WHAT IS ORANGE WINE? WHITE WINE WITH SKIN CONTACT
Welcome to the Amaro Spirits & Wine July Wine Club edition featuring “orange wine,” which has nothing to do with the citrus fruit; instead, it earns its nomenclature from the color of the wines. The title of this section already gives away two facts about orange wine: that we’re talking about white wines and that the skin of the grape is integral to the color, consistency (i.e., fuller bodied than classic white wine), and unique flavors. Let’s back up a little for the uninitiated and explain some elementary winemaking knowledge that will help explain orange wine.
What mostly gives wine its color is the skin of the grape. We say “mostly” because there are some exceptions of grapes with pulp that has a dark hue, but usually the juice of almost all grapes is relatively clear with various shades of yellow and green. Hence, a red wine is red because when the wine is vinified, the reddish skins are purposely included in the process of fermenting and sometimes left to soak even further to both impart a deeper color to the juice as well as unique flavors, tannins being one of the more prominent examples. For white wine, being naturally lighter due to their light skins, many winemakers made it a practice to take full advantage of this lightness and press the grapes to squeeze out only the juice to be fermented and aged. Fun fact: most red grapes, if pressed for just the juice produce the same color juice as white grapes, and, in fact, Amaro Spirits & Wine has some “white” wines in the store made from red grapes. And, ok, since we’re here, we might as well point out that rosé wine is simply wine made with red grapes that are allowed just a little bit of skin contact for a lighter bodied, pink wine.
But we digress—back to the white wine that turns orange. Although many white wines are made by pressing and fermenting only the juice, winemakers just as often purposely leave the skins of the white grapes in contact with the juice for hours or a few days to give the wine more body, and to pick up desired flavors that come from the skin; in other words, the winemaker is doing the same thing that can be done for a red wine to make a rosé albeit for the opposite purpose of seeking more body, not less. Now this is where the definition of an “orange wine” gets unscientific because there is no clear designation of how long a white wine must be in contact with the skins to be determined an orange wine and not just a skin-contact white. To be on the safer side of the definition, think of an orange wine as a white wine that has been vinified like a red wine, i.e., with ample skin contact to extract as much pigment and flavors from the skins as possible, which usually also translates to higher alcohol by volume (ABV) as the skins contain more starch/sugar to be converted to alcohol.
Although orange wines have become wildly trendy in recent years, making white wine in this manner is as old as winemaking itself. And, in fact, two of the wines that we are including in the July Wine Club, the amber blend of Georgia, and the “ramato” style of Italy, reflect “orange wines” that predate Williamsburg hipsters by at least a few millennia. On this latter note, people who have become well versed with the orange wine trend may expect to taste wines that have “funky”, “barnyardy” or “natty” (cute abbreviation for the word ‘natural’) flavors. However, this is NOT a staple of orange wine. The natty flavor profile is a product of “natural wine,” which is broadly defined as wine that is made with as little intervention as possible, e.g., fermenting with wild yeast, using no additives to control chemical imbalances, little to no fining or filtering, and often including the skins in the maceration and fermentation process. The natural wine movement is yet undefined in a technical sense, so there are different degrees and combinations of minimal intervention, and because of the skin-contact factor, lots of natural white wines also fit the technical description of orange wine. Essentially, the less intervention in winemaking, the more variability in the final product in the form of Brett (Brettanomyces) yeast, for example, which imparts a strange odor and taste that most winemakers try to avoid, but which have become in vogue for adventurous winemakers and wine drinkers of minimal intervention natural wine.
The wines we have chosen for the July Wine Club are all natural wines, but none to the degree of producing “nattiness” on the nose or palate. But for those who like nattiness, do not despair – we have them in the shop. For this selection, we concentrate more on the making-white-wine-like-red-wine aspect of orange wine.
GAUDIOSO PRODUCES A CLASSIC RAMATO STYLE IN A REGION NOT KNOWN FOR IT
The word ramato comes from the Italian word “rame,” which means copper in Italian. Ramato would translate loosely as copperish in English, but auburn would likely be a more English way of expressing the color of the wine. The varietal for a ramato wine is specifically Pinot Grigio because it is a white grape with skins that have a pink hue, so macerating the grapes with the skins produces a this copper color as opposed to orange, and even a rosé pink, depending on the maceration time with the skins.
Agricola Gaudioso is a family-run winery in southwest Sicily, which is quite a distance from where the ramato-style of Pinot Grigio originated in Italy’s northeastern province of Friuli Venezia Giulia. It is a small family-run estate that practices biodynamic farming with olive groves alongside its vineyards along with raising sheep. The family consults closely with the renowned oenologist / biologist Michele Lorenzetti to ensure that they are applying scientific rigor to their biodynamic farming.
Representing two generations of the Gaudioso family.
Featured Amaro Wine Club skin-contact “orange” wine: Gaudioso, Terre Siciliane Pinot Grigio (2020)
VARIETALS: Pinot Grigio
The grapes for this wine are harvested from a 1.5-hectare vineyard and are macerated and allowed to ferment spontaneously, 20% of them are kept whole cluster, and no temperature control is used to regulate the fermentation. The skins remain in the juice for at least 20 days, and no chemical stabilization or clarifying agents are used, and there is no filtration afterward other than a series of decantings. The result is a big, luxurious white wine made like a red wine that spends no time aging in oak.
FOOD PAIRINGS: Semi-soft cheeses, roasted squash dishes, cured meats, grilled, baked, or fried fish, marinated risotto, eggplant dishes
Fungus like this on the Gaudioso vineyards is a welcome aspect of their biodynamic farming equation
TCHOTIASHVILI IS REVIVING AN ANCIENT WAY OF MAKING TRENDY WINE IN GEORGIA
Tchotiashvili Vineyards is situated in the Kakheti region in the Alazani River Valley between the Caucasus Mountains and the Alazani River in the east of the country of Georgia. Wine history in Georgia dates back 8,000 years to 6,000 BC and is where Vitis viniferas supposedly was first domesticated. Winemaking happens in large, fired clay vessels called qvevri that are stored underground. The clay allows a certain degree of oxygen flow that lend interesting flavors, and keeping the skins on the grapes for fermentation and aging is how both white wine and red wine is made in qvevri. So essentially, we’re talking about an orange wine tradition that has not changed in thousands of years
The Tchotiashvili Vineyards are in the heart of the Kakheti region.
Featured Amaro Wine Club skin-contact “orange” wine: Tchotiashvili, Khikhvi Limited Dry Amber Wine
Kakha Tchotiashvili is a true artisan winemaker in that he champions reviving native varietals and cultivates his family vineyards on organic principles, making tiny batches of wines in red and amber styles using various single varietals. The “amber” style is what we have been calling orange wine. He also refuses to use any additives or chemicals in the vineyards or in the winemaking process, and all of his wines are fermented with wild yeast and bottled unfiltered. Kakha’s production is limited and the wines are difficult to access, and this is even more the case with this particular wine as the Khikhvi varietal produces a small number of grapes per vine. The grapes are prized for their ability to accumulate an unusual amount of sugar and harvested late, so they are often used to make sweet wines. In this case, Kakha chose to instead ferment away all of the sugar make a robust dry amber wine.
FOOD PAIRINGS: Roasted pork or beef, roasted chicken, goat cheeses, seafood, rich salads, steamed fish
Kakha Tchotiashvili makes wine the way his ancestors did thousands of years ago
ALTOLANDAN IS KEEPING IT SIMPLE IN SPAIN
Altolandon is a family run estate in Manchuela in Central Spain. In 1998, Rosalie Molina and her husband Manolo Garrote had a vision to revitalize winemaking in their home region of La Mancha. They envisioned a return to the basics of organic grape growing and natural wine making that mimicked the simplicity of their ancestors. Starting with a small six hectare estate, they gradually expanded, purchasing plots of old vine Grenache and Bobal vines, and now they 60 hectares of organically farmed vines. A true family affair, Manolo manages the vines and Rosalie works in the cellar.
The estate's altitude of 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) combined with an exceptionally dry climate and barren terrain makes organic viticulture quite easy in that cool nighttime temperatures and nearly constant winds keep disease and pest pressure low while arid conditions limit vegetation. These cooler temperatures make harvests are some of the latest in all of Spain, beginning in mid-October for the whites and ending in late October for the reds, and if conditions are right, they even make a natural ice wine harvested in January.
Arid land of the Altolandon estate 3,600 ft above sea level
In the cellar, Rosalie keeps the winemaking simple. All of the wines ferment with native yeasts and are not clarified or filtered, and are typically released 2 years after the vintage as the natural process takes time and cannot be rushed.
Unique vines growing in a harsh albeit disease-free environment
Featured Amaro Wine Club skin-contact “orange” wine: Altolandon, Mil Historias Manchuela White Blend (2020)
VARIETALS: Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Moscatel, and Petit Manseng
Rosalie blends all five varietals to macerate together and spend a whopping 60 days in contact with each others' skins and lees in amphora vessels with native yeasts, no fining, filtration, or sulfur. Look out for a rich, full white wine made just like a red that has not been aged in oak.
FOOD PAIRINGS: rice, smoked dishes, sharp or stinky cheeses, Thai noodles, curry dishes.