Blue wine may be making a splash this summer, but if you’re ready to expand your palate with something a bit less faddish, you should know that orange wine is also having a moment—one that’s years in the making. Vintners worldwide are reviving and perfecting a winemaking process that marries the intriguing flavors of red wine with the lighter-bodied expression of whites. With orange wine becoming increasingly popular, we asked Boston-based, award-winning sommelier, wine writer and consultant Lauren Friel—who’s put orange wines on the menu at places like Oleana and Committee Boston—to talk us through 10 things to know about the intriguing drink.
1. Orange wine is made like red wine—but with white grapes.
“Modern white wines are made from white grapes that are crushed and removed immediately from their skins, flesh and pips—altogether referred to as the grape ‘must,’” explains Friel. Red wines are made with red grapes but "are generally allowed to hang out on the skins for all or part of the fermentation...When you do the same thing with white grapes, you get orange wine,” Friel adds.
2. The process of making orange wine is ancient.
Although orange wines are trendy now, the method for making them is old-fashioned, says Friel. “Ancient peoples didn’t distinguish between white and red grapes, really. Wine was wine!”
3. Orange wine and “vin jaune” aren’t the same thing.
So-called yellow wines (like the ones from France's Jura region) are another trendsetter in the wine world, but they’re more like sherry and made through a completely different process. “Their color is as a result of oxidation, not skin contact,” explains Friel. “It’s totally different wine.”
4. Orange wines are getting more and more affordable.
Although orange wines started showing up stateside a few years ago, with sky-high price points, Friel says it’s now common to find bottles priced in the $20 to $30 range. “The Italian wine market is attempting to fill its mid-range gaps in the U.S.,” she explains about the influx of more reasonably priced orange varietals.
5. For food-pairing, orange is more versatile than red or white.
As the wine’s color suggests, an orange varietal can pair with foods that one typically thinks of serving with either red or white. “Orange wines have a leg up in versatility,” she explains. “They can play the role of red or white at the table, which makes them especially handy for heartier vegetarian dishes and lighter meat dishes like grilled pork chops.” And if you’re serving a funky-flavored dish, they also pair well when neither red nor white will do. “They tend to be especially awesome with tricky pairings like eggplants and artichokes.”
6. Orange wines from Italy are your best bet.
While producers in California, Germany, the Loire Valley and elsewhere have been making strides in the orange wine category, “Italy still has the podium stacked,” Friel says, especially with its “great, affordable examples from places like Umbria and Sicily.” Her of-the-moment favorites include “Lamoresca in Sicily and Collecapretta in Umbria. These are tiny producers making really honest, beautiful country wines.”
7. The darker it is, the more orange wine will taste like red.
Not sure if you’ll like a particular bottle? Friel has a handy guideline for your trip to the wine store. “In general, the deeper the color, the more ‘orange,’ the more intense the wine will be—and the more it will drink like a red,” she says. “They can be rustic and wild, but that’s what makes them unique.”
8. Most orange wines are fall-friendly, like their color.
Come fall, not only will an orange wine complement your autumnal decor, it’ll also go great with seasonal dishes. “Orange wines are great with fall produce,” Friel says. “They’re the easiest pairing for mineral-rich root vegetables and braising greens.”
9. For cooking and cocktails, stick with reds and whites.
Tempting though it may be, Friel advises against experimenting with orange wine in the kitchen, and says it's best to just enjoy it in your wineglass. “Their inherent complexity makes them difficult playmates,” she says. “Wines with the intensity that orange wine has will generally complicate and muddy things too much. It’s not worth it, and you lose the dynamism of the wine.”
10. Some of the best orange wine is made by nuns.
Ready for a “beginner” orange wine to get you started? Friel recommends Suore Cistercensi Coenobium from an order of nuns in Umbria. “You can find that for closer to $20,” she says. “It’s a really good starting point.”
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