Orange wines got a fair bit of mainstream attention last year as the newest wine du jour. It was really a load of rubbish, however: orange wines are simply too obscure to be anything more than an oddity, an estranged and mostly overlooked corner of the vast ocean of the world’s wine industry. Plus, many people who have had an orange wine probably assumed it was just a particularly salmon-coloured rosé.
Orange wines are named for their colour: typically a rusty hue ranging from pale gold to deep amber. Orange wine is a white wine that’s made like a red: rather than crushing the grapes and sending the juice immediately to the fermenting tank—as in the usual process for white-wine making—orange wines spend some time soaking (macerating) with the grape skins for a period of time, ranging from a few days to a few months or even years. Though they often have a similar colour to rosé wines, rosés are made from red grapes whereas orange wines are made exclusively from white varieties.
Not all white grapes have completely white skin, however—Pinot Gris, notably, has a dusky pink skin that makes it a prime candidate for transforming into an orange wine, and the majority of orange wines on the Alberta market are made from Pinot Gris. Macerating the juice with the skins imbues the wine with a deeper colour and some astringent tannin, as well as flavours that are atypical and often more complex than those found in the white-wine version of that variety. Maybe it’s the persuasion of the colour, but a lot of aromas and flavours in orange wines tend to be of similarly hued items: dried apricots, marmalade, orange pith, under-ripe pears or walnut skin.
Most orange wines hail from Old World producers in Italy (especially the Friuli region), France (notably in the Loire Valley and Jura), as well as Slovenia and Georgia—the latter of which is an ancient seat of winemaking and historical home of orange wines. It’s often difficult to spot orange wines based on the label alone since they usually aren’t identified as such; if you spot the term ramato on a label you’ve found one, as ramato means auburn in Italian. If the colour is orangey and the label isn’t sporting the terms rosé, rosato, rosado or saignée, then you’ve likely found an orange wine. Research is key to verifying this, however, which is another reason why orange wines are a seriously niche item and unlikely to take over as a truly popular type: there simply aren’t a lot available.
The unusual flavour profile of orange wines also means that they aren’t as readily consumed by novices and wine lovers alike, as are the much-more-approachable rosés. Still, the buzz that orange wines has garnered abroad means that we’ll likely see more of these trickle into the province as time goes on—and they’re certainly worth trying if you can find one, if only for their sheer idiosyncrasy. V
Dal Cero Ramato Pinot Grigio (Italy)
Gravner Anfora Breg (Italy)
Radikon Linea S Pinot Grigio (Italy)
Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli (Georgia)
Mel Priestley is a certified sommelier and wine writer who also blogs about wine, food and the arts at melpriestley.ca