When is Orange Not Orange?

When is Orange Not Orange?

This coming weekend, September 10th and 11th, City Vino will be featuring wines that fall under the classification as “orange” wines. They are not made from the citrus globes of fruity delight, though they may have a color that is more in the orange color palette.

I am reminded of a visit to a local big box wine shop nearly five years ago, to the day of the writing of this blog.

A wine store employee was up on a set of stairs to fetch case boxes of wine to restock the shelves below.  A man about 30 years old approached and his words still echo in my mind “I hear that rosés are out and that orange wines are in. Do you have any?” I admit that I paused to hear the wine store employee’s response and it didn’t disappoint “well, we have wines from apples, but I don’t think we have any made from oranges.”

Being me, I then performed a “wine intervention.” I told the employee that the gentleman was looking for a white wine that had been aged with the skins, which is termed “orange wine,” due to its deeper color and hue. The employee said, “we don’t have anything like that.” I said that if you did, it would most likely be from the Republic of Georgia or labeled “Ramato,” which is the Italian term for skin-contact-fermented white wine. I shared the location of a shop to get an orange wine, and what to ask for, and the gentleman was happy and the wine store employee was still a bit confused.

Orange wines—white wines fermented while in contact with the grape skins—are nothing new. It is said that this technique originated in the Republic of Georgia, where juice and the grapes skins were put into large clay vessels called qvervi and allowed to ferment together.

Skin-contact-fermented white wines have more color than non-skin contact white wines as pigments are extracted from the skins in the presence of alcohol. The wide range of color can include straw, apricot, copper, or even amber. The color is far from the only difference. On the nose and palate, the wine is bold in flavor, with less citrus notes and more deep fruit, or even floral characteristics. A big difference over regular white wine is the presence of tannins that come from the grape skins,  and seeds that add more complex texture to the wine. The level of tannins the wine contains will depend on how long the skins are allowed to stay in contact with the juice. The longer the skin contact, the more tannins it will have, and deeper-colored the wine will be.

One wine in City Vino’s tasting of orange wines is the 2019 Merkin Vineyards Shinola Orancia Malvasia, from Arizona. The wine is made from 100 percent Malvasia Bianca, and is a wine that is tropical and bold.  Merkin Vineyards is a small producer of wine that is owned by Maynard James Keenan, who is the vocalist for the progressive metal band Tool. Pair this wine with this man’s music, perhaps?

Another wine in our foray into skin-contact white wines is the 2019 Viña Siegel Naranjo Viognier Valle del Curicó, from Chile. This wine is 100 percent Viognier and has spice notes, along with white flowers and a nuttiness. For those who are interested in wine ratings, James Suckling awarded this gem, 93 points.

Up next, is the 2020 Unico Zelo Esoterico from Riverland in Australia. The wine is a blend of 50 percent Zibbibo, 24 percent Gewürztraminer, 12 percent Moscato Giallo, nine percent Greco, and three percent Fiano.  The resulting wine is bursting with notes of tropical fruit, marmalade, honeysuckle, ginger, and so much more.

Our last orange wine is the 2019 Schuchmann Vinoterra Rkatsiteli, from Kakheti, in the Republic of Georgia. This is 100 percent Rkatsiteli, which is indigenous to that part of the world. This wine was fermented in the qvervi using wild/airborne yeast, no fining or filtering, and minimal sulfur additions.

Come taste when orange isn’t orange with us this weekend.  Cheers! Kathy Wiedemann


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