For many wine enthusiasts, rosé season is waning. I'm not here to say that's a mistake — even though it is, since those wines are great year-round — but to offer an alternative.
In recent years, dozens of so-called "orange wines" have hit local retail shelves and restaurant lists, where they're often dubbed "skin contact" wines (more on that in a minute). They've evolved from esoteric, often challenging offerings to approachable, often fascinating quaffers.
And their back story is gloriously simple. Orange wines are white wines made in the fashion of red wines.
Here's the lowdown: Red grapes have light-colored flesh; the wines get their color because after the grapes are crushed, the skins remain part of the must (the freshly crushed grape juice that contains grapes' skins and stems) for weeks or months, until the mixture is pressed and the skins, seeds, etc. are discarded. The resulting juice boasts varying shades of crimson — plus nutrients and other properties — thanks to the skins.
Generally, the skins of white grapes — which are actually green, gold or, yes, orange — are removed at the outset, just after crushing. But to make orange wines, vintners keep the skins in the mix for days or weeks. That step makes a big difference. The results are not a novelty — this practice has been around for eons —but rather fascinating, fun, sometimes funky and flavorful.
That's because these wines pick up more than tint from this process, said local importer/consultant Jill Mott. "We know that in the grape the majority of the polyphenols and the aromatics and the texture, they all reside in the skin," she said. "So if we do that with reds, why would we take that out of white wine? We're getting like 20 percent of what the wine is capable of. Why would we negate 80 percent of the deliciousness and richness?"
She added that the goal of orange wines, which is usually accomplished, is to attain "the texture of a red wine and freshness of a white wine."
In a very real sense, orange wines piggybacked into popularity as consumers started embracing "natural wines." The latter are harder to define, but a growing interest in how grapes are grown and processed made enthusiasm for skin-contact whites a natural spinoff.
Now merchants such as Henry & Son and France 44, both in Minneapolis, have "orange wine" sections that are dozens strong, and restaurants such as Spoon and Stable, Demi, Stepchld and especially Bar Brava conveniently have "Skin Contact" lists or individual bottlings.
While these wines usually aren't cheap, consumers don't need to plunk down $45 for a Clos Saron Carte Blanche (which many consider a solid deal) to explore this emerging field.
The Pullus Pinot Grigio from Slovenia comes in under $20 and is an ideal introduction. While it has a shorter skin-contact stretch (48 to 72 hours), it boasts the salmon complexion and palate complexity typical of the category. For a more tannic structure, check out another under-$20 Slovenian bottle, Krasno Orange, made with the malvasia grape.
Along with the Krasno, France 44 winemonger Karina Roe touts two Spanish wines — Vegas Altas Orange (which, she said, "kind of tastes like an orange creamsicle") and the "gulpable" Gulp Hablo Orange. For a "grippier" domestic offering, give Forlorn Hope's Queen of the Sierra Amber. a try.
Another under-$25 orange wine that is a longtime favorite of Henry & Son's co-owner Gretchen Skedsvold is the Italian blend Denavolo Catavela. She touts its crispness, minerality and tannins. Not exactly the kind of combination you'd find in your basic red or white.
While many orange wines emanate from European outposts such as Spain, Italy and Georgia (where they often are fermented and aged underground in earthenware, egg-shaped vessels called Qvervi; check out the Tevza Goruli Mtsvane), enterprising California wineries have embraced the practice. Besides Clos Saron and Forlorn Hope, look for Scribe, Field Recordings, Jolie-Laide and Two Shepherds, along with Division from Oregon.
The good news is how intriguing and engaging today's orange wines are. The better news: This is a movement, not a fad. As Mott said, "People who are making orange wines will continue to make them."
And many of us will continue to sip them.
Bill Ward is a freelance food and wine writer from Nashville. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pair with abandon
Orange wines have a crush on food of almost all types — a result of their unusual combination of acidity and tannins.
As with other wines made from white grapes, their mouthwatering expressiveness means orange wines cozy right up to fried chicken, fruits of the sea and especially pork dishes. The jolt of acid complements lighter foods, but also deftly cuts into the fatty aspect of rich pasta sauces, charcuterie, salmon and almost any cheese.
But unlike their white siblings, most orange wines boast the kind of tannins that play well with bolder dishes. Break out the beef — even jerky — and roasted winter veggies, but also sassy Asian and African fare, from fermented soybeans (or anything with kimchi) to pad thai and Ethiopian stews.
Orange-wine novices should ask their winemonger or server about the body of the wine, since light-bodied ones generally have fewer tannins. But the acidity will always be there, which even makes these a tasty match with, yes, oranges.