Thursday, February 17, 2011

What’s orange wine?

Ever since I discovered that Claude Bosi of Hibiscus had an orange wine list I’ve been dying to dip into it - and yesterday I got the chance at lunch with Isabelle Legeron the restaurant's wine consultant (a feast you can read about here)

Somewhat embarrassingly I discover that it’s been all the rage in the states for a couple of years as this unusually succinct and well-informed entry and footnotes in Wikipedia indicate.

Top US wine writers Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle and Eric Asimov of the New York Times have both written great pieces on it which I’d urge you to read if you want to understand it better but to put it in a nutshell orange wine is a white wine made with long skin maceration which leaches out the colour of the grape skins and results in a salmon- or orange-coloured wine. It’s nothing new. The Georgians have been making orange wine for centuries.

The one I tried was Josko Gravner’s Ribolla 2002 (top right) from Venezia Giula. The Italians seem to be particularly into orange wine and Gravner who originally comes from neighbouring Slovenia is one of their high priests.

To tell the truth although I found it interesting I wasn’t totally blown away - it was attractive with some appealing quince fruit and an intriguing touch of nuttiness but paled in comparison with the amazing Les Jardins d’Esmeraldins, Genèse 2001 (top left) a simply stunning dry Chenin which the producer apparently keeps in oak for 5-6 years. 2001 is the current release!

Confusingly it is also orange which goes to show there’s orange and orange . . .

. . . and orange if you want to create your own with the clever iPhone app Colorsplash (taken at Brawn).

* It makes me feel slightly better that the great Jancis Robinson hasn’t currently got orange wine in her Oxford Companion. Not just me then.


  1. Ha! I also somewhat embarassingly discovered that it's been all the rage in the USA for years! But luckily I discovered it in time (before the harvest in September last year) to actually make some. So I made a small lot as an experiment (about 100 liters), and it's turned out very well. Here's a pic
    I find the taste of orange wines quite strange, but pleasant. I've only ever tasted my own, Laureano Serres and Samuel Cano from Spain. I suppose it must be an 'acquired taste'!

  2. Wow that's an amazing colour, Fabio. But you're right, it is an acquired taste. I feel I'd like to try a few more before passing judgement. Sometimes you feel you ought to like original wines just because they're different but should you have to work at appreciating a wine? I'm not sure.

  3. Yes, I think it's a good idea to keep trying them as much as possible - I certainly intend to! For me it's a bit like blue cheese, which I used to hate with a vengance, but after trying it at every opportunity for years (decades!) I now find it only slightly horrible! I don't hink it will be that difficult for me with the orange wine, as I quite like it already - I just have to try more producers. It'll be very difficult to get hold of here in Madrid, especially as the ONLY natural wine bar (La Cave du Petit) closed down in January.

  4. Hello, Fiona. It’s me again. Actually, I had never been away, but refrained from interfering. As it happens, I made an orange wine myself, without knowing it. I’ll tell you in short. In 2008, the wild boars ate the best part of a plot I wanted to make Rivesaltes ambré (=tawny) with. I harvested the left-overs in 3 odd hours with the help of my lady-friend. We then destalked the lot by hand (150 kg or so of over-ripe, partly dessicated but unbotrytized macabeu and a little bit of grenache gris) and I bunged it (including the skins) into a small vat. After five days, I let run and pressurized the cap. I reincorporated this liquid at once, and left the whole lot to ferment, with no temperature control at all. It eventually came to a halt .... with 45 gr of residual sugar, 17.3 vol % alcohol and ... a hint of orange, courtesy of Mr. Grenache gris. I call it my “Roussillon Trockenbeerenauslese”. I send you a photograph by mail and am willing to forward a sample, would you be interested.

  5. Wow that's an offer too good to refuse, Luc (I thought you might come back, btw ;-) Sounds an amazing wine, I'd love to try it. Will email you my address.

    And sorry your natural wine bar has closed, Fabius. Maybe you'll have to head for Paris where there seem to be dozens. We're off their next month for some "research"

  6. There's great opportunity for "research" coming up in Barcelona (Sun 27 March) which I'll be taking advantage of: it's a Natural Wine Fair (Salón de Vinos Naturales) where 20-30 French and Spanish natural wine producers offer their wares to the public. Maybe see you there?

  7. I wish I could but I'm away that weekend. Would love to have your feedback though