A recurring request during our online tastings, when the subject comes up, is everyone’s fascination with the idea of an orange wine. How the heck can a wine be orange? So off I scuttle to the store room and pull out a bottle of Ancre Hill’s Orange Wine, made from the Albariño grape in Monmouthshire in Wales. When I come back, I hold it aloft to the webcam and there it is. Undeniably bright orange. And guess what? It splits the virtual room right down the middle between those who are horrified and those who can’t wait to give it a try. And I love that about it.
Orange wine’s not just a thing invented for the man-bun-brigade in trendy parts of London and Manchester. It’s been around for centuries. Millenia in fact. According to Caroline Gilby MW the special qvevri, or ceramic amphorae, used in Georgia to make their “amber wine” have been found dating back over 8,000 years. Orange wine may well be the most ancient way of making wine. It’s reckoned it was only as recently as the 1950s that it fell out of fashion and lost out to the clear, fruity whites we’re used to seeing on our shelves.
How's It Made?
Orange Wine has a very distinct way of being made and it has nothing to do with oranges!
The colour in a wine, be it a red or a rosé is from the colour pigments in the grape skins. With red grapes you macerate and sometimes even ferment the wine on the skins drawing out the colour, tannins, and other flavours. The longer the time, the more you draw out. With white grapes used for white wines the whole idea is to avoid drawing any colour out of the skins, so you remove the skins from the juice very quickly. But what happens if you leave white grape skins in with white grape juice to macerate or even ferment? You get a certain amount of colour, tannin, and non-white-wine-esque flavours out of the skins, and a little bit of colour from oxidation too, all leading to a darkening in the colour of the juice. Hence orange wine.
Orange wine is also at the forefront of the natural wine movement. Winemakers rarely add yeasts or sulphites, allowing the wine ferment spontaneously with naturally occuring yeasts. These are then usually bottled both unfined and unfiltered, i.e. straight from the tank, warts and all. You need top grapes to make good Orange Wine, because there’s nowhere to hide.
What Does It Taste Like?
With these winemaking methods comes a wine like no other. Madeline Puckette of the brilliant Wine Folly puts is beautifully: “Make sure you’re sitting down the first time you try your first orange wine.” This is nothing like the clear, fruity whites you’re used to. Expect dried and bruised fruits, herbs and spices, iced tea, and a bitterness verging on kombucha. Some of you will hate the sound of that, but to me that just makes me think about a world of food pairing possibilities. Mushrooms, cheese, curries, pickles…the world is your umami filled oyster.
For those people on our online tastings that have screwed their nose up just looking at it, I’m not going to lie, this is a marmite wine. If your brain doesn’t want to accept its existence, a lot like my niece and broccoli, then don’t try it. You’ve probably already made up your mind. But those of you up for new things are going have some real fun finding out for yourselves and good luck to you!
- Check out the Ancre Hill Orange Wine 2018 for sale now online
- Check out the definitive book on Orange Wine in called the Amber Revolution by Decanter’s very own Simon Woolf