Skip that pumpkin-spiced latte and discover orange wines this fall.
It may be a bit of a surprise to some, but the trees in New York’s Finger Lakes aren’t the only thing with an orange hue this fall. This wine region is actually at the forefront of orange wine production, with grapes including Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay being vinified into stunning examples of this somewhat niche-y category. And it’s not the only place in the world where bottles, made using white grapes whose skins are left on to macerate with the juice, extracting color and tannins typically only found in red wines, are turning on wine lovers looking for the next. best. thing.
Orange wines, says Katey Harwood, winemaker at Keuka Lake Vineyards in the Finger Lakes, are akin to the second cousin of a red wine; even if they are not very close, they are still family. “The wines do not have oak, dark fruit and earthiness, so the tannin will be very intense and prominent when coupled with bright fruit flavors and a higher acidity,” she adds. Their extended skin contact and more oxidative environment tend to “turn ‘typical’ flavors and expectations on their head,” notes Vinny Aliperti, co-owner and winemaker at Billsboro Winery, and winemaker at Atwater Estate Vineyards, both also in the Finger Lakes region. “So, instead of gleaning notes of apples and pears in your more conventional Chardonnay, an orange version will develop secondary and tertiary flavors and aromas of oolong tea, salted nuts and marzipan,” he says.
Of course, increased oxidation and high levels of volatile acidity (which can cause vinegar-like aromas and flavors) in orange wine can be considered by some to be faults, admits Joe Quinn, wine director of Proof in Washington, DC. Still, despite this controversial notion, one person’s flaw can be another’s intrigue, meaning orange wine is often a matter of taste and opinion. “Ultimately, regardless of the complex chemical cocktail of a wine, it presents itself to us as an aesthetic object, and who’s to argue with what someone likes?” he asks.
The heightened acidity and fun and funky flavors can definitely appeal first and foremost to fans of sour beers. And, Aliperti says, they are also a great way to deftly highlight a totally different side to a grape. “The appeal is to discover the secret life of Malvasia, Sauvignon Blanc, etc., from an entirely different viewpoint - one totally foreign from its more typical expression.” Harwood agrees, adding orange wine showcases the color, tannin and character that are found in the skins and seeds, which are all generally lost for white grapes during fermentation.
And their placement in between white and red wines means that orange wines can totally bridge the gap on the table, notes Quinn. “If there’s a dish that’s on the richer side, with some earthiness, that that red wine might overwhelm, this is where these wines shine.” Proof’s chef Austin Fausett’s roasted chicken with acorn squash, walnut pesto, Brussels sprouts and maple gastrique pairs with orange wines’ richer texture and deep honeyed notes, he says. Aliperti likes to go with dishes that have a salty, curried, grilled or smoked profile - anything with what he calls bold, outgoing flavors. And Harwood believes creamy cheeses like Camembert or burrata highlight the wine’s fruit, while the acidity and tannin in the wine easily cuts the cheese’s fat and richness.
The question remains, though: Are orange wines a growing category, or more of a curiosity? Aliperti believes that their popularity will slowly continue to grow, especially among the culinary-minded or those looking for a “meditative” bottle of wine. And Harwood says oenophiles interested in the unusual and the unconventional will continue to gravitate towards them. “[It’s] looking at a grape variety in an entirely new context and seeing what it’s capable of. Exciting!”
Orange wines to try:
2013 Shaw Vineyard Gewürztraminer Vin Rustique, a dry and aromatic orange wine.
2014 Keuka Lake Vineyards Dry Amber Vignoles, with hints of orange blossom and straw, along with dry tannins that open up in the finish.
2013 Vie di Romans Dessimis Pinot Grigio, from one of Quinn’s favorite producers. “It has a lovely texture with just a bit of tannin; stone fruit and a waxy, honeyed edge that’s really appealing.”
2005 Radikon Jakot Friulano, “Not for the faint of heart,” Quinn notes, “with a riot of honey, melon, nutty, sour, earthy and funky notes.”
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.