A glass of orange please…
Orange wine is a relatively rare wine genre in the UK. It was given its UK name in 2004 but only now have enough examples made it to our specialist wine retailers and a few supermarkets to cause a little flurry of interest.
It actually has hundreds of years of wine-making history in Eastern European countries like Slovenia and Georgia. Now production is also in northern Italy, and in recent years South Africa and Australia have been experimenting.
It is not, of course, made from oranges. The name describes the colour and by association the wine-making method used to produce it.
In Georgia, possibly the origin 5,000 years ago, they prefer to call it amber. In Italy the term Ramato, which means auburn in Italian, typically refers to Italian Pinot Grigio made in an orange wine style.
Orange or amber, it is a very distinctive wine made in a particular way. Whereas for the clear whites that dominate our shelves the crushed grape juice is separated immediately and entirely from the skins and pips before fermentation, to make an orange wine the same white grape varietals are crushed and then the whole mash, skins and all, goes into large vessels, often cement or ceramic, known as Qvevri (Kveri). There were supposedly the first vessels to be used for wine fermentation with archaeological finds dating back to 6,000BC.
These are closed and do not ‘breath’ like wooden casks do and are left to ferment naturally for at least four days, sometimes over a year. There are no additives, not even yeasts, and the fermentation is spontaneous and natural.
When the liquid is eventually separated from the skins the orange colour has been imparted in the same way as making red wine, which similarly leaves the crushed red grape juice in contact with the skins for a period to create the red wines as we know them.
Orange wines were always a rarity in the UK market, but now a few examples are returning to UK specialists, still rare and maybe even a retro-novelty, as we have experienced in gins and beers, and therefore not bargain basement prices. For example, Tbilvino Qvevris 2016, made in Georgia, 12 per cent abv, is £10 at M&S, Armonia Orange Wine, (Romania) 500ml bottle, 13.5 per cent, £18 at Oddbins and La Stoppa Ageno 2012, (Italy) 13.5 per cent, £28.50 at Haywines.
The back label on the M&S offering sums it up very well: “TBILVINO QVEVRIS – intriguing Georgian orange wine (though it is called amber on the front label) made from white Rkatsiteli (say Awr-kat-seh-telly) grapes using an ancient and traditional vinification method. The grape juice and the skins are fermented together, then partially matured in large amphora-like clay jars known as Qvevri that are buried in the earth for several months, developing the wine’s rich unique style. Drink chilled as an aperitif or as a partner to mixed seafood platters; orange wine pairs well with spicy dishes like chicken tagine or tandoori.”
Treat the orange wine as you would a red, serving it a little warmer than a white. The flavour is powerful and, as you might expect from the geographic provenance of the genre, the producers recommend it to accompany Middle Eastern Turkish, Moroccan and Ethiopian lamb dishes and curries.
I tried it as a sundowner aperitif, very nice sharp, palate cleansing and moved easily on to accompany a Mediterranean stir fry, prompting wine tasting memories of a yacht charter holiday we once had in Turkey. Worth a try.