Are we ever going to Fall in love with orange wine?
This is the perhaps the third year running where I am going to champion orange wine as what should be one of your go-to wines this Fall. But in the past few years since I started drinking and appreciating it, I begin to wander if we will ever “Fall” in love with orange wine? Orange wine has the charm, it has the character, and the color makes it a dead ringer for your seasonal harvest spread, but will it ever capture our imagination in the same way that other wines do?
Orange wine will never be the next rosé
It seems that every wine columnist for every magazine in the world from lifestyle, to fashion, or reporting on any sort of trend, has made the bold claim that orange wine will be the next rosé. They could not be more wrong if they tried, so maybe they should stop trying and we should stop falling for their clickbait. Rosé has seen a massive surge in the past decade or so, with mega brands like Miraval and Whispering Angel giving the category a massive consumer presence. Just about every winery in the world right now has a rosé wine in their lineup, and will do for some time. The reason this category has become so big is its lighthearted nature, easily accessible characteristics, and fun appeal. Its always been fun to have a pink drink whether that be a blush pink wine or a cosmopolitan, pink has always been a fun color.
Orange wine will never be rosé because it is nowhere near as whimsical as its pink counterpart, but thats okay. I don’t think I ever want to see orange wine become that big, because it will mean that we have all fallen for a bit of mass marketing hysteria without fully understanding and appreciating what it is we are drinking. To me orange wine is a much more complex and nuanced beast that has wild variants, characteristics, and tastes. Some are fruit forward, some are earthy and rustic, other might have strong savory flavors, and I even had one that tasted like ketchup and mushrooms…it was fucking delicious! But orange wine is not nearly as approachable or accessible as rosé, with many first time orange drinkers falling into either a love it or hate it category.
Orange wine is serious now
Orange wine may never be huge, but it demands to be treated as a serious category in its own right. Some restaurants have started treating it as such, noting that orange wines often have a depth to them that works well with variety of foods. The complexity in the wine demands a more measured approach. These are not wines you are going to sling back at a roof deck party in the middle of summer, nor are you going to be taking them to pools, beaches, or night clubs any time soon. The rich, savory flavors of orange wine make it a much more serious and complex wine, and so it should be treated as such.
We should understand a little bit about the history of these wines, where they come from, and the traditions that have always been in place. The rich history and modern resurgence of these wines has led to an array of orange wines from all over the world. The darker, more intense flavors of Georgian wines using qvevri methods where the white wines are left for long periods on the skins that result in deep amber tones is very different from the ramato style of fermenting Pinot Grigio on the skins for just a few days to impart on it an almost pinkish copper hue.
Seriousness deserves attention, and experimentation
With the prominent rise in orange wine around the world it is expected that winemakers without the constraints of tradition will be inspired to try something new. The added level of excitement has brought more attention to skin fermentation and it has become a tool for winemakers to express themselves. In the United States winemakers are both paying tribute to the classical orange wines of Eastern and Central Europe. Channing Daughters, out of Long Island, are one such example. Their Ramato and Ribolla Gialla are throwbacks to the Italian methods of fermenting the white grapes on the skins to give them tannin, spice, body, and structure. These methods have also inspired them to branch out and experiment with other wines such as their Research Bianco which brings together an array of different white wines (predominantly Chardonnay) and leave them to ferment on the skins for 19 days. The result is a super rich, decadent wine that will rival a lot of reds for your cool Fall nights.
More and more winemakers on America’s West Coast are beginning to fuck around with skin contact on white grapes to make for some rad, wild wines. Jesse Skiles, the owner and winemaker of Portland’s cult smash of a winery, Fausse Piste, has used the rich, oily Viognier to create a crazy, funky, rich orange wine he has called Duck Sauce. The color justifies the name for this orange masterpiece of American creativity. Get some! Meanwhile in California, the Scholium Project is taking the basic Sauvignon Blanc to new heights with their weeks long skin fermented darling called The Prince in His Caves. The wine remains fresh, but also nutty with flavors of ripe peach.
But orange wine is not all about heavy, rich wines with super long fermentation on the skins. Skin fermentation is a tool that winemakers can use to make their white wines more complex without ever really going deep into the orange territory. Ariana Occhipinti’s SP68 Bianco is a great example of the complexity that even just a little bit of skin fermentation can add to a wine. With just three days on the skins, the wine reaches a brilliant balance of earthy mineral qualities, beautiful floral aromas, savory herbs notes, and peach and dried apple flavors.
So drink more orange wine, when the mood suits it
With the cooler days and nights the desire for a lighter, unsophisticated wine goes out the window. In every part of our everyday lives we require more. More layers, more depth, more flavor, and that often translates to more sophistication. We require levels of sophistication to make our multitude of layers seem put together and balanced rather then piled on top of each other. Orange wines are great accompaniments to the nights that require just that little bit something more, that extra scarf, that jacket, and something to put it all together.
Are orange wines going to be the big smash that rosé is? No, and they should never be. But what orange wines have become is a wine that is synonymous with Fall. They are deep, rich, and cozy while still remaining fruity and nonchalant. Are orange wines going to be your Fall go to? Probably not. But you will love them, and they will enrich your life in more ways than pumpkin spiced everything ever could. Orange wines are like that light jacket that just brings everything together when you want it, or when you need it.