The What and Why of Orange Wines

We don’t ordinarily get too deeply into the details of making wine, but we will with our next subject, orange wines, also known as amber wines or skin-contact whites.

The phrase “orange wine” was unknown 20 years ago, but the style and the techniques for producing the wines stretch back thousands of years.

Essentially, orange wines are whites produced using the techniques for making reds, just as rosés are reds produced using the methods for making whites. Yes, orange is the inverse of rosé.

As with natural wines, orange wines have moved from niche bottles known to only a small vanguard of consumers to something approaching mainstream. I would by no means call them conventional or common, even though more than a few commercially oriented producers now make orange wines.

While you might be able to find a few bottles in supermarkets, orange wines still occupy a niche, even if it has grown considerably over the years.

A lot of people think of orange wines as natural wines, and many would qualify. But not all. Natural wines must adhere to a wide range of imperatives, from how the grapes are farmed to how the wine is made. Orange wines are simply born of specific winemaking techniques. Still, shops that have wide selections of natural wines are probably the best places to find orange wines.

Some wine professionals have assailed orange wines, dismissing the style as a passing fad or for emphasizing technique over terroir. We may not be able to resolve these issues with this small sample, but we can at least think about them.

Here are the three wines I suggest seeking out:

Montenidoli Vernaccia di San Gimignano Tradizionale 2019 (Artisan Wines, Norwalk, Conn.) $25

Monastero Suore Cistercensi Lazio Coenobium Ruscum 2019 (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York) $32

COS Terre Siciliane Pithos Bianco 2020 (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.) $35

You’ll have noticed that these three bottles are Italian. It’s coincidental, though the style has been relatively popular in Italy. If you want to explore its ancient origins, try a wine from the country of Georgia, from a producer like Pheasant’s Tears or Okro’s.

Its more recent manifestation began where Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northeastern Italy meets the border of Slovenia. Look for great producers like Gravner, Radikon, Skerk, Vodopivec and Zidarich. These, along with the bottles from Georgia, may seem challenging as they can be decidedly tannic and altogether different from conventional white wines. But they are often supremely delicious.

Milder examples can be found on the West Coast, like those from Troon in southern Oregon and from Donkey & Goat, Forlorn Hope, AmByth Estate, La Clarine Farm, and Two Shepherds in California.

Many more bottles are out there. The best thing, if you can’t find any of these, is to consult with a merchant at a good wine shop. For more information on orange wines, “Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine” by Simon J. Woolf is an excellent book and a great resource.

As to what to eat with these bottles, keep in mind that they ought to be slightly tannic, so I would avoid some of the more delicate dishes you might otherwise serve with a white wine. As I often say, but emphatically so with these examples, serve cool, but not cold.

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