and quince fruit flowing into ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon with a savoury, herbaceous finish full of dried oregano and lightly toasted almonds. All this complexity makes for some great food pairing options, especially as we move into autumn and root vegetables really come into their own, a root veg tarte tatin full of carrots, parsnips and sweet potato with some thyme thrown in would work a treat with the rich, savoury character of the wine.
Fattoria di Vaira is one of the largest biodynamic farms in Italy, with over 500 hectares made up of vines, olive groves, cereals, vegetables and livestock for fresh cheeses. They also farm organically and this is a blend of Falanghina & Trebbiano, its fermented with wild yeasts and spends around 5 days macerating on skins during fermentation followed by spontaneous malolactic fermentation in tank which adds an extra layer of richness to the wine and gives it more body. It is bottled without fining or filtration and the small amount of sediment in the bottle can add even more texture to the wine, it's always worth giving the bottle a little shake before enjoying just to move all that sediment through the whole bottle. It's full of vibrant peaches and apricots, crunchy plums and tannins not dissimilar to iced tea with a clean refreshing minerality on the finish. A great orange wine to pair with meaty fish dishes or even some mixed sushi and sashimi!
Arnlod Holzer took over the winemaking at his family’s estate at just 23 years old, representing the fifth generation of his family to farm their small estate in the heart of Wagram, one of Austria’s leading wine producing regions.
They farm using organic practices in the vineyards, where it’s all about the soils. The rich and silty loess soil is able to hold more water during the dry months which creates the natural conditions needed for a richer style of wine. Here the native Austrian grape Muller-Thurgau thrives. A cross between Riesling and Madeleline Royal, this is a highly aromatic grape full of complexity at its best.
Fermented on skins for around 2 weeks, this wine is full of ripe tropical and exotic fruits - think mandarin and passion fruit. The tannins are present but gentle and well-balanced by a crisp acidity. There’s a subtle savoury spice at the end which creeps up on you too.
This would be excellent with a baked wild mushroom tart, filled with a mix of shiitake, oyster, enoki - whatever you can get your hands on. Those rich umami flavours will work great with the ripe, tropical, lightly tannic wine.
If you're feeling adventurous, we've popped all three wines into a pack including free delivery for the month of September. You can find that here.