Demystifying Orange Wine

Thursday, September 20, 2018

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First, let's get this out the way. Orange wines are not made from oranges. Now, let's move along. They are in fact white wines that are produced more like reds. That is, white wine grapes are fermented with their skins on before pressing and this process gives the wine its trademark hue that ranges from clementine to sherry. This skin-contact method is over 5,000 years old and can be traced back to Georgian winemakers. Fun fact: Georgia (which is bordered by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia) is one of the oldest wine regions in the world.

Orange wine has been having quite a moment since 2015 when hip sommeliers around the world started putting it on their wine lists. Also, biodynamic wine producers love the product due to the flexibility it offers with colour and taste. Orange wines offer a mouthfeel of a red with the minerality of a white. They are, in a word, funky. But in a good way. This earthiness and complex mouthfeel are the reasons why these wines are now being sought after.

Despite being heralded as “the new rosé”, orange wines share none of the easy drinking qualities of pink wines. Their funky flavour profiles can range from herbaceous to musty to cider-like to borderline rancid. Thus making these wines challenging. However, find the one that works for your palate and you're in oenophilic heaven.

Last year, Thursday Food had the opportunity to attend Wines by Nature in Ottawa. The symposium and wine fair is “dedicated solely to organic, biodynamic, and low intervention wines from Canada and around the world”. There, orange wines were plentiful and we tasted over 10 such wines. Some were immediately pleasing, others took a few sips to warm up and a handful had us reaching for the spittoon as soon as our lips touched the glass. Regardless of what we thought of the orange wines, Canadian sommeliers were ordering multiple cases of them.

Recently, UK grocery store chain Aldi announced that it would start selling bottles of orange wine for £5.99. Clearly capitalising on the wine being au courant — an attempt to see its popularity increase to the levels that it enjoys, particularly in Canada and Italy.

But you may be asking “so what foods do they pair well with?” Funny that you asked. Orange wines pair well with olives and strong cheese. They also complement earthy foods like mushrooms, pumpkin, truffles and dark leafy greens. For meat, in Thursday Food's experience, orange wine goes best with grilled pork and charcuterie.

So, if you come across orange wine, don't be put off; order a glass with a bowl of olives and a piece of strong sheepsmilk cheese and experience something truly unique.

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