You know red wine, you know white wine, but what's new right now is orange wine -- and I'm not talking about orange crush zinfandel. Orange wine is seriously good drinking, and this is from Jeremy Quinn, Food & Wine magazine's top sommelier of 2012. Quinn is based in Chicago at Telegraph, where he wrote about orange wines for the restaurant's blog.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: I always thought that the color orange was the sign that a wine had gone over, that it had been exposed to too much air.
Jeremy Quinn: That's true. Even in sommelier training we're taught that wines that are white that look beige in the glass have a major flaw because it's a result of oxidation. Orange wine is intentionally done that way. That's the big difference.
It has a stronger electric hue to it. It's much more copper and it's not as dull as a flawed white wine is. It gets its color from extended contact with the skins; it picks up color from the polyphenols and anthocyanins that are within the skins.
LRK: Normally the way wine is made is that you crush the grapes with the skins and the seeds, then you let that start to ferment. Fairly soon the skins and seeds are strained away and the wine, the liquid, is left to work. In this case what happens with the wine to make the orange wine?
JQ: The skins and seeds are left in contact with the juice for anywhere from 13 days to 8 months.
LRK: That's a very long time for wine.
JQ: The remarkable thing about it is that the wine itself tends not to lose any freshness throughout. A big reason why the skins and seeds are separated at the start for a traditional white wine is to retain the acidity, the transparency and the bright flavors. The great thing about orange wine is it keeps all that, but being treated more like a red wine, it picks up a lot more secondary characteristics.
LRK: What does it taste like?
JQ: It tastes radically, radically cool. It has more adjectives to it than almost any other white wine or even red. You get flavors of caraway, cumin, cardamom and saffron, all of which make it a very fascinating pair with a whole range of foods that are somewhat thought of as challenging.
LRK: Immediately I'm thinking of Indian food.
JQ: Precisely. A big pairing rule for those in the trade is usually to work with contrast, but with orange wines I usually find that similar flavors tend to help the orange wines show best.
LRK: Is this a new idea?
JQ: Orange wine itself is a very ancient idea. It's very recent because people are beginning to look back to the origins of wine. A phenomenal book that was written recently by Patrick McGovern is called Ancient Wine. It details some of the origins of wine in Mesopotamian Georgia in southern Russia. Evidence shows that the grapes themselves were put into amphoras, buried underground, left there throughout the winter, opened up in the spring and magically there was wine.
LRK: Holy cow -- that sounds like kimchi.
JQ: Almost. The fermentation process is very similar. Sometimes the wines can be as crunchy.
LRK: Does anybody still bury grapes in these vessels?
JQ: Yes. Several winemakers are experimenting with underground amphoras and even above-ground amphoras as the best vessel to show the juice extended contact with their skins. Because of the particular shape of the barrel, how it reacts with the astral influences from the planets and the particular oxidation within the barrel itself protected by the skins (at the top the juice tends to roll within the amphora), the ancients had it right with how they did it, many winemakers think. But that's not the only method. Many winemakers also show the juice extended time with the skins in barrel, but the amphora method is becoming much more popular.
LRK: An amphora almost looks like an upside-down teardrop.
JQ: The shape itself was designed by the ancients for that specific reason and for travel also.
LRK: What names should we look for if we want to get out and find this wine.
JQ: Orange wine is still a controversial term, so the best way to discover these wines is to look for the winemaker. There are a few names like Movia, Panevino, Vodopivec, Foradori and Cos. Those are a few names that are top in my mind right next Gravner as some of the leaders of the pack with the recent revolution with orange wine.
LRK: It's still probably a little hard to find?
JQ: It is. This is definitely a trending style of wine, but it will never become wildly popular in terms of production. It can only be made in a very careful artisanal way, so it's hard to find. You have to seek it out in specialized shops.
Ed. note: Quinn's orange wine picks include:
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.