This article was contributed by Katie Kelly, the Wine Director of The Citizen Wine Bar in Exchange Place in Worcester.
About two months ago, a server was asked for orange wine by a guest at our wine bar. It was the first time I had heard of this, and I thought for sure the guest was mistaken and must be thinking of rosé, which can have a salmon hue, which I suppose could be considered orange. Little did I know, that this is actually a fast-growing trend in the wine industry, and technically the opposite of rosé. Rosé is made from red grapes that are macerated less time than normal, so that less color and intensity of flavor is extracted from the skins of the grape. Orange wine is made from white grapes that actually see time on the skins, which is not normal for white wine, in order to increase color and intensity of flavor. Maceration time can range from 24 hours to 30 days, creating a vast contrast in style.
After learning about this winemaking technique, I needed to get my hands on this wine. Social media actually played an important role in my search. One Facebook post reaching out to my sommelier friends, and I now had several reference points to research. Orange wine is actually not a new trend, it is a product of an old-fashioned winemaking technique originated in Slovenia and the northeastern region of Italy, Friuli. It is commonly seen with the white varietals Pinot Grigio, Ribolla Gialla, and Grenache Blanc. White wine was originally produced in this method because grape skins contain more natural antioxidants, which allow for natural wine preservation. With the resistance to using sulfur dioxide in wine, and the eco-friendly wine movement, I can see this technique gaining popularity very quickly among winemakers.
After reaching out to my wine reps, asking all of them about orange wine, explaining exactly what it is, and begging them to hunt one down, I finally got one. One wine rep, who always seems to come through, brought me Tommasi’s “Il Grigio Ramato”, from northeastern Italy. It is actually categorized as a rosé under their website, which can cause further confusion, I’m sure. This orange wine did not disappoint. It was truly unlike anything I’ve ever had before. Not because it was so incredibly complex and serious, and would be considered one of the greatest wines of all time. It was just so delicious, but so unusual at the same time. There were bright, juicy notes of Clementine and candied lemon, a floral bouquet of jasmine and orange blossom, and a clean bitter almond finish. Every flavor is so pronounced and in your face, it’s hard to believe it’s made from 100% Pinot Grigio grapes. What’s really cool is that there are slight tannins, too, offering structure for all the round juiciness of the wine. This is the perfect summer wine that could be just as thirst-quenching as homemade lemonade, but much, much better. Even though it’s not summer, maybe this is the perfect wine to pretend that it is.
This rare, but highly sought after wine is found in trendy wine bars in metropolitan cities like Manhattan and LA. And now, due to my slight obsession, it is sold at The Citizen Wine Bar in Worcester, MA. If you are in the area, you have to come in and try it. Even if it is not “your style” of wine, you will appreciate the concept and want to share your new discovery with your friends.