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How to Make an Orange Wine Without Making Crappy Wines

How to Make an Orange Wine Without Making Crappy Wines

In short, don’t make orange wine. The best orange wines are the outcome of old traditions and culture, not market hype.

Amber or orange wine is a growing market, and, honestly, there is some symmetry in having a fourth wine color. However, there are a lot of misconceptions involving so-called “orange” or “amber” wines.

What is orange wine, anyway?

The wine world is not black and white, or, rather, just red or white. What about pink wine? We all, more or less, tend to think about it in the following terms: orange wine is a wine made from red grapes, but using a method that modern-day winemakers use to make whites.

The color of wine comes from the grape skin, so if we remove the juice from the skin and proceed as if we have just pressed a white grape, the outcome will be any number of shades of pink, salmon, peach, watermelon, or any other colour or hue generally found in a rose’.

Now, white grapes, when ripe, are not actually white. They are, well, more or less yellowish… and in some cases (Pinot Grigio, famously)  literally “blue”: the same colour, in other words, any old red variety might sport. 

So what happens if we apply a technique used for making red wines to “white” grapes?

In terms of how wines are made, the one major difference between red and white is skin contact. If we leave our freshly pressed grapes on their skins for days, weeks, or even months, the color of the resulting wine will not be white. At best, it will be orange, or amber, or even brownish.

Is orange wine healthier or more “natural”?

Traditionally, people making wine mostly preferred to leave their grapes to soak for many days, weeks, or even months. Not because they were out to carve out for themselves a market niche, but because it enabled them to have a stable dry wine which could, by the same token, also be preserved. Not all of these wines were necessarily appealing, but some were, and the tradition continues to this very day. 

Back in the day, the use of various pharmaceutical products to protect the vineyards was not as popular as it is now. A simple question of availability? Perhaps… but the fact remains that people had to, and did in fact, keep their grapes (and soil) healthy unaided by modern-day chemistry. 

There also weren’t any bacteria or yeasts you could just pop in and buy at the local drugstore, so, naturally, all of that fermenting business occurred spontaneously.

Furthermore, there was no modern-day fining or filtering, leaving the wine, naturally, unfiltered.

But it wasn’t orange wine. It was simply white wine. 

With the advent of modern winemaking, we are now able to have more control over how wines are made. Sometimes this control means a winery will follow recipes put together by pharmaceutical companies.

Prolonged maceration or skin contact tells us exactly nothing about whether a wine is “natural” or “unnatural”, the latter adjectives being useless for the purpose of evaluating wines. There are, of course, those who try to mimic the most ancient known winemaking practices known to man, macerating their grapes in Georgian amphorae (now again-famous “qvevri”), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they mimic all of the related farming and cellar procedures that were used five thousands years ago. 

So, is there really a fourth wine color or not?

Like anything else involving wine, most generalisations are easily refuted, and it is only the individual specifics that count. Nonetheless, the idea of a fourth wine color is both likeable and accepted.

All that, in itself, is neither just a fad or, indeed, anything new. It is, nonetheless, definitely a fad to simply consider orange wines, as such, “natural” or healthier. The truth is too many of them are simply flawed and little more… Despite which, luckily, winemakers do exist who truly add value to the old tradition, and whose interpretations of it are worth venturing off the beaten track in order to, perhaps, end up some place that is truly extraordinary.orange-wine_620x324

Nenad Trifunovic
Professional Wine drinker ;)

Moderator of a series of wine workshops and educator of wine course (Wine Reading), promoter of table culture and wine writer, most famous as an author of the most influential Croatian wine blog (vinopija.com).

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