I’m drawn to outsiders – people who dare to be different, who stand out proudly from the crowd.
That makes orange wines – and the winemakers who produce them – an easy sell. This is a style that can shock, surprise and thrill. A stand-out orange wine tasting at Styria’s Ploder Rosenberg winery reminded me of how much I love these adventurous, and occasionally challenging beverages.
1. They’re not made from oranges
Orange wines are white wines where the grape juice has been left in contact (macerated) with the skins for a few days, weeks or even months, giving the finished wine an attractive orange (or rosé or amber) hue. Orange wines normally have more body and structure than a normal white wine, and may even have noticeable tannins.
2. The flavours are complex, arresting and unusual.
Sick of your white wine tasting of stone fruits, citrus and … er…. that’s it? Orange wines are never neutral – they can taste and smell of anything from dried apricots, to nuts, roasted herbs, plum skins or even red onion marmalade. And they vary tremendously, from light and mineral, to full-bodied and really wild.
3. Like many of the best ideas, orange wines have their basis in centuries old traditions.
Georgian qvevri (amphora) wines could probably claim to be the great grand-daddies of the style, having an unbroken 8,000 year old tradition – and winemakers around the Adriatic, an area now spanning three national borders (Italy, Slovenia and Croatia), have spearheaded a renaissance of the style over the last two decades.
4. They’re frequently more stable and age-worthy than your average white wine
The grape-skin tannins act as anti-oxidants, protecting and stabilising the wine so it can age gracefully over the years. The best orange wines (see my list below) can be truly superb after 5-10 years in the bottle, as the tannins soften and the flavours gain complexity.
5. They allow the winemaker to work in a less-interventionist manner
The risk of spoilage or oxidation is considerably reduced by the presence of phenolics, from grape tannins. That means the winemaker can opt to use less sulphur dioxide to counteract the effects of oxygen and ageing. Filtering and fining can also be avoided, if the producer takes care with hygiene in the winery.
6. Some of my favourite winemakers make fantastic examples of this style
Fulvio Bressan (Friuli Collio), Sandi Skerk (Friuli Carso), Miha Batic (Vipavska Dolina), Paolo Vodipivec (Friuli Carso), Georgio Clai (Istria) and Mladen Roxanich (Istria) are passionate producers who can really make an orange wine sing
7. They demonstrate the age-old links between the winemakers from the ex-Austro-Hungarian empire
North-Eastern Italy (Friuli), Southern Slovenia and North Western Croatia (Istria) may be separated by national borders these days, but the cultural and linguistic links persist – and orange wine is a tradition that has long been the norm in all of these regions. The commonalities are fascinating to observe, from grape varieties, attitudes to winemaking to just tasting the finished products.
OK, who’s counting – here’s the bonus reason:
8. The winetrade is somewhat split about the category, causing occasionally amusing controversy . . .
Ex-sommelier Ron Washam (AKA Hosemaster of Wine) is expected to a launch a “world’s most undrinkable orange wine award” soon. He’ll be dispatching Frank Buck, natural wine hunter, to find the most eligible entrants.
I suggest ignoring the polarised opinions. Try the wines and make your own decision.
Ten favourite orange wines to seek out and enjoy.
Links to purchase in the UK and/or mainland Europe are provided where possible. Please note – I’m not affiliated to any of the distributors or retailers I link to.
This must be one of the most elegant and graceful orange wines ever made. Wonderful soft texture, savoury, nutty and apricot overtones, and a fresh grapefruit aroma that draws you in. A blend of Vitovska, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia and Pinot Grigio.
Fulvio Bressan, Friuli Collio, Italy – Carat 2006
A wine that needs time – fantastically complex, rich and seriously tannic. My current favourite drinking vintage is the 2003 – hard to find, unless you make the trek to Fulvio’s favourite Enoteca in nearby Gorizia. Fulvio’s other wines are available from Les Caves de Pyrene in the UK, but not this one, sadly.
Full, creamy texture, very focused citrus fruit and acacia blossom. Attractive bitter finish. Everything about this wine feels lively. Barely any perceptible tannins.
Beautifully complete and balanced, mature, quite full-bodied, but not overblown. Fine tannins, plum skins and green tea on the nose, a hint of vanilla pods on the finish. Fermented in Georgian clay amphoras.
Almost brooding in its intensity, yet supremely elegant, with profound Malvasia character (peaches and almonds) and a perfect mineral finish. Keep it for another year or two to really unlock the potential.
Yes, orange wine can be sexy – this is a wine that is complex and voluptuous, with intense apricot and nut flavours and a long finish.
Every bit as complex as you would expect from a blend of Pinela, Zelen, Rebula, Vitovska, Klarnica, Chardonnay and Yellow Muscat. Made in a deliberately oxidative style, quite tannic, yet somehow avoids being scary – the aromas of jasmine and plums are attractive, the flavour is long and satisfying.
A qvevri fermented wine, produced in the purest, most non-interventionist manner possible (as a gift to god, quite literally). Beguiling, jasmine green-tea scented nose and delicate plum fruit on the palate.
Wonderful creamy pinot blanc, with a tiny hint of red-onion marmalade on the nose, and subtle phenolics. Sadly no UK importer yet, but taste his wines at the forthcoming Raw fair.
Fermented in Georgian amphoras (qvevris), with intense perfumed red grapefruit aromas, cloves and woodspice. Accessible, with only a light hint of tannins, starbright, clean and focused.