Red wine? White wine? Orange wine!

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Orange wine? Wine made of oranges? Far from it. For a long time now, wine connoisseurs have been torn, not only between white, red or rosé wine, but also orange wine. For all beer drinkers and not so passionate wine drinkers, we took a closer look at orange wine and chatted with a young winegrower about it.

What is orange wine exactly?

If you think orange wine is a new variety of grape, you’re wrong. Orange wine is white wine produced like a red wine. It is available in various shades of orange that can differ markedly in aroma and flavor. Jason Groebe, 26-years-old, comes from the Bergkloster winery in Westhofen/Rheinhessen. We spoke with the young winegrower about the fourth color of wine.


Journalist: Hello Jason, it’s great that you are willing to put us straight. What is the orange wine trend all about?

J.: Orange wines are wines from white grapes which are refined in the same way as red wine. The aim of this refinement process is bring the wines into the bottle in the most natural and unadulterated way possible. This means the grapes ideally originate from organically or biodynamically cultivated vineyards. In the cellar, trust is placed in nature and as winegrowers we do not interfere in the natural wine development process. The berries are separated from the stems or maybe not. They are then fermented just like red grapes, for example in grape containers where they remain for several weeks or even months. The longer this contact takes place, the more phenols and dyes are leached out, which gives the wine structure and the typical orange shade. The fermented grapes are then pressed and filled into barrels. Here the wine goes through a second fermentation process – “biological acid reduction”. This involves the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid. The wine stabilizes itself, which is why no further filtration is necessary. Following maturation in the barrel, the wines are filled without the addition of sulfur for example – as naturally as possible. Every winegrower has his own philosophy.

Journalist: Where does this trend come from?

J.: This style of wine making originates in Georgia. Here wines of this type have been refined for over 5000 years. Back then, as well as today, it is normal to refine grapes in earthenware amphorae. For climatic reasons, the amphorae are dug into the earth where they are kept for several months.

Journalist: Does that mean that orange wine is natural wine?

J.: Yes, orange wine definitely goes in that direction, but for me natural wines are something slightly different again. The idea is the same for both types of wine: filling the wine into the bottle that is as unadulterated as close to nature as possible, without additives.

The poignant feature of orange wine is the color that comes from the longer period of contact of the berry with the juice / wine. Natural wines are not as intensive in color as orange wine. They can be fermented with berry contact or also in the normal way. After maturation in the cellar, the wines are then filled unfiltered with little or no sulfite additive.

Journalist: How can the taste be described?

J.: Orange wines are often defined by their phenols and the oxidative refinement, which, when they are young, gives them a rugged effect. However, in my opinion this declines over time, as the wines become more harmonious in the bottle. I often find that I sense ripe fruit and something sweetish, this comes from the oxidation. Phenols and acids are hugely important in determining taste. With classical wines, by contrast I find it is often not apparent that they are natural wines. Sometimes it is hard to decide whether is it now an absolutely “normal” wine or a natural wine, as the color is not so intensive and the phenols are not so predominant. The wines can also be fruity and as a result of the acid can have a decent strength. In contrast to the orange wines, I find natural wines much smoother and composed in their style. They are not as high-spirited and to some extent overcharged as orange wines.

Also when it comes to taste, I can only speak from my perspective, of course. Someone else testes the wines quite differently and that is the exciting thing about wine.

It’s best to be completely unbiased when it comes to orange wines or natural wines and to drink them blind.  This means: Cover the bottle, pour into a blind tasting glass and then await the reaction. This is when the best things happen and people are surprised.

Journalist: Which grapes are best to process into orange wine, which are unsuitable?

J.: In my view there is no suitable or unsuitable. Every winegrower has their very personal philosophy about processing the different grapes.

Personally, I wouldn’t make a Riesling into an orange wine, as nature gives the grape a good phenol content and structure. You have to experiment and try out, then draw your own conclusions. My gut feeling tells me that I would treat Riesling this way, but next year I might feel differently again and I would then ferment it as a whole grape.

Journalist: How long-lasting are the wines?

J.: Almost every wine is sulfured to make it microbiologically stable and so it tastes good even years later. With reference to natural wines and orange wines, the shelf life is an interesting question, as they are usually filled into the bottle without sulfur.

I believe wines need acid, sugar, phenols and sulfur in order to be good for years to come. All these factors contribute that the wine is conserved in the bottle to some extent and survives the years in good shape. I always assumed that sulfur represented one of the most important factors in conservation. Until 2017.

My friends and I were at a natural wine fair in Vienna and we drank a 2009 from the Werlitsch winery in Austria. First I did not know what I had in the glass and when I was told the year and the fact that the wine was filled without sulfur, I almost fell off the chair. It was so incredibly fresh as though it had just been filled. From then on I realized that wines filled without sulfur can indeed age – and how!

We would like to thank the Bergkloster winery and Jason for his time and that he gave us an insight into the world of orange wines.

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