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Wine Wednesdays With William: Orange Is The New White Wine

'saratoga living' and Putnam Market wine expert William Roach looks at a sweet (and hip!) wine variety.

Orange Wine
White wine grapes are used to make orange wine. (Dominic Lockyer)

For those of you wine enthusiasts who enjoy tastings and attempting to identify the various notes that make up their favorite choices, orange wines’ origins might throw you off a bit. For one, they have nothing to do with the sun-kissed fruit. Their makers exist outside of the wine mainstream but have found a foothold in the world’s hipper, trendier neighborhoods such as Brooklyn and Hoxton (just outside of London), where things like extreme craft brewing and artisanal distilling are de rigueur these days.

So if oranges have nothing to do with how orange wine is made, how does it come to be? Orange wines are actually made from white wine grapes, which are allowed to keep their skins all the way through the winemaking process (as red wine grapes are), instead of shedding them at the very beginning as conventional white wines do. The newly made orange wine is left alone with the skins, pits and stalks for an extended extraction period of up to 12 months, often in pottery jars.

The result is a wine that’s noticeably darker than the white wines we’re used to, with hues that range from yellow and amber to gold. That resultant color all depends on the grape variety, ripeness and length of maceration time. Orange wines have the texture of traditional red wines, with sometimes prominent, drying tannin, which makes them more suitable for drinking with dinner rather than on their own.

While the hipster winemakers of the world might try to claim the invention of orange wine as their own, don’t be fooled; the winemaking style dates back hundreds of years to exotic locales such as Georgia, Slovenia and Friuli in Northeast Italy. The orange wine “renaissance” was sparked by a man named Josko Gravner, a winemaker from Friuli, who already had an international reputation for conventional winemaking but decided to let it all go in favor of reviving traditional winemaking know-how. He rejected international grape varieties, the use of modern technology, the application of fertilizers and pesticides and any clarifying, filtering or cleaning up of the finished product. He was a true innovator—in the opposite direction.

Unsurprisingly, these cloudy, deeply-colored, intensely flavored wines are favorites in the world of artisanal and natural wines. So the next time you find yourself in the Finger Lakes, ask for an orange. You won’t be let down.

William Roach

William was born in London, England, where he wrote and produced TV programs. He's married to Catharine Hamilton who, with her sister, owns Putnam Market on Broadway. William runs The Wine Room at Putnam Market where he teaches wine classes for The Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

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