Let’s talk about orange wines for a second. Orange wines are wines made from white wine grapes through a similar process as red wines are typically made. Instead of immediately pressing the white grapes to separate skin from juices, thereby making a white wine, the skins are left on during the fermentation process and, often, for a bit of post-fermentation maceration (ie: additional skin contact time). It’s the oxidative effect—oxygen’s influence on the grape skin compounds—that turn the wine it’s notable orange-y color. Resulting wines are typically dry with notes of phenolic bitterness and a slight tannic texture. Flavors will vary depending on the grape variety, but usually include tertiary, maturing notes of honey, nuts, and even dried fruits.
Like any other wine type, no two orange wines are quite the same. Of course grape variety will play a large role, but the time and attention of the winemaker is critical. Too much oxygen exposure equals spoiled wine and/or funky flavors. Too little and you don’t get the desired affect—visually or on the palate. I’ve had some funky (read: unpleasant) orange wines. I’ve had orange wines that barely touched the outer spectrum of what it means to be orange (thus quite lacking in aroma and flavor).
Today I bring you Passaggio Wines skin fermented Pinot Grigio. It’s a fun and perfectly delicious example of the winemaking process.
AKA “orange wine.” I recently spoke to a veteran winemaker who suspects that the next winemaking ‘trend’ will be orange wine. Orange wine is made with wine grapes traditionally used to make white wine (like Pinot Grigio, Semillon, or Riesling) but it’s made in the way red wine is traditionally made — with skin contact.
Pinot Noir Blanc kind of sounds like an oxymoron, right? How can a red wine be white? And, if it is, how much will it still taste like the well-known (and for me beloved) varietal? I had so many questions when I saw folks posting pics of this unique Pinot Noir winemaking method a few weeks ago — from various different producers, mind you. Well, it was John and Irene Ingersoll of topochines.comto the rescue once again to help satiate my curiosity…
“Orange is the new white,” says Yorkville Cellars Founder Ed Walla. Indeed, it does seem that orange wine is making some kind of comeback — like bell bottoms and puff jackets in the 1990s (but, let’s face it, less tacky). If you think orange wine is new, here’s an anecdote from Ed:
“The practice has a long history in winemaking dating back thousands of years to the Eurasian wine producing countries of Armenia and Georgia. In recent years the practice has been adopted by Italian winemakers, initially in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine region, while there is also production in Slovenia, Croatia, France, Germany, New Zealand, and California. Orange wines were not uncommon in Italy in the 1950s and 1960s, but gradually became obscure as technically correct and fresh white wines came to dominate the market.”
“Technically correct,” eh? Long live the rebel I say! And if you read my review of the Yorkville Cellars 2015 Semillon, you know that Semillon is one of (if not my absolute) favorite white wine grape. So you can imagine my excitement about this tasting.
I’m not going to lie, besides the chance to taste my first single varietal Tannat, one of the things that drew me to Troon Vineyard was the opportunity to taste my first “orange wine.” This, of course, refers to the wine’s color, achieved by keeping the grape-skins on during fermentation — much like the process used for making red wine. This can be done with any white grape, most commonly Pinot Gris, but Troon Vineyard takes an interesting approach with their whole grape fermented Riesling.