Orange wines seem to be having a bit of a moment – they’re appearing more frequently on restaurant menus, but what are they, and what do they taste like? The monthly wine club I hold with a few friends seemed a good opportunity to find out, and to taste a few orange wines before making the sort of expensive restaurant mistake I last made when I let a sommelier persuade me into an “unusual” bottle of natural wine.
Our wine club started 5 years ago, when 6 wine loving friends decided to try and learn a bit more about wine, rather than drinking the same wines for eternity. We meet once a month, and with a budget of £75, taste 4 bottles, generally themed around a country, region or grape. We taste blind and guess grape, country, region and price. We frequently get it wrong.
So what are orange wines?
Orange wines are white wines where the grapes are left in contact with their skins (sometimes orange wines are referred to as “skin contact wines”) – the exact amount of time varies from days to months. This extracts some of the colour from the skin, and their colours range from pale honey to rich and vibrant amber. Many producers also use natural production methods, which can give the wines a cloudy appearance, but gives you an excellent opportunity to play “orange wine, or urinary tract infection”?
The skin contact also produces tannins (the stuff that gives your mouth a dry feeling), which makes them great food wines, and also acts as a preservative. There’s a reason Georgian winemakers have been doing this for 5000 years. Clever sods.
What we drank
Tbilvino Qvevris 2015 – £10.50 from Marks & Spencer
This is a great one to try if you’re unsure about orange wines as it’s good value – orange wines tend to be expensive, as there still aren’t a great number of producers making it. It uses the Rkatsiteli grape – Georgia’s leading white grape variety, and is partially matured in qvevri (earthenware pots that are buried in the ground). The slight floral smell is deceptive, as it’s fresh and easy to drink, with a slight taste of peach and orange peel. 9/10
Kisi Amber Vita Vinea 2014 – £22.50 from Bottle Apostle, Clapham
Another Georgian wine, but this time made from the wonderfully named Kisi grape. It’s much darker in colour and has a honeyed smell, but despite an initial sweetness on the tongue, it’s rich, bold and dry. Everyone sighed over this wine and tried not to guzzle it, whilst making occasional comments about hints of marmalade and spice. We served it with smoked mackerel pate on blini, but it’s robust enough to stand up to many foods, and orange wines pair well with spicy dishes. 10/10
Craven Pinot Gris 2015 – £22.50 from Dvine Cellars, Clapham
The coppery pink colour of this wine made everyone sigh – it’s like someone bottled a sunset. This was the only New World wine of the evening, from Stellenbosch in South Africa. In the search for orange wines, I encountered many more wines from the Old World, particularly Georgia, Slovenia and Italy, than from New World producers. This wine had a more fruit forward style than the others we’d tasted – comments ranged from cherries and strawberries to boiled sweets and blossom. Still, it had a smoky edge to it and paired brilliantly with Comte cheese. It had the feel of an afternoon in the garden sort of wine. 7/10
Cos Rami 2014 – £21 from Market Wines, Brixton
Our final wine of the evening was from Sicily, and the slightly cloudy appearance was mildly off-putting for those who’d had bad encounters with natural wines (i.e. everyone). A 50/50 combination of Greconico and Insolia grapes, this wine had an almost salty taste. It was intense and dry on the palate, with a slight taste of cider. I’d made an almond and orange blossom cake to eat with this, but it was better with the few bits of merguez sausage that were still hanging around on the table. 5/10
Having been nervous that the evening was going to end with me raiding the wine rack for treats to compensate my friends for having given them such AWFUL wine, everyone loved orange wine. In blind tastings of orange wine it’s often mistaken for a light red due to the tannins, which I can understand, but it’s something quite unique and worth trying. Also, orange wines really are the good time girls of the wine world when it comes to food. We served the wines with a table full of cheeses, salami, blini topped with mackerel pate, merguez sausages, za’atar spiced chicken and pitta, and an almond and orange blossom cake, and with the exception of the cake, the wines went with everything.
A couple of notes on serving – some people suggest serving orange wines at cellar temperature (13C), some recommend starting a little colder, then letting it come up to room temperature to get the contrast. We took the M&S out of the fridge about 30 mins before serving from the bottle. The rest were served at 13C, the Kisi and the Cos were decanted.
The future’s bright. The future’s orange.