I always receive questions like: What is exactly an orange wine? It is made with white or red grapes? Are orange wines all natural wines? Personally, I have a strong passion for this kind of wines and so, I have decided to share with you a small guide, with what I think are the most relevant information about their origins and wine making styles plus a selection of my favorites. Here we go!
Origins, where are Orange wines born and when?
The origin of orange wines has to be found in the Caucasus region, the area between Europe and Asia, and more specifically in the area that is nowadays the State of Georgia, which is considered the “Mother of wine” in general. Here is where white/orange wines have been traditionally made with skin contact fermentation and maceration. It is indeed from ages that they make a longer maceration with skins and seeds also for white grapes, which is common in the rest of the world for red grapes. Usually the process is made (yes, they still do it the same) in this special terracotta jars, called qvevri, that they use to bury in their cellars, in order to keep the temperature low. The long maceration with the skins, like in red wines, adds polyphenols and tannins to the structure of the wine and thanks to this is not necessary to add any sulfites during the process as the wine gains antioxidant elements from the skins. In the last decades also in the Karsus area, between Italy and Slovenia, and recently in some other parts of Italy, wine makers are re-discovering this old tradition of making white wines with skin contact. But the process to make white wines before the arrival of modern wine making techniques has always been made with skin maceration.
Wine making, how are they made?
Producing white wines in clear pale color is only a recent result of modern wine making process, given to new techniques and technologies, but as we said before, in the past, for millennia, humans use to make wine in the same way for both red and white grapes. Which was a natural process of course. So basically making an orange wine is like making a red wine but from white grapes. The skins and the seeds of the berry are left in contact with the pulp and the juice during the fermentation and also after for a certain period of maceration. Knowing how long the maceration did last is very important in order to understand how “intense” we should find, not only the color (that may vary from amber-gold to real orange), but of course also the notes in the wine that we are going to taste. The more the skins stay in contact with the liquid, the more substances (and so complexity) they will release into the wine. The duration of the skin contact is a very important element which gives a specific style to the wine and so it’s very different between the producers. Every wine maker decides how many days or months of skin maceration he would like to do, in order to have a particular style for his wine, which tell us the identity of the producer. Also knowing the type of container in which the process has been made can be important in order to detect in advance some characteristics of the wine, usually the most common are terracotta jars (like in Georgia) and wood but it can be different based on the style of the producer. That is why the orange wine world is so wide and various, because there are many different styles and as you can imagine having a 8 days or 8 months maceration can give a completely different result in the wine, as well as, like any other wine, aging in amphora or in oak barrels can change a lot the characteristics of the final wine.
Orange wines, why are they so popular now? Are they all natural wines?
So as you can understand now after the introduction, this wines are not really a “new” thing, they come from a reborn old tradition of making wine. Of course this rediscover goes hand in hand with another important philosophy which is natural farming and wine making. I am not saying that orange wines have to be organic or natural wines for sure, but as we saw that they are made with the skin of the grape in contact with the wine, everything that is in that skins goes into the wine during the process, so the skins have to be as much clear from chemicals as possible. Let’s add that orange wines are very often not filtered or clarified, otherwise you are going to lose all the characteristics obtained from the maceration, which is the purpose why the are making the maceration. Putting together the above we can understand that a conventional or an industrial winery may not be interested in making this kind of wines, having a completely different market.
The Paper Plane selection
During the last 2/3 years I have been tasting more and more orange wines, because I find them very fascinating and interesting. Please find below my personal suggestions:
ORANGE WINES FOR STARTERS ( EASIER APPROACH IF YOU HAVE NOT BEEN USED TO THIS KIND OF WINES)
- Biancospino, Azienda Fontereza, Montalcino (Tuscany); grapes: Trebbiano and Malvasia. Maceration 30 days for the Trebbiano and 15 days for the Malvasia. Aging 9 months in barriques.
- Canna Torta, Podere le Ripi, Montalcino (Tuscany); grapes: Trebbiano and Malvasia. Maceration 8 months and aging in terracotta jars.
- Sassocarlo, Fattoria di Bacchereto, Carmignano (Tuscany); grapes: Trebbiano e Malvasia. Maceration 1 week . Aging from 12 to 18 month on its fine lees in big oak casks.
- Ograde, Skerk, Trieste (Friuli Venezia Giulia); grapes: Vitovska, Malvasia, Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio. Maceration 15 days. Aging for 24 months in big oak casks and 5 months in bottle.
- Gravner, Gorizia ( Friuli ), he is called the Master of Amphora wines. His wines have a very “gravnery” style which you can recognize between many other orange wines and say “oh well this is gravner for sure”. He was one of the few wines Gianfranco Soldera used to drink. I personally love his Ribolla Gialla.
- Damijan Podversic, Gorizia ( Friuli ), he also produces different wines: Ribolla, Malvasia, Friulano and more. Friend with Mr. Josko Gravner when back from its military he decided to dedicate is life to produce wine. He designed a line of Zalto glasses which I find perfect for orange wines.
- Radikon, Gorizia ( Friuli ), his labels, like his wines are always different from an year to the other. He decided to keep his father work in the vineyards and they were making conventional agriculture at that time. But after a couple of vintages he was not satisfied with the results and decided to change completely their winemaking into biodynamic.
- Zidarich, Prepotto ( Friuli ), I can say without any doubts this producer is one the top of my favourites list. Love everything I have tasted from him but the Vitovska and the Malvasia are probably the wines that made me fall in love with orange wines. When he started in 1988 he had less than 1 hectare of vineyards and he became very quickly a reference point for the quality of his wines.
- Princic, Gorizia ( Friuli ), point of reference for orange wines this small producer at the border with Slovenia has around 7 hectares of vineyards located in different parcels around the hill from which he produces no more than 26.000 bottles per year.
NORTH-EAST ITALY AND SLOVENIA
- Terpin, Gorizia ( Friuli ); this was a recent discovery for me but now a pretty popular winery, well deserved. I had their Jakot ( the Tokaj Friulano ) and was amazing. He also took his father’s vineyards but changing completely the way of wine making into a more natural and sustainable agriculture.
- Movia, Brda (Slovenia); historic winery with 22 hectares, they have a very interesting line up of natural wines, everyone with a specific characteristic, like the Lunar 8 is bottled after 8 cycles of moon with the lees in the bottle, the Puro is a classic method sparkling wine, not degorged so you actually have to degorge your bottle when open it. They wines are not only great wines but also pretty funny.
- Parachos, Gorizia ( Friuli ); the family of winemakers is from Greece as you can deduct from the name, from which they have a very special connection especially thanks to the rare amphora from Micene that they have in their cellar which are almost impossible to find. I am sure these jars make their wines even more special, I enjoyed their Malvasia 2015 a lot.
- Cotar, Gorjansko ( Slovenia ); if you say orange wine I immediately think about Cotar. Yes because for me he has one of the best expression of orange wines I have tasted. His wines are always balanced, never too much in oxidative notes, plesant and complex with great acidity and minerality. My go-to of orange wines.
- Vodopivez, Sgonico ( Friuli ); if Gravner is the master of jars, Vodopivez brothers are the masters of Vitovska. 45 hectares where they grow only this grape. I am a huge fun of Vitovska and I can say they are probably the best expression of this grape.
- Chiarofiore, Tunia, (Tuscany); blend of Trebbiano and Vermentino. The second one makes 2 weeks maceration with skins while the Trebbiano is a mix of white fermentation, skin contact and dried grapes. Aging: 12 months with fine lees in stainless steel and 6 months in bottle.
- Biancoaugusto, Le Verzure, Murlo (Tuscany); grapes are Trebbiano and Malvasia. Fermentation with skin contact in terracotta jars, aged for 10 months and than in bottle for other 6 months.
- Perluisa, Marino Colleoni, Montalcino (Tuscany); grape: Ansonica 100%. Skin contact during fermentation, only 2/3 days and aging in big oak barrels.
- Sacava, Sa Defenza, Donori ( Cagliari ); Vermentino 100%, skin contact for 20 days, aging for 1 year in stainless steel.
- Migiu, Tenuta Olianas, Gergei ( Cagliari ); Semidano 100%, skin contact fermentation and maceration for 88 days, aging for 5 months in terracotta jars and 3 in bottle.
- Quarto, Meigamma, Villasimius ( Cagliari); Vermentino 100%, spontaneous fermentation with skin contact in stainless steel. After the fermentation the wines stays in big oak barrels with its fine lees.
- Goruli Mtsvane Grand Cru Tshortauli; Grape: Mtsvane, 6 months maceration in terracotta jars, than racking in terracotta again for other 6 months. Powerful and sapid, a great wine to discover the Georgian style.
- Rkatsiteli Tarieluna; Grape: Rkasiteli, spontaneous fermentation in Qvervi with skin contact and aging in the same jars for 2 years. Also powerful wine with an extremely long finish and smoky notes.
Another reason why I do love orange wines is that they are super flexible and pair very well with a lot of food. You can decide to have a bottle very chilled from the fridge as an aperitif, paired with canapes or go for more elaborated first courses like seafood pasta, risotto with asparagus, but when having a big and dark orange, you can also pair with white meat like roasted pork. One of my personal preferred pairings is orange wine and Asian food, their structure and minerality goes absolutely perfect with the spiciness of Asian cuisine or from the soy sauce of the sushi. Enjoy it !