In our Ask the Sommelier series, we put your wine-related questions to top sommeliers. In this instalment, head sommelier at London’s Crispin Alex Price explains all things orange wine.
‘I’ve noticed more and more orange wine cropping up on the menu at my favourite wine bars recently and I’m intrigued. I’ve tried a few glasses and I’d like to sample some different varieties and perhaps invest in a few good bottles to drink at home – but I feel like I need a deeper understanding before I go all in.’
Jens from Copenhagen, Denmark
Sommelier Alex Price responds:
‘It’s orange mania at Crispin. I see so many people coming into the restaurant and bar and asking about orange wine, what it is, and whether they can taste it – it just flies off the shelves. People are very keen to explore at the moment, and I think it’s synonymous with interest in organic and biodynamic wine production, alongside people being more mindful about where their food and drink is coming from. People are keen to learn more about wine, and I think lockdown encouraged that curiosity.
‘Orange wine is essentially a wine from white grapes, but made in the style of a red wine. In white winemaking, you usually press the grapes and separate the juice from the skins, whereas with orange wine, the juice is left to macerate on both the skins and the stems. This not only turns the juice a shade of orange, but also gives the wine body, tannins, and an added complexity. (This differs to rosé, which is made in the style of a white wine but with black grapes.) The skin maceration process for orange wine can last anywhere between a couple of hours to a couple of years, which can produce wines that vary greatly in colour and flavour.
‘Temperature of production also has an impact on the colour of orange wine – if a fermentation is colder it extracts less colour, resulting in a paler wine. In warmer climates like that of Sicily, the orange wines produced can have a more intense colour, even if they’ve been macerating for a shorter amount of time. On the wine list at Bar Crispin we’ve got a beautiful but very intense orange wine from Santorini made with the Assyrtiko grape by a producer called Karamolegos. To drink on its own, it’s hard work. It’s big and rich due to the warm climate it’s produced in, but it stands up brilliantly to rich or spicy food.
Orange wine can taste from herbaceous to floral, or citrusy to nutty and savoury
‘Each orange wine really does have its own personality. They can taste anywhere from herbaceous to floral, or citrusy to nutty and savoury. Weirdly, I think you sometimes do taste oranges too. I do get the odd question from people asking, “Is it made from oranges?” – so they’re usually disappointed!
‘In terms of grape varieties, aromatic vines tend to lend themselves well to orange wine. Grapes like Gewürztraminer, Riesling, or Muscat are some of the ones you’ll see the most in orange bottles. The great thing about using aromatic grapes for orange wine is that sometimes they can be overbearingly flowery or soapy, but having time on the skins can really rein in those aromatics and give them structure and a bit more acidity, which turns into something quite interesting.
‘Once you’ve got your bottle on the table and you’re thinking about food pairing, I think that meat is a great choice. I think the combination of acidity, white-grape freshness, and tannins makes orange wine a good pairing with fatty, rich foods like lamb or spicy stews.
‘When it comes to serving, I wouldn’t serve it too cold, because when you chill down an orange wine too much it mutes the flavours and aromas. For storage, I would suggest cellar temperature, then to serve at the table I would say chilled – but not as chilled as a white wine. Because orange wines tend to have a bit more tannin and structure than white wines, they benefit from a bit of oxygen in the glass. I’d use a larger glass than you would for a white wine, so that those more complex aromas get a chance to really open up.’
Interview by Louella Berryman