These white wines that are made like a red offer a very different drinking experience and are great pairings for umami-rich foods
Today’s Irish wine lover is spoilt for choice. Many restaurants and new-wave wine bars serve an eclectic selection of wines by the glass, inviting us to take a punt on something unusual without committing to a full bottle. And you don’t get much more unusual than orange or amber or skin-contact wines. Whatever you call them, in essence, we’re talking about a white wine made like a red wine. Instead of removing the crushed grape skins after pressing, as in white wine production, the skins are left to macerate in the grape juice during and often long after fermentation. That skin contact can range from a few hours to several weeks or months — with very diverse results.
In red wine production, maceration gives the wine its colour and tannins, the latter coming from the grape’s skins and pips rather than its inner flesh. (If you’re unsure what tannins do, imagine drinking tea that has sat stewing for hours. That dryness in your gums? That’s tannins in action.) In orange wines, winemakers combine a little tannic grip with the vibrancy of white wines. That grip can be strident and bring new layers of food-friendly structure, or it can be subtle and add a delicate textural dimension.
My proper introduction to orange wines was courtesy of Morgan VanderKamer, president of the Irish Guild of Sommeliers and co-owner with partner Stephen McArdle of Barrows Keep in Thomastown and (as of next Easter) Union wine bar in Waterford. I met VanderKamer in 2015 when I ran the Dublin Wine Fest with Oisin Davis of Great Irish Beverages. Stanley’s on St Andrew’s Street was voted Best Dublin Wine Fest Experience for VanderKamer’s daily tutored tasting of a flight of orange wines (Testalonga El Bandito, La Soula Orange and La Stoppa Ageno) paired with a duck confit terrine.
Over a fascinating hour, she romped through their evolution, from their first production in Georgia 5,000 years ago to their modern revival near Italy’s north-east border with Slovenia by winemakers Josko Gravner, Stanko Radikon and Dario Prinčič. It opened my eyes to just how different a drinking experience these complex wines offered, and just how versatile they were for food pairings, in particular with umami-rich foods, Middle Eastern or Asian flavours, or hard-to-match asparagus and artichoke. They’re also perfect for early spring drinking. When the weather can’t decide if it demands robust wintry wines or something more fragrant, orange wines offer both.
Besides today’s selection, and those above, keep eyes peeled for orange wines from Meinklang, Folias de Baco, Judith Beck, Aphros and Lyrarakis.
Taronja de Gris, Côtes Catalanes, France, 14pc, €25
This Roussillon collab between Domaine Lafage and Domaine of the Bee is a wine to make you smile, from its tie-dye label to its glorious sunset hues, thanks to two weeks’ maceration of pink-skinned Grenache Gris plus Grenache Blanc. Some Muscat and Viognier burst through with floral aromas (Sweet William, violets and dried rosebud), while fruit tea notes of dried apple, apricot and bergamot peel carry through on the palate and keep that gentle grip in balance. A crowd-pleaser, and perfect with Middle Eastern mezze. Sweeney’s D3, Baggot Street Wines, The WineHouse Trim
Peninsula Skin Contact 2018, Vino de Mesa, Spain, 11.5pc, €26.99
At Bodegas Fontana in Uclés, Albariño grapes are given six months’ skin contact for this gastronomic wine. Turmeric, saffron and chamomile aromas, silky texture, a bone-dry palate with honeycomb notes and a fresh pithy finish. Think artichokes, pheasant or rabbit. The Corkscrew, Urbanity, DrinkStore, Gibney’s, Pete’s Provisions, mitchellandson.com
Adega Entre Os Ríos Komokabras Naranja 2019, Barbanza e Iria IGP, Spain, 13pc, €28
Another skin-contact Albariño, this one from 50-year-old vines just north of Rías Baixas. Lively, lean and dry, precise, pure and very crisp, with notes of zesty clementine and lime, honey and nuts, iodine and stony minerality. An excellent aperitif. Sheridans, boujee-booze.com
Cullen Amber Wilyabrup Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Margaret River, Australia, 12.8pc, €43
From a carbon-positive biodynamic estate, a beautifully made and complex charmer with saffron, chamomile and dried grass notes meeting delicate kumquat and honeyed apple, swaddled in silky texture. Pair with saffron spiced dishes. Baggot Street Wines, Ely Wine Store, The Corkscrew, The Malt House, wineonline.ie
Loxarel A Pèl Xarello, Penedès, Spain, 12.5pc, €25.95
Xarello’s robust complexity is given extra oomph with wild yeasts, several months’ ageing on skins in amphora and no filtering, fining or added sulphites. The hazy result is rich in spice aromas with tannic frisson, like a mulled honeyed cider. Great with Asian umami flavours. Selected independents including Mitchell and Son; mitchellandson.com