What is Orange Wine ?
..And so we have arrived to the wonderful world of orange wine, led to us by its good friend washed-rind cheese.
These two are a fantastic pair; balancing each other's acidity, supporting earthy notes of spice and umami, and encouraging tropical fruit notes to unfurl.
But, washed-rind cheese has had its moment here, and it's time to turn our focus to the wine at hand.
Orange wine might seem like a rule breaking, cooler child of red and white… but this style existed before the rules themselves. So, let's rewind a bit.
The Romans did something absolutely fantastic. They made wine ‘democraric’. Wine was a staple, a human right, and available to everyone from slaves to aristocrats. This was possible due to amazing leaps in technological advances and viticulture. So, essentially, they really loved it.
But, alas, they cannot claim to be the forefathers of this tipple.
Georgia, the birthplace of wine, has been accidentally - then purposely - making wine for 8000 years. Our word for ‘wine’ even comes from the Georgian word ‘gvino’, if you needed more convincing.
Remains from 4000BC show grape juice was stored in underground clay pots and left to ferment over winter. These are used to this day, and are called ‘Qvervi’. The grape variety of choice for these vessels is Rkatsiteli (“Awr-kat-seh-telly”) which gives a distinct orange hue (see, we were going somewhere with this!). Although orange or skin-contact wine has become a style in its own right - to Georgians, this is simply wine. Nothing fancy!
So we know when. But how is this style even possible, and why is it so damn tasty?!
Varieties of grapes can give varying hues, but most of the colour in an end wine comes from the amount of grape skin contact during the wine making process.
This simple graph explains it best;
(Orange wine and skin-contact wine are used interchangeably, so as terms can be confusing - all red wines are technically ‘skin-contact’, but as you can see, only a long skin-contact with white grapes will result in orange wine… so we will stick with orange wine when we are talking about this style!)
Orange wine gains several things from it’s extended skin contact…
When we talk about body, big mouthfeel or texture we are often referring to the tannins. This is a chemical found on grape skins, and is what gives you a mouth-puckering, astringent sensation in your mouth. A common feature of red wines (with long skin contact), their presence in orange wines gives structure and oomf which allows for pairing with bolder foods.
FLAVOUR AND AROMA
If you’ve ever nibbled away the skin of a grape and eaten the fruit inside on its own (..just me?) then you will notice immediately how much of the complex rich flavours of grapes are held in the skin. Ranging from liquorice, to woody spice and bitterness - a vast array of aroma and flavour compounds are waiting to be unlocked with a bit of contact!
Natural, or wild, yeasts on grape skins can be the source for fermentation in natural wines, but it is also argued that they impact flavour, too! Many regions prize grape varieties with busy yeast production on their skins (visible as a dusty white hue on some grapes). It is thought that these yeasts and microbes result in depth of flavour - and are another reason to allow that skin a little more time with the juice…
To round up, orange wines are amazing when a white wine would pair amazingly, but maybe it just isn’t big enough to stand up to all the flavours. They are incredibly useful for pairing with spice and nutty flavours - which is why we love them so much with washed rinds.
But we can’t finish without mentioning another pairing…
Goats! Especially soft goats such as St Tola, Sinodun Hill and Black Mount. With enough acidity to stand up to the brightness of these young cheeses, to its ability to match in spice and earthy flavour notes… you just know it's gonna be good!
Catch us next time when we delve further into these small but perfectly formed cheeses.