In 2015 Pete Hellman for The New York Post declared “Orange Wine Is The New Rosé.” While the trend has caught on in restaurants, bars and retail to some degree, they’re such different animals that they are having a unique effect on the wine scene. Have they become the new rosé? Nah. After all, you can rosé all day. I like orange wine, but I can’t orange wine all day. Are they refreshing? Fun? Joyful? More like funky, austere or downright esoteric. But orange wine, with its funkiness, seem more apropos for winter than rosé, and often finds its way into my glass in these winter months.
What orange wine is doing is proving that there is a market for wine makers open to experimenting with less fruit forward, slightly tannic and often deeply-colored “whites.” In general, I’ve been noticing a yellowing of white wine, especially from wine makers devoted to natural or traditional winemaking practices. These wines aren’t labeled as orange or amber, but have been made with some of the same techniques used to produce orange wine.
This Jolly Ferriol muscat, made in the Catalan region of southeastern France, caught my eye with its lovely golden yellow. It’s certainly not nearly as orange as the amphora aged chardonnay and pinot gris blend, Miscreant from New Yorks finger lakes. But, you can see how the color is edging toward this classic orange wine from San Fereolo.
So what are winemakers doing to intensify the color? There are two techniques that are generally employed for these more tannic and darker colored wines. The first comes early in the wine making process. Skin contact with the freshly pressed juice can further color the juice and add tannins to the wine. Not only do tannins help the wine stand up to fattier foods, the presence of substantial tannins means that the wine may have a longer and more interesting shelf life. Adding tannins and flavors from the skins adds a complexity to the wine that can help to balance it, but when overdone the tannins can overwhelm delicate fruit flavors. White wine makers who use it minimally can achieve the best of both worlds. These whites with a little bit of skin contact are often more golden in color because they have had only a small amount of skin contact.
The second technique being adopted from orange wine makers is experimenting with the vessel for fermentation and storage. Oak and clay amphora can both impart color to wine. Whites seep some compounds from their containers and the small amount of oxygen the wine is exposed to may also make it slightly darker. While Amphora type vessels have been used continuously in Georgia, winemakers around the globe are testing out amphora and producing a wide range of results, often somewhat lighter then the amber wines of Georgia.
So rather then mentally lumping everything under the “white” umbrella, take a closer look. If you can find a white surface and a bit of natural light, even better. Look for light straw, yellow, gold, brown and amber shades in your glass of white wine. I’m betting that more wines with a stronger yellow or golden color will be filling glasses in the coming years as winemakers feel free to take new risks thanks to the success of trailblazing orange winemakers.
Katie Le Seac’h is a freelance writer and sommelier living in Brooklyn. She writes about wine, food and parenting.