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Don't Trust Everything You See, Even Salt Looks Like Sugar

Don't Trust Everything You See, Even Salt Looks Like Sugar

If your wine is orange, it may be Orange Wine!

Author: Alison Phillips/Tuesday, November 10, 2020/Categories: Blog, Tasting Notes, Wine

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Rose wine is not made with Roses, Orange wine is not made from Oranges. 

The term “ Orange Wine” was first coined in 2004 to describe wine made from white grapes fermented with their skin and seeds, a practice not performed in modern wine making.  The colour actually comes from the lignin in the seeds.

However, the production of orange wine actually began in Georgia about  6000 years ago.  Archaeological finds indicate that white grapes  were fermented in their skins in amphorae made of clay creating “amber coloured liquids”.

New Zealand Winemaker Theo Coles of the winery The Hermit Ram, refers to Orange Wine as “basically pre-technology wines”.

Today modern day white wines  are based on the concept of light colours, fresh taste, good acidity, and food friendly.   To achieve this requires a press, de-stemmer, likely temperature controlled steel tanks and a filtration system.  Once picked, the grapes are pressed, skins are discarded, and the run off juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks before being bottled for our enjoyment.

Orange wines, on the other hand are a lot simpler to produce and require no equipment – Just perfect fruit, and a vessel to ferment the in, like clay, wood, steel or even plastic.

According to Wine Folly,  an educational website dedicated to everything wine,  orange wines have been described as robust and bold, with honeyed aromas of jackfruit (a fleshy tropical fruit), hazelnut, brazil nut, bruised apple, wood varnish, linseed oil, juniper, sourdough, and dried orange rind.  

On the palate, they’re big, dry, and even have tannin like a red wine with a sourness similar to fruit beer. Often Orange wines are so intense that need to make sure you’re sitting down when you first taste them.

With the trend in recent years towards everything “natural”,  orange wines have increased in popularity due to the minimal intervention during production.

Interest in Natural Wine is growing particularly among millennials. Afterall, it’s sustainable, organic and an environmentally friendly process,  and well steeped in the rediscovery of a traditional process.  Millennials also appreciate that these wines are made by smaller producers which means they have each got unique identities, important in a world of global brands.

But, it’s important to note that the term “Natural Wine” represents more of a philosophy, whereas Orange Wine is a production technique.

Breathing new life into older style winemaking has given younger wine makers around the world confidence to experiment and take risks.

This new way of doing something old is providing endless possibilities to modern winemakers.

They can develop their own styles and this is particularly evident right now in North eastern Italy and Slovenia.   Other European countries are re-discovering similar traditions so what used to take place behind closed doors in Portugal’s hot Alentejo region ,for example , is now right out in the open.

Here, they are making wines in large amphorae which date back to the Roman times. Called  “Tahla wines” they are consumed straight from the clay in which they ferment.  The cellars are then transformed into ad hoc social spaces for wine tastings. Bottled versions of these wines do exist for purchase.

New World Winemakers are enthusiastically embracing this style. 

From South Africa, the USA and New Zealand, innovative and creative uses of skin contact are being used to repurpose skin fermentation in wine production.  Spain and Chile are also producing more artisan style wines like this too. White, barrel fermented wines called “Pipeno” are being revitalized.

However, this Natural Wine Movement as some are calling it, attracts real purists and some are turning their noses up at Orange Wine.  It’s much harder to control the taste of natural orange wine, it can easily become oxidized wiping out any trace of fruity aromas, leaving only a vinegar taste.  Therefore, it’s highly likely that orange wines will remain with smaller producers rather than large brands as it’s hard to maintain annual consistency, so important in the wine business. 

While not all Orange wines are “natural” in the true sense, (meaning the grapes are generally grown pesticide free, and cultivated with natural yeast rather than sulphur) it is still a wine made with little technological interference.

Reviewing the main points –

  • Like Roses are not made with Roses, Orange wine is not made from Oranges
  • Orange wines require less technology to produce
  • The resurrection of traditional wine making methods has breathed new life into the wine industry around the world.
  • A growing number of Millennials are embracing sustainable, environmentally friendly products with distinct identities.

Therefore, in conclusion, Orange Wine should really be considered as one of the Big 4:  Red, White, Rose, and Orange, all are being enjoyed by more adventurous drinkers on every continent. 

In the words of Simon J Woolfe, awarded wine writer of the book “ The Amber Revolution” says “ With 4 possible combinations of red or white wines with or without skins, why ignore 25 % of wine possibilities?”




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