It is not orange and is not made out of orange peels but it tastes absolutely delicious. So what exactly is orange wine if not produced with orange juice (but then again, rosé has nothing to do with roses either, wine can be so confusing!)?
White wine is produced the (very) traditional way, following a production method that dates back some 5000 years ago in Georgia, where winemakers left their white grapes to macerate with their white skins in sealed qveri, large clay amphorae.
But why isn't called a white wine then? The answer lies in the skin. The usual definition of the style involves crushing the grapes and quickly separating the juice from the skin before fermentation.
For orange winemaking on the contrary, the juice isleft to macerate for days or even months with its skin (just like for red winemaking) giving the wine its idiosyncratic colour, flavour and texture. The resulting wine ranges in colour from pale gold through to deep amber with some red-brick hues. Its texture is closer to a red than to a white wine, with some tannin, weight and depth of flavour.
Add to this unusual combination of delicate appearance and consistent texture an incredible range of flavours - cherries, nuts, pears, spices, quince, salty minerality, dried herbs, brown sugar, honeysuckle and coffee just to name a few- and now you have an idea of what orange wine tastes like. Makes your usual Rose seem out of trend doesn't it?
Now imagine sipping this on a beautiful terrace overlooking a hilly Mediterranean landscape on a warm summer evening. Or having a glass at home surrounded with some friends over a nice dinner. If you're thinking about what to eat whilst enjoying a glass, orange wine pairs up perfectly well with almost any kind of food. Its tannic structure helps it get along with things like curry, grilled pork, vegetables and, most certainly my personal favourite, cheese. Wish you had a bottle (or two) waiting for you at home?
Traditionally, Orange wines were predominantly produced in North East Italy, Slovenia and Georgia but innovative winemakers from international wine regions have become leading practitioners. Here are 3 of my favourites:
1. Pheasant's Tears, Rkatsiteli, 2011 from Georgia. This wine macerates in traditional qveri for thirty days giving it a good grip with notes of apricots, dried herbs and walnut, balanced with dryness.
2. Intellego Elementis, Swartland, 2001, from South Africa. This young winemaker leaves the skins on South Africa's most reputed wine variety for three weeks to produce an intense and chewy wine displaying notes of tangy apple, nuts and dried fruits that draws you in.
3. Ageno, La Stoppa, 2007 from Italy. This wine is made from a combination of three local white grape varieties with the majority of the wine being Malvasia grown on 36 year- old-vines. The gorgeous amber- orange colour in the glass frees scents of exotic flowers and orange cream to your nose, enhanced by the surprisingly weighty and velvety texture of the wine. On the palate, creamy notes of orange, honey and saffron.
After red, white and rose, orange is now the fourth color of wine.