Fad for orange wines
There is a growing fad today for ‘orange wines’, especially in London where they are almost exclusively offered in the many wine bars of the West End. The so-called ‘orange wines’ are those made with white grapes but using the method for producing red wine. This means that the wine macerates long on the must, lees, skins, lactic bacteria and so on. Once they have performed their designated task, these substances die and become the dregs at the bottle of the vat or amphora used. This allows for the extraction of the polyphenolic, aromatic and proteomic properties that give the wine its bold yellow or ‘orange’ color, a fuller body and a propensity to age. This works if it is done in a proper way with adequate skill, otherwise it can produce oxidative phenomena and unpleasant volatile substances. Up until the 1960s, this was the way white wines were for the most part made in Italy. I can remember when my father would send me, then only 15, to buy bulk wine from the local wine shop and I would come home with a two-liter bottleful full of a yellow-orange liquid. Then one Christmas one of my father’s suppliers (he had a furniture shop) sent us a case of white wine from the Veneto which he made and was clear in color. Horizontal press were already being used in that region and they were no longer making white wine as if it was a red. At the time, the wine seemed very strange to me, so different and so ‘pale’ but also very aromatic. It was the start of a revolution that in just a few years led to all white wines being made the new way. Leading this revolution, which spread to central and southern Italy, were the enologists trained in Conegliano and disciples of the theories of Professor Tullio De Rosa. For the past ten years or so, even if the pioneers of ‘orange wine’ began much earlier, there has been a ‘counter-revolution’ which was unknowingly instigated by Paola De Mauro in the 1980s with her Marino white that was made like a red wine. Then came Josko Gravner with his almost philosophic vision regarding the relationship between the inside and outside of a grape that focused on completing the natural (in this case the term is used properly) process of ripening. Others followed, some of whom were converts while others were just jumping on the bandwagon. As with all things, there are pros and cons to making wine this way. The pros involve the fact that ‘orange wines’ are not excessively technological because with certain aromatic varietals too much technology can produce white wines that are not particularly interesting and basically neutral, like the majority of the white wines made in Italy. The ‘orange’ method also avoids any external or inappropriate intervention in the winemaking process like the use of small wood barrels. In order to be made like a red wine, white grapes need to be very healthy and vinified properly. This method is more difficult, risky and very ‘artisanal’ and the results do not always live up to expectations. But when the ‘orange wines’ are Gravner’s Ribolla, Solo MM14 from Vodopivec or a Dettori Bianco, then this is as good as it gets.