The beginning of the New Year is the time to celebrate aspiration, innovation, and change in whatever measure inspires us. The world of wine is now presenting us with a new experience in the glass, one that is fairly astounding. Up until recently, wine has come in three colors, red, white, and pink. But orange is now the hot, new shade for wine. Like at least some innovation, this one is inspired by the past but brought to a new level of deliciousness.
Grape skins are responsible for the color of wine. Both juice and skins are fermented together to make red wine so that the skins can impart their intense hue. For rose` wines, the juice and skins remain together only until the juice obtains the desired pink color, at which point, it is drained away from the skins and fermented into wine. White wine has very little color because after the grapes are crushed, the juice is immediately separated from the skins.
In the case of so-called orange wine, which does indeed have a rich golden-orange color, the juice soaks with the skins, and in some cases the two are fermented together. In other words, the juice picks up the color of the skins in much the same way that red wine does.
But in addition to color, the skins impart intense flavor. They also contribute tannin to the wine, that somewhat gritty texture that is typical of reds but absent in white. In other words, orange wine has the same rich flavor and texture that red wine has and like red wine is served at room temperature instead of chilled.
Twenty years ago, Josko Gravner along with other local winemakers from Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northeastern Italy began experimenting with this technique. They were inspired by the past when white wine was made in much the same way as red with both juice and skins fermented together. After tasting these new and delicious wines that were coming from Friuli, Italian winemakers from other regions became interested. Mostly because of these innovative wines, Italian consumers are drinking more white wines.
Influenced by the Italians, California winemakers are also producing orange wines. George Vare at Luna Vineyards in Napa was one of the first. Kevin Kelley at Natural Process Alliance and Pax Mahle at Wind Gap are enthusiasts of the technique among others.
So be on the look-out for orange wine, which you’ll find to be surprisingly delicious and, by the way, priced accordingly. Happy New Year to all of you from all of us at Celebrations Wine Club.