Summer. As it takes hold, you find yourself craving a cool beverage to ease into the heat. Friends offer you rosé or white wine, but you’re like “thanks, I’m not into it- that stuff always makes my head ache and it’s too sweet” so you skip grapes altogether. What if I told you there was something else to try?
First stop: remember sherry. You may be familiar with Spain’s answer to every party, meal, beach break or study session. Deliciously dry and high in alchohol (upwards of 17%), it’s an easy alternative when faced with the “beer? wine? or liquor?” predicament (referring specifically to Fino and Amontillado). But you’re getting a little bored with sherry, since there are only so many times you can have La Gitana before feeling like she’s been played out, and drinking fortified wine when you have several hours in front of you has its limitations.
I give you, orange wine.
Consume chilled, sip slow, and gawk at the crazy weird tangerine-burnt gold-auburn as it glows in your goblet (yes, your glass has been transformed into an epic symbol). Have another glass, kick back in the sun, share with friends, have some Cheez-Its, veggies, fish, or pork loin. It doesn’t matter how you rock it, orange wine can take it. The other day I made a plate of asparagus with tabbouleh, soft-boiled egg and shavings of truffle salami, opened a bottle of Domaine Jean Macle Château-Chalon, and it was truly amazing.
So what makes wine orange, and how is it different than white or rosé? Mainly, it’s the crushed white grapes left to age in barrels with their skins intact for a prolonged period of time. Unlike white wine, which is in contact with their skins for a matter of days, these grapes stay in contact for weeks, months, sometimes even years, drastically increasing the level of astringency and tannin. This process, called maceration, paired with time in the barrel, creates an intentional and carefully crafted effect in the wine, similar to oxidation (although there is no actual exposure to oxygen), visually recognized as the orange color. Depending on the producer and their method, these wines may look cloudy in the glass as well (don’t be alarmed).
And how can you be sure you won’t run into the old wine phobia again? Whereas rosé often runs the risk of being too thickly sweet with a lingering throat burn, orange wines will meet you where you want to be: curiously dry, delicately sharp, floral but bitter, and twinges of cedar, spice, fermented apples, minerals, or a “what IS that?”, depending on your bottle. If rosé is Stop & Shop, orange wine is the open air farmer’s market. It’s what real life is all about: a confusing but provocative mixture of knowns and unknowns, challenges and soft moments. There’s a lot of room to explore since there is an incredible amount of variety between bottles, but here’s a few I recommend:
- Philippe Bornard, Cotes du Jura Savagnin
- Frank Cornelissen, Munjebel Bianco
- Domaine Jean Macle, Château-Chalon
- Chateau Richard, Osé Blanc Sec
- Domaine de Montborgeau, L’Etoile
- Vina Cravonia, Crianza
- Donati, Malvasia dell’Emilia
- Ca’ de Noci,”Notte di Luna”
- La Stoppa, Ageno
REF: Eric Asimov, who wrote a great article which goes into greater depth about what makes orange wine orange: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/03/orange-wines/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0