Orange wine: going back to basics or just a hipster fad? Everything you need to know

So, it’s that time of year again! It’s time for the RAW wine fair!

The RAW wine fair is something that we hold close to our hearts at Wined Up, as it was the first expo that we were invited to as ‘press’. Not that it makes us important or anything like that but when we were invited for the 2017 show in London to cover it, for me, I took it as a bit of a nod from the industry that we are doing the right thing and people could see that… or maybe I’m reading into it a bit too much.

Anyway, we still love it and to be honest for a wino like me, what isn’t to like? A room filled with winemakers from all over the world is like Christmas, birthdays and Easter rolled into one. Last year we attended RAW London and New York and we got some great content from it as we met a lot of distributors, producers and sat down with Isabelle herself, and this year we are heading down to it yet again. We can’t wait.

A few months ago we did what seemed like a little series on natural, biodynamic and low intervention wine, and with the RAW wine fair looming I thought it would be a good idea to revisit it. We previously published an introductory article about natural wine that centered around our friend Peter Hahn from Clos de les Meslerie (click here to check it out) but this time I thought it would be a good idea to talk about a certain style of natural wine, a style that polarises opinion, some people love it and some people hate it… orange wine.

Orange wine is very trendy right now, and figures such as Action Bronson (yes I know I mention him a lot) have really publicised orange and natural wine and it may seem like a new trend, only drunk by wine geeks and your hipster mate who flat-shares an old warehouse in Dalston with a struggling artist and a DJ who only does sets at illegal raves because he says that “the nightclub scene is dead”, but it has been made for years, literally 1000’s of years. Isabelle Legeron mentions in her book ‘Natural Wine: an introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally’ that you can even see examples of orange wine in renaissance paintings. It goes back further than that, and there is even some evidence to suggest that the ancient Egyptians were macerating grape skins and produced yellow/orange substances.

Orange wine isn’t wine made from oranges. It is quite simply unfiltered white wine that has had a prolonged maceration (more skin contact). Today, in ‘conventional’ white wine making the grapes are pressed and the skins are removed from the rest of the grape, which gives you a pale colour to the wine. With orange wine, the skins are left in contact with the juice to macerate and ferment, and quite possibly the pips and stems may be left there too. The prolonged contact with the skin colours the juice to an orange/yellow shade.

To make an orange wine, you have to follow some guidelines. I recently tried a Natural sparkling chardonnay from BK wines courtesy of our friends over at swig.co.uk and it was beautiful. It definitely wasn’t white, more a pale yellow colour but it didn’t qualify as an orange wine. A common misconception is that any natural wine that looks even slightly orange or yellow qualifies as orange wine. This isn’t true. There’s a certain way in which you have to ferment your grapes for it to qualify to be an orange wine.

The first thing, first and foremost is that the wine has to have a distinct taste/style. As Isabelle puts it: “Not all orange wines are orange, as the wine has to taste orange too”. This doesn’t mean that they have to taste like an orange, but they have to show common characteristics. Normally, an orange wine will have been macerated with only natural yeasts (so generally this means that yeast that hasn’t been found naturally in the grape or on the vine will not be added) and there won’t be any temperature control. In modern and conventional winemaking we are able to control a lot of aspects of the fermentation process and the technique of ‘cryo-maceration’ is common. This is where the juice and skins and kept at a lower temperature when they are macerating. This is done in order to allow the grapes to bring out more fruit flavours. In orange wine making this won’t happen. The grapes are left to do their thing in the natural temperature of whatever container they are using to macerate and ferment their wine.

In terms of taste, there are a lot of similarities in various orange wines due to the production style, however they all have their own attributes based on the terroir of the place they were created in. Because there is high skin contact during the production process, orange wines are usually quite rich in tannin, which kind of gives the wine a slight red wine texture. In my opinion, when I try orange wine I find it hard to get over the ‘yeastiness’ of the wine as for me that is the overriding characteristic of most orange wine. Orange wines have a great complexity to them as they have the tannin from skin contact, the natural barnyard aroma that a lot of natural wines smell like and it is almost like drinking a red, however there’s a delicateness to them that you can only ever get with a white wine.

I still haven’t made my mind up on orange wine. On the one hand, I love it. I love the fact that artisan winemakers like Frank Cornelisson are going back to basics and producing wines that were literally produced for centuries, before it became heavily industrialised. However, I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never been blown away when I have tried an orange wine. I’ve been blown away by many biodynamic and low intervention wines and to be honest; right now I find myself seeking out and buying more and more vin biologique (read our latest review here) but there’s something that I just can’t seem to get on board with personally when it comes to orange wine. I think it is the fact that they have such a yeasty aroma and taste, however I’m not going to give up on it. Like we have always said… the best way to learn is to drink more, so on Sunday at the RAW wine fair I am going to drink more orange wine. Oh what a chore.

 

– J A M E S

 

 

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