What is orange wine?
Orange is the fourth colour of wine and the most ancestral trend in the world of wine. What looks like a return to the future actually hides an infinite variety of styles and possible food and wine pairings. Let's get to know them.
Once upon a time whites were made only like this. There was no technology to immediately separate, surgically, musts and skins. And so the wine was like this: white, but full-bodied; thin, but opulent; floral, but balsamic. They were white wines but looked golden, sometimes amber. They were white wines with the sould of a red. Those were orange wines.
What was once the only technique for making white wine, today becomes a study, a search for tradition. So much so as to constitute a stand-alone wine typology. That of the wines which are neither white nor red: orange, in fact. And the tradition brings with it all the heritage that the "orangemen" recover: spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, organic management of the vines, ageing in amphora, minimal intervention.
How is orange wine made?
Normally, when a white wine is made, the grapes are brought to the cellar and a machine immediately separates the must, i.e. the pressed juice, from the skins, which are then removed. To make an orange wine, on the other hand, after pressing the skins are not separated, but left in the must, in contact with the liquid part of the grape. In other words, you do exactly what you would do if you wanted to make a red wine. In this way, the skins release into the must, which begins to ferment in the meantime, a whole series of aromatic and colouring substances (flavones, terpenes, polyphenols, tannins...) and also the grape's indigenous yeasts.
This is the simple reason why an orange wine, compared to a white wine, will have more colour (with shades ranging from deep gold to amber), more structure (sometimes comparable to a light red), more smoothness and, in some cases, even a perceptible tannicity. Warning: there is no connection with rosé wines. That colour range is in fact given only by red grapes, which are not used for orange wines. At most, a good orange wine can have a coppery colour, for example if the grapes used have this shade already in the grape, as is the case with orange wines made from Pinot Grigio. Obviously, the duration of maceration, i.e. the contact between the skins and the must, is decisive for the intensity of the colour, the aromas and the consistency of the final product.
What do orange wines taste like?
This question may seem trivial, but it is not. Imagining the aromatic bouquet and taste complexity of an orange wine is not easy. Nor is it easy to describe it, because the production technique and the grapes used are very different, and depending on the length of maceration, the style determined by ageing or the level of aromaticity of the grape variety, there can be huge differences.
The colour, as we were saying, can range from deep golden yellow to amber, orange and coppery. This variety is determined by the different duration of maceration, and means that the boundary between a simple white lightly macerated and a real orange wine can never be determined with certainty. In Italy, for example, there are areas, such as the Cinque Terre, where the maceration of white grapes is traditional and serves to give the wines more body. Are they orange wines? Not exactly!
What is certain is that the orange wine world is among the most allergic to the standardisation of sensations. And so on the nose we can expect a disparate and exorbitant catalogue, with notes of ripe or candied fruit, citrus peel, aromatic herbs and even pepper leaf. Expect spicy puffs, ranging from pepper to cinnamon - aromas, as the case may be, of vinification or ageing in wood - and even toasted, not infrequently even smoky, with echoes of silica and gunpowder. Walnut husk and dried fruit in general are very frequent, indeed characteristic of the great orange wines, often accompanied by enveloping notes of oxidation and bread crust, linked to the production technique. And then, to seal in the typical softness, there are also notes of honey, which at first glance might make some of these wines look like an aristocratic Passito. Hydrocarbons and ethereal notes crown the most long-lived orange wines, capable of expressing new (tertiary) sensations even more than twenty years after harvest.
The palate will be no less heterogeneous. Some characteristics will certainly be borrowed from the reds: the structure, without doubt, but also the frequent tannin. Softness is never absent, the ideal companion to an abundant structure of solid residue. But the breadth and complexity of these wines is played out above all in the catalogue of hardnesses: apart from the tannin, freshness and sapidity must make the difference, even when a malolactic fermentation has smoothed out the edges. A sapidity, sometimes salty, which results in a long, bitter persistence, will be one of the most welcome characteristics of a sumptuous orange wine.
More like for a red than a white, therefore above 12 degrees, better if around 16 degrees. Wide glasses, even balloon ones, to allow all this magic to express itself with the necessary breadth. In the case of an abundant base, which is not uncommon considering that these wines are often natural and unfiltered, decanting is useful, also to oxygenate a product that can be a little closed when opened.