Will Orange Wine ever hit the mainstream?

Orange may be the new black in the criminal fraternity, but in the wine world, orange is the new red, white or rosé.

Orange Wine

Although based on an ancient style of wine-making, orange wine (also known as amber wine) is a style that has re-emerged over the last few years and, although still something of a rarity, the trend continues to bubble just below the surface waiting to hit the mainstream.  Despite renowned wine authority Hugh Johnson once describing it as “a sideshow, a waste of time”, such is the building of the movement, the latter part of 2018 saw the publication of a book (‘Amber Revolution’ by Simon J. Woolf) completely devoted to the style.

Unlike red and white wine, where neither are actually coloured red or white, orange wine is specifically named because of its colouring.  It doesn’t, as some may fear, actually taste of oranges.  The making of orange wine is something of a hybrid, taking the red wine process of allowing the pressed grape juice to spend time with the dark grape skins absorbing the colour, and applying that to the white wine grapes, which would usually be separated in order that the juice remains clear.

The resulting wine retains the florality and freshness of a white wine, but with the body, structure and style of a red.  The skin contact, which can last for a few days all the way up to over a year, allows the resulting wine to develop further, picking up tannins along the way.  The longer the wine stays in touch with the grape skins, the more complex and intense it becomes.

The merging of the red and white production methods also brings together aspects of each wine in to the taste, resulting in a versatile style that straddles both.  As such, white wine fans who like a nuttier and honeyed style will enjoy it, and red wine fans who enjoy the lighter more floral style will also be rewarded.

Orange wines are also good news for those that like to match their food to their wines.  Wine expert Amelia Singer (The Wine Show) praises the versatility and suggests pairing them with dishes from India, Morocco, Ethiopia and Persia.  The acidity and nuttiness are also good matches to a well-stocked cheese board, as well as the light tannins lending themselves to charcuterie plates.

Orange Wine 2

Although Marks & Spencer have long been advocates and include an orange wine within their range, getting your hands on a bottle is still a little tricky outside of specific wine merchants.  The fact that they pair well with diverse foods is potentially a bonus as it may lead to more restaurants adding them to their lists. 

As more and more people seek them out and the passion continues to grow, this is when the supermarkets will want to get involved.  So keep an eye out, especially as summer draws in and people go searching for a medium-style alternative to rosé.

This article was originally published in the April 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.
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Georgia On My Mind

I’m always pleased when wine questions turn up in the pub quiz, a recent example being “Where can you find the worlds largest wine cellar?”.  Having visited the sprawling vast caverns of Champagne, where you sometimes need a motorised vehicle to get around, I offered it up as my answer.  I was wrong, its actually in Moldova.

Chalk Cellar

This reminded me that many people naturally think of France as the birthplace of wine when the truth is much more Eastern European.  In fact, it’s just across the Black Sea from Moldova, in Georgia. 

The oldest known evidence of wine-making there dates back 8,000 years, with scientists able to trace the organic compounds found in wine-making in various pottery shards.  This historical importance, along with over 500 unique indigenous grape varieties and unusual wine-making techniques, should make Georgian wines an easy sell.  How come then, most of us have never seen or tried them?

Traditionally focused on the domestic market and surrounding countries, the rug was firmly pulled from under Georgia’s feet when Russia imposed an import ban on their wines in 2006.  Low standards and a plodding reliability on the norm caused them to lose 90% of their exports overnight. 

Although lifted in 2013, the ban pushed them to improve quality and focus on further export opportunities, signing trade agreements with the EU and the quickly expanding Chinese wine market.  Russia once again accounts for 50% of exports but, in just 4 years, China has become their third largest market.

These sales are all good but, due to the local economies they are mostly low value, with rival brands competing on bottle prices in the £1-£1.50 bracket.  Serious future growth is dependent on higher value sales; hence them now looking to richer Western markets including both the UK and US.

Wine is not immune to the recent food trends for ‘natural’ ingredients and processes, and buzzwords including organic and biodynamic are never far from reach when talking about current production styles.

This ‘back-to-nature’ style perfectly suits Georgian wine as many producers still practice the traditional methods used for thousands of years.  Instead of fermenting/ageing wines in ultra-modern temperature cooled facilities, they bury them underground in large egg-like clay jars called ‘Qvevri’, where they utilise the naturally cool and consistent underground temperatures. 

Qvevri

Whilst this continued soaking of the grape juice on its skin is not so different to regular ‘over-ground’ red wine production around the world (the red colour comes from the grape skin, not the flesh), globally produced white wine sees little skin contact.  The Qvevri production sees them pick up a much darker hue, becoming ‘Gold’ or ‘Amber’ wines; a whole new spectrum of colour and taste.

These differences give unique selling points to Georgian wine and, with a little development to the quality classifications and labelling (both hindered by largely unpronounceable place names and grape varieties), they’ll be coming to a store near you very soon.

Two high-street staples have already taken the plunge and you can buy a Georgian white (aka gold) from M&S and a red from Waitrose.  Will you take the plunge too?

Cheers!

This article was originally published in the October 2018 edition of The Ocelot.  For more of my articles, please click here.