Locally owned Andis Winery in Amador county makes two barrels of orange wine of Viognier that has playful and floral aromatics and leads to dry and peach-pit finish.
There is a certain truth in the statement that “nothing is new again.” The “natural” wine movement has been building for the past decade. Producers, importers and sommeliers are promoting more wines that are grown and produced without the use of chemicals and/or using organic as well as biodynamic methods and ingredients. And yet a couple of centuries ago before the discovery of sulfur dioxide and the industrial revolution, there were no other choices. As we look to the past for inspiration one ancient winemaking technique has become very popular and has inspired a movement within, the “orange” wine movement.
No oranges are harmed to make orange wine. Orange wine refers to the color and hue of the wine rather than what goes into making it. Modern winemaking calls for white grapes to be crushed and separated from their stems, skins and pits prior to fermentation. This makes for a nice and clear wine. In ancient days, white wine producers would keep the grapes in its entirety, crushed of course, in contact with the juice for an extended period, including during fermentation. The wine would be infused with the color of the skins and takes on the color of ripe grapes. Orange wine can also include white wines that have been purposefully oxidized meaning having had exposure to oxygen (air) to give them a more golden or amber appearance. The same phenomenon occurs when you cut an apple and it starts to turn brown. In wine, this can be accomplished by not topping up a barrel of wine as it ages and leaving the wine exposed to the elements either in barrel, glass and even amphorae. Often producers do not add yeast in the process. Orange wine is the ultimate ‘natural’ wine as it is non-interventionist to the core.
Without the use of preservatives, the addition of color from skins and the intentional oxidation of the wine affects the color but also its aromatics, flavors and texture. These wines have a unique aromatic profile. Often, they have an almost burnt quality, not so much ash or smoke but a toasted fruit spectrum. Some can still be quite fruity but they are always pungent and never shy. They are almost always earthy, not dirty but include a note of organic matter. Perhaps because of the contact with the skins, the wine picks up more of the vegetal/earthy nuances. In the palate, it is typically fuller and structured with elevated tannin akin to a light red in many cases, gained from contact from the grape skins. The body and weight come more from the structure rather than any elevated alcohol levels, although there are always exceptions.
As this is a very old “Old World” technique, most of the producers of orange wine hail from Europe. Italy has quite a few producers including perhaps the most famous in Gravner. Many consider him the pioneer who re-introduced this style of wine to the world and has inspired many to use the same technique. My favorites in Italy include COS from Sicily and Edi Kante from Friuli. COS have one of the largest collections of amphorae of any winery and their Pithos Bianco made with 100-percent Grecanico is a truly unique expression-peaches and lemons with more candied fruit on the palate and a decadent aftertaste. Kante’s Vitovska is a most unique in- digenous grape variety that has an herbal, tea like quality that I rarely find. It has a kiss of bitterness but in the nicest sense. Slovenia’s Movia Winery produces ‘Lunar’ which is made from 100-percent Ribolla; a perfect example of non-intervention wine. This wine is a plethora of spices and potpourri with an intense flavor of nuts and hay. In France, my favorite producer from the Jura Jean-Francois Ganevat makes a Vin Jaune from Savignin grapes. Very much like a dry sherry but with more lifted and floral aromas. As Americans are picking up on these uniquely flavored wines, orange wines are popping up more often. Even locally owned Andis Winery in Amador County makes two barrels of Orange Wine of Viognier that has playful and floral aromatics and leads to a dry and peach-pit finish. Whenever I taste these orange wines, they trans- port me to ancient times. And although these flavors are new to me, they have been around forever.