Saturday 21 April 2018

Wine: Is orange the new white?

A Borgo Molino Passito 'orange' wine
A Borgo Molino Passito 'orange' wine

Liam Campbell

The most talked-about trend in the wine world this summer is the growing popularity of orange wines (these, of course, being wines of an orange hue rather than made from the citrus fruit). Orange is not the new white, however - it's the original white.

Lapsed traditions such as craft beer-making and skin-contact white wines - as orange wines are properly termed - enjoy all the excitement and novelty of a new invention, but, in reality, they are a rediscovery of ancient crafts and practices which sometimes benefit from modern technology.

In the 20th century, white wine making changed by removing the grape skins immediately after the crush to promote the wine's fruity aromas.

However, since its origins in the Caucasus Mountains near Georgia 8,000 years ago, white wine was originally made with full skin contact including pips - nothing was wasted as a nourishing food source. Two thousand years ago, Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder described the four colours of wine: red, orange, white, and pink.

"Part of the challenge to understanding what defines an orange wine is the absence of an actual definition," says Isabelle Legeron, Master of Wine and an author and organiser of Orange Wine Fairs in London, Berlin and New York.

"Often, orange wines can be confused with natural wines which champion minimal use of sulphites and interference, and prefer wild yeast to ferment the wine. Whereas, an orange wine is a white wine that is made like a red wine.

"It must maintain grape skin contact with the evolving juice to wine throughout the fermentation process until all the grapes' sugar is fermented into alcohol, producing a dry wine."

Some of the advantages to maintaining and extending the skin contact are added flavour - like steeping a tea bag for deeper flavour and darker colour.

Also, the grapes' skins give the white wine added protection from the tannins, antioxidants and polyphenols which reduces the need for sulphites to cleanse the wine. It also helps with fermentation because it feeds the yeast with oils from the pips, making the wine more stable. "I am a big fan of skin-contact wines," says Colm McCan, Sommelier at Ballymaloe House and Cookery School.

"They are listed on the wine list at Ballymaloe House and we show them during the wine classes of the 12-week course at the Cookery School.

"Skin-contact wines really come into their own dining out, where they match very well with the different selection of dishes that people choose.

"They benefit if they are served cool and not too cold, and even decanted to open up their complex bouquet and flavours."

As their fame spreads, some people have argued that orange wines are being included on wine lists in restaurants across the globe solely because of their novelty factor.

However, Julie Dupuoy, Sommelier at Dublin's Michelin-starred Greenhouse, disagrees with the criticism.

"Personally, I love orange wines and most customers like them, too," says Julie, who was named third best sommelier in the world earlier this year. "The skin-contact white wines we serve in the Greenhouse have gone through a short maceration on the skin.

"They have the aromatic characters of orange wines - basil, citrus peel and floral notes - but not necessarily the amber colour nor the assertive tannic textural presence."

Julie says that orange wines make a great food match. "They are great for pairing with food, especially with fish, pork and chicken, walnut sauces, Indian influences and dishes with lots of basil, lemon thyme, rosemary and citrus, or with Comté and Cheddar-style hard cheeses."

As for how best to approach this new breed of wines, Isabelle Legeron says it's best to have an open mind.

"My advice is to forget everything you know about wine. Because its character can be so challenging, it is best not to relate to it as a wine, but instead as a remarkable complex drink."

There you have it, folks - try the amber nectar.

Where to buy orange wines in Ireland

Experience skin contact orange wines from France, Italy, Georgia, Austria, Spain, Portugal and South Africa at a range of outlets: The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; 64 Wines, Glasthule; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Fallon & Byrne; Fresh Outlets; Mitchell & Son CHQ, Glasthule and Avoca Kilmacanogue; Marks & Spencer; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; La Touche, Greystones; Quintessential Wines, Drogheda and restaurants including: Eastern Seaboard, Drogheda and in Dublin: Stanley's Wine Bar; Manifesto, Rathmines; Brioche, Ranelagh and Seapoint, Monkstown.

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