I am a red wine guy. Always have been. I will drink the occasional glass of white wine if I have to. But not the sweet stuff. My wife likes rosé. She says it's hip. Hip or not, I won't touch it. I drink red. But now they've come up with orange wines. Orange? You must be kidding me!
They were curious orange."
"Orange wine" describes a winemaking technique rather than wines that merely happen to have the same color. An orange wine is made from white wine grapes, which were left on their grape skins and pips for an extended time. A winemaker normally avoids leaving the must of a white wine on grape skins in order to retain as much fruitiness in the wine as possible. In the case of orange wines the must macerates on skins for several days—or even several months—in either cement vats or old wooden barrels. Some producers even go back thousands of years in winemaking history and use terra-cotta amphorae, which are buried in the ground.
During maceration the wine extracts color and tannins from the skins and grape seeds. It is also partially exposed to oxygen and as a result the wine can have a color ranging from vivid orange to dark amber. Orange wines are also often hazy or cloudy as many producers dispense with filtration and fining.
Last week the aptly named wine bar Anfora in Manhattan's Greenwich Village organized an evening of orange wines, serving more than half a dozen of these rare wines by the glass. I was excited about the opportunity to taste and compare wines from different producers as I had been familiar so far only with the wines of Josko Gravner.
Orange wines are not the most accessible wines. The cloudy appearance may put off consumers used to technically pure wines. Likewise, aromas of bruised apple, nuts and grilled meats may raise the eyebrow of someone expecting the smell of fresh green apple or white peach. But it would be entirely wrong to think of these wines as being extreme or freakish and only suitable for adventurous wine drinkers. While the aroma and flavor spectrum may stray from the norm these wines can nevertheless be very refined and elegant. In fact, what surprised me most was the softness of almost each single wine I tasted that evening. The orange/amber color betrays the freshness of these wines. They were filled with energy and vitality. Not a hint of tiredness!
Out of the six wines I tasted at Anfora I liked Gravner's 2000 Ribolla best because of its wonderful elegance of exotic flavors. La Stoppa's 2006 Ageno was perhaps even more intense, but it was not quite as refined as the Ribolla (which, granted, also had six more years to develop its finesse). Dettori's 2005 Bianco was ravishing but probably should have been decanted beforehand.
Curious about orange I went out and bought a bottle of La Stoppa's 2004 Ageno after the tasting at Anfora. The Ageno was shared with friends over a meal of pasta with a relatively heavy sausage and cream sauce. It turned out to be a perfect match. I recommend decanting of orange wines for at least an hour and serve them not too cold.
They were curious orange."
Dettori Bianco 2005
IGT Romagni Bianco
Grape: Vermentino (40 year-old vines)
Maceration on skins for 2-4 days in cement vats, without addition of SO2. Not filtered or clarified.
Production: 600 cases
Pale orange color and cloudy (i.e. no filtration). A little muted on the nose: nutty, bruised apple and grapefruit. Dry, medium(+) alcohol and body. Crisp acidity but suprisingly soft mouthfeel. Pronounced intensity of orange and nut flavors. Medium length. A wine of good quality, but the heat of the alcohol shows towards the finish.
Monastero Suore Cistercensi "Rusticum" 2009
Pale, clear amber color. Medium(+) intensity of walnut aroma with an interesting mix of BBQ spices and cloves. Dry, medium alcohol. Fairly light and soft on the palate. A very quiet but interesting wine. Medium intensity of bruised apple and hay. Very good wine with a medium(+) length and a tight, tannic finish.
Gravner Ribolla 2000
Grape: Ribolla Gialla
Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Dark amber color. Complex aroma of florals, berries, spices and ripe apple. Dry, soft and round on the palate. Perfectly balanced alcohol and acidity. Effortless and very elegant. Medium intensity of raisins, smoked pork chops and florals. Long length. Excellent!
La Stoppa "Ageno" 2006
Grapes: Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, Ortrugo, Trebbiano
Maceration on the skins for 30 days using only indigenous yeasts, without the addition of SO2. Dark amber color. Pronounced aroma of florals, perfume, buckwheat honey, clove and peach. Intense! Very dry on the palate. Medium(+) acidity and medium body. Medium(+) intensity of smoked meats and very ripe stone fruits. Dry and tannic towards the end. Very good, but intensity trumps elegance.
La Stoppa "Ageno" 2004
Dark amber color and cloudy. Pronounced aroma of bruised apple, orange and grapefruit. Also quite peppery on the nose. Dry on the palate with a medium amount of ripe tannins. Medium alcohol (13%) and body. Pronounced flavor intensity of apple, grapefruit and pork chop. Very spicy and herbal. Medium(+) length with a spicy finish. Not as lush as the 2006 vintage but certainly neither as austere as Eric Asimov described this wine. Very good - excellent.
De Concilis "Antece" 2004
Medium amber color. Medium(+) intensity of dried plum aroma. Dry, very nice and soft mouthfeel. Medium intensity of ripe apple and plums. Medium length. Good.
Damijan "Kaplja" 2003
Pale amber color. Medium intensity of bruised apple and floral aroma. Dry, soft mouthfeel, medium acidtiy, alcohol and body. Medium intensity of nut and apple flavors. Medium length with a slight alcoholic heat at the end. Good - very good.