Have you ever had an orange wine?
Do you know how orange wines are made?
As they grow in popularity, these are questions facing many wine lovers these days. If you travel in natural wine circles, you’re probably familiar with them. If you hang out at wine shops and bars frequented by in-the-know somms, you’ve probably been introduced.
But where does that leave the rest of us? Learning on our own, tasting random bottles, trying to decide whether we like these wines or not. I’m far from an expert on the category and, like you, I’m learning as I go. That’s why I’m excited to participate in this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend event featuring orange wines.
Our host, Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog is a real fan of these wines. His invitation post provides a great foundation for learning about orange wines and recommends a few bottles you might want to try for yourself.
Saturday morning at 11 am ET the whole group will meet on Twitter to discuss these wines and the dishes we paired with them. Based on the preview (scroll to the bottom of this post), it will be a lively discussion, with wines from all parts of the world. Please join us if you’d like to ask a question or add your own tasting notes to the conversation. Simply follow the hashtag #WinePW and add it to your tweets.
What Is Orange Wine?
It’s easier to explain if you understand that red wines and white wines are made differently. Most grapes – even black ones! – have colorless pulp. The beautiful colors we associate with red wines (ruby, purple, garnet) come from the skins of the grapes. In red wine production, the clear juice pressed from the grapes is allowed to macerate with the skins for a period of time determined by the winemaker.
Some grapes have thicker and more highly pigmented skins, resulting in darker-hued wines. Compare the color of a wine made from Pinot Noir versus one made from Syrah to imagine the different levels of intensity.
Juice from white grapes, on the other hand, spends very little time (if any at all) on the grape skins. These wines line up in a different color spectrum: think palest lemon-green, to lemon, to gold, depending on the grape variety and age of the wine.
Orange wines fall somewhere in between. They are white wines that have undergone maceration on the skins, a process that results in a deeper color (sometimes orange-gold, hence the name.) Along with the extra color, skin contact brings more dimension to the aromas and flavors as well. They may have noticeable tannic structure, unusual for white wines.
Many natural wines are made in this style. (Natural wine is a topic much broader than this conversation. If you’d like to delve deeper, the writings of Alice Feiring and Isabelle Legeron, MW are excellent jumping-off points.)
Ryme Cellars and a Tale of Two Vermentinos
Ryan and Megan Glaab met at Torbreck in Barossa Valley, Australia, where they worked as field hands. Inspired by their work there, they decided in 2007 to establish their own winery, where they would craft wines reflecting their affinity for old-world standards and their love for California’s sunshine and unique terroir. They source grapes from the best vineyards throughout the state, and produce their wines at local Wind Gap Winery.
Megan and Ryan explain their winemaking philosophy this way: It’s about making “honest and expressive wines exhibiting characteristics of the variety and place from which it comes.” Putting theory into practice, all vineyards from which they source grapes are farmed organically or sustainably, and they use no cultured yeasts or enzymes. They also eschew fining and filtration, and leave temperature control to nature. Oak influence is minimal, via French barriques between two and ten years old. The Glaabs want their wines to be “encouraged, never controlled.”
“When it comes to wine, we value idiosyncrasy over sameness.”
Don’t you love that last bit?
He Said, She Said: Why Ryme Makes Two Vermentinos
As in sync as the pair is with regard to most things, they vehemently disagreed on how best to express the character of the Vermentino grape, originally from Italy. Traditional versions from Liguria and Sardegna are crisp and fresh, with citrus aromas and a hint of saline on the palate. They’re wonderful partners with seafood and grilled vegetables.
This was Megan’s vision of what Ryme’s Vermentino should be.
Ryan had another idea: why not make a wine that paid homage to some of his favorite producers? Those who had pioneered a skin-fermented style using another white grape, Ribolla Gialla.
In Ryan’s words, here’s what happened:
Megan and I make a great pair. Our tastes in wine rarely diverge. We agree 99% of the time. This Vermentino represents a fundamental disagreement of the most endearing qualities this grape has to offer. Inspired by some of our favorite producers in Italy like Dettori and Massa Vecchia, and being an orange wine fanatic in general, I knew we had to make Vermentino as a compliment to the Ribolla Gialla when I came across the Las Brisas Vineyard in Carneros. Megan thought it was a superb idea, but had her sights fixed on the bright, clean, aromatic examples from places like the Ligurian coast or Gallura in Sardegna. The only compromise was to have separate projects, “His” and “Hers”. “Hers” with a green label harvested for freshness and energy. It is whole cluster pressed and bottled early. “His”, orange label, is fermented on the skins, and requires more time in barrel. This aromatic late-ripening variety comes from the cool foggy Las Brisas Vineyard on the Sonoma side of Carneros AVA. Situated on sandy silt and gravel at the end of the Petaluma Wind Gap and just off San Pablo Bay, it is a beautiful site for white wines.
2017 Ryme Cellars “His” Vermentino (about $25 at the winery; sold out)
Produced from grapes in the Las Brisas Vineyard in Carneros, this represents Ryan’s take on the Vermentino variety. Grapes were crushed by foot and then fermented in whole clusters with the stems, bringing more structure to the wine and accentuating its savory character. Skin contact lasted two weeks after which the wine was pressed into puncheons and aged for nine months.
Color: Deep gold, almost amber.
Nose: Complex aromas of dried citrus peel, almonds, ripe pear, and spice. Lots going on here!
Palate: Dry, with flavors as on the nose and a floral note that hits the back of the throat. There’s a touch of astringency that I find quite pleasant. The long finish evokes dried fruit, chai tea, and a slightly earthy component. Familiar, yet not. I kept returning for another sip.
2017 Ryme Cellars “Hers” Vermentino ($25 at the winery; current release is 2019)
Made with grapes from the same Las Brisas vineyard as the “His” version, Megan’s wine is quite different in style from Ryan’s. The fruit was whole-cluster fermented with native yeast – some in neutral barrels; some in stainless steel tanks. Afterward the wine underwent a spontaneous, partial malolactic conversion.
Color: Pale lemon, fainter at the rim.
Nose: Lemon and orange, ripe stone fruit (white peach), and floral notes woven in between. Smells like a garden on the Mediterranean!
Palate: Crisp and citrusy with a melange of lemon, orange, apple, pear, and peach. Medium+ acid balances the fruit. The finish is an exotic combo of ripe fruit, saline, and a faint herbal flavor. Tastes like summer in Italy (or the California coast.)
Both wines worked extremely well with food. We sampled them with two dishes: pasta with razor clams and littlenecks; and herbed grilled veal chops. The “His” Vermentino really accentuated the umami character of the clams, while the “Hers” version brought out their brininess. I’d happily indulge in both pairings again.
With the veal chops, I strongly preferred the orange wine. The “His” Vermentino just worked better: the savory elements in the wine complemented the herbal, meaty flavors of the grilled veal. The “Hers” version was a tasty pairing but not a homerun. Perhaps it suffered by comparison.
Note to self: more orange wines paired with meat-based dishes!
More Orange Wine Goodness from the #WinePW Crew:
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures With Camilla will be Diving into the Skin Fermented Wine Pool of Two Shepherds Winery.
- Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm presents Donkey and Goat Skin Fermented Roussanne: A Baaaaad Ass Wine.
- Andrea of The Quirky Cork takes up Turkish Amber Wines and Fast Food.
- Olivier of In Taste Buds We Trust is Trying Orange and Non-Orange Wine with Jamie’s Kinda Niçoise Salad.
- Lori of Exploring The Wine Glass asks Orange You Glad I Have Wine?
- Jeff of Food Wine Click! offers Wine 201: Orange Wine Primer.
- Jill of L’Occasion has us Thinking Wine: The Engaging World of Orange Wine.
- Linda of My Full Wine Glass is Revisiting NY Finger Lakes Skin-Contact White Wines.
- David of Cooking Chat proffers Cauliflower Bacon Spread with Amber Wine from Georgia.
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator will be featuring Orange Wines from California and Italy by Accident and On Purpose Paired with Shrimp Curry.
- Lauren at The Swirling Dervish posts He Said, She Said: Ryme Cellars and the Tale of Two Vermentinos.
- Susannah of Avvinare serves up Orange Wine From Slovenia’s Movia Paired with Homemade Sushi.
- Katrina of The Corkscrew Concierge wonders Is Orange (Wine) the New Everything Wine?
- Nicole at Somm’s Table is Cooking to the Wine: Kabaj Rebula and Chicken with Mushroom Escabeche and Lentils.
- Rupal, the Syrah Queen advises us that Radikon Orange Wine – Not Just For Hipsters.
- Deanna of Asian Test Kitchen offers Logan Wines’ Orange Wine And The Bacon That Changed It All.
- Terri of Our Good Life declares Orange Wine is a Thing.
- Host Martin at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog serves up A Cadre Of California Skin-Contact Wines Paired With Ethnic Fare.