Gimme some skin: Tasting orange wine

06 April 2018

Orange wines have been a huge hit in the US, but they’ve generally been slower to take off over here. Clinton Cawood joins a stellar team of sommeliers to find out whether we’re right to be sceptical

You’d be forgiven for not rushing open-armed towards the emerged/emerging orange wine category. At first glance, they’re cloudy, tannic, and more than a bit funky. But put your initial scepticism to one side and you’ll find a new world of food-matching opportunities, and a new way of looking at many established varieties.

Not quite white, but not red either, these wines, in true Goldilocks style, have the potential to offer the best of each colour when they’re done well. And they’re finding themselves on more and more wine lists in the UK, too, as sommeliers discover just how versatile they are.

There are orange wines available from producers all over the world, who are making everything from highly tannic, muscular wines to paler, gentler almost-white wines.

To get a handle on this emerging style, we put a panel of curious somms in front of a flight that covered the full range of orange wines, from just the briefest of skin contact, to full-on, golden-coloured curiosities.

Orange, it seems, is the new white. And maybe red too.

The panel
Bert Blaize, The Mandrake Hotel; Clinton Cawood, Imbibe; Carlos Ferreira, The Don Restaurant and Bistro; Greta Ghiardello, Skylon; Konrad Tadeusz Lassota, Duddell’s London; Alex Pitt, Typing Room; Jelena Prosevich, Nopi by Ottolenghi; Andres Rangel, Sketch; Melody Wong, Ten Trinity Square Private Club

 90 Bioweingut Diwald, Maischegärung Zündstoff 2015, Wagram, Austria (Grüner Veltliner)
‘This opens on the nose with stone fruit and grape aromas, leading to apple and more stone fruit on the oily palate, balanced by some really good acidity. A complex, elegant wine, with a great finish,’ CF. ‘You can really feel the maturity and longer skin contact on this very expressive wine. There’s fruit on the palate, with good acidity and just the right amount of tannins,’ JP.
£23.90, Red Squirrel, 020 3490 1210

87 Nando, Rebula Black Label 2013, Goriška Brda, Slovenia
‘Intense aromas of citrus peel are joined by some spiced notes, and a floral element too. The palate is well balanced, with apple and spices, as well as some orange peel,’ AR. ‘This reminds me of amontillado sherry, with plenty of nuts, toffee, and a touch of leather on the nose. This would work just as well with creamy white sauce as it would with any dishes with almond or hazelnuts, or even a toffee dessert,’ MW.
£17.60, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820

86 Ahrens Family, Bendewijn 2016, Voor-Paardeberg, South Africa (Grenache Gris)
‘There’s an interesting combination of eucalyptus, apricot and citrus here, as well as a floral element on both nose and palate, culminating in a long finish with a slight bitterness, and a waxy texture,’ AR. ‘This rich, buttery wine is very enjoyable to drink, and would pair well with rich fish,’ BB.
£18.95, Red Squirrel, 020 3490 1210

84 Slobodné Vinárstvo, Deviner 2015, Hlohovec, Slovakia (Devin/Traminer)
‘The nose is aromatic, with Traminer’s signature honey and noisette notes, leading to a surprisingly dry palate, with good length,’ GG. ‘An unusual, interesting wine, with an expressive tropical fruit nose, and a fresh palate with sour, citrus notes,’ JP. ‘Aromas of apple, pear and ginger, leading to mandarin on the palate,’ AR.
£13.95, Modal Wines, 07776 322 374

83 AA Denavolo, Dinavolino Vinobianco 2015, Emilia-Romagna, Italy (Malvasia di Candia Aromatica/Marsanne/Ortrugo)
‘This has a very beautiful orange colour, as well as a complex nose of stone fruit, apple and spice. The palate is dry and complex – a great match for big, fat fish,’ CF. ‘Fascinating, a bit funky, and very orange, with apricot, ripe citrus and some sugared flower petals. On the palate, there’s a fine balance of drying tannins, good acidity, and a touch of bitterness,’ CC.
£12.88, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820

83 Cullen, Amber 2014, Margaret River, Australia (Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc)
‘This wine, with its attractive, golden-honey colour and clean style, would make a great aperitif. Delicate and easy drinking,’ MW. ‘Really lifted aromas of honeyed apple and crushed ripe pear, with some herbaceous nuances, make up the nose on this wine. Drying, waxy notes follow on the palate, which is floral, complex and rounded. There’s a lot going on here. This would add a new dimension to baked salmon with a dill dressing,’ AP.
£19.26, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

83 Laventura, Malvasía 2015, Rioja, Spain
‘I really like the richness of fruit here, reminiscent of rhubarb and vanilla custard. All of this, together with a pleasant saline finish, makes for a very versatile style for a wine list,’ AP. ‘Very well-made Malvasía, with smooth flavours of honey, orange and almond, and some intense tannins,’ KL.
£15.20, Red Squirrel, 020 3490 1210

83 Le Soula, La Macération du Soula No 15 2015, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, France (Macabeu/Vermentino)
‘This inviting wine opens with sweet fruit on the nose, leading to great dried-fruit flavours on the palate, along with some pleasant tannins from gentle skin maceration,’ BB. ‘The nose on this clear, deep-orange coloured wine is sweet, waxy and floral, leading into a burst of fresh acidity on the palate, followed by dried apricot and honey. Like a dessert wine without the sugar,’ CC.
£20.25, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360

82 Majoros Birtok, Deák Tokaji Furmint 2015, Tokaj, Hungary
‘A traditionally-made orange wine, with a good, dry palate where there’s fruit shining upfront, and with some significant acidity,’ JP. ‘Captivating aromas of freshly-baked, buttery apple strudel and cinnamon, with crunchy green fruit on the palate, and vibrant acidity. A good match for a Waldorf salad, or alongside some pork and sauerkraut,’ AP.
£12.86, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum, 01582 722538

82 Richard Stávek, Špigle-Bočky 2015, Moravia, Czech Republic (field blend)
‘A light and delicate nose, with bright, sour physalis to start, joined by dried guava. Tropical fruit then appears on the palate. An excellent wine, really food-friendly,’ CC. ‘Quite a floral nose, with pink grapefruit and mandarin too. This would be interesting with Peking duck,’ MW.
£18.75, Basket Press Wines, 07838 744 738

82 Ruth Lewandowski, Chilion 2015, Mendocino, California (Cortese)
‘This reminds me of frangipane – biscuity, with almond and other roasted nuts. In addition, there’s some prominent white pear here – a really satisfying and moreish wine,’ AP. ‘A delicate, perfumed nose leads to a balanced and well-integrated palate, with a long finish. A really interesting bottle. It might be expensive, but it’s worth it,’ BB.
£21.88, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820

81 Matthias Warnung, Feldstück Riesling 2014, Kamptal, Austria
‘Now that’s the way to make orange Riesling! There’s an oiliness to this, with bergamot and orange on top of that, as well as some almond and hazelnut notes,’ KL. ‘Lots of tangerine and clementine, with well-integrated acidity. Something like goose carpaccio would pair really well, with that tangy fruit there to cut through the fattiness,’ AP.
£20.88, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820

78 Atelier Kramar, Primario 2016, Goriška Brda, Slovenia (Rebula)
‘This has a really appealing nose, with fleshy grape aromas alongside some richer, sweet apricot and even caramel notes. There’s the impression of a bit of sweetness at first on the palate, but that’s quickly replaced by tannins. An excellent food wine, at a great price,’ CC. ‘The pleasant, lingering tannins here are balanced out by super-rich stone fruit. A great match for cheese,’ BB.
£13.45, Modal Wines, 07776 322 734

78 Lapostolle, Collection Muscat 2015, Valle del Itata, Chile
‘A very interesting wine, with juniper and grapefruit on the nose leading to a dry palate,’ AR. ‘A lovely, pleasant wine – young and fresh, with good fruit. There’s some light acidity on the palate, leading to a very pleasant finish,’ JP. ‘A friendly nose with lots of spiced apple and oak, followed by good acidity on the balanced palate. A great match for prawns or lobster,’ CF.
£14.47, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7670 0967

78 Tenuta Il Grillo, Baccabianca 2009, Piedmont, Italy (Cortese)
‘Definitely made in a traditional way, with longer skin contact than some other wines here. There’s good acidity on the dry, fruit-driven palate,’ JP. ‘Great complexity on the nose here, with a combination of herbs and grapefruit, followed by apple and lemon on the palate and a long, balanced finish,’ CF.
£17.03, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820

78 Zero-G (Eschenhof Holzer), Zero-GMT: Orange Wine O’Clock 2016, Niederösterreich, Austria (Müller-Thurgau)
‘An aromatic wine, although a bit shy on the nose. There’s a peach skin note on the juicy palate, with some gentle tannins,’ CC. ‘White grape and lots of apple on the nose, as well as a bit of malolactic. The palate is spicy, making this a good choice for charcuterie,’ CF.
£11.50, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7670 0967

77 Eschenhof Holzer, Invader Orange 2016, Wagram, Austria (Müller-Thurgau)
‘With a light orange colour that suggests a short maceration time, this is intense on the nose, leading to a good mouthfeel, with big savoury notes on the finish,’ BB. ‘This has some stone-like minerality, with zesty lemon notes on top. I like that there isn’t too much skin contact here,’ KL.
£9.65, Red Squirrel, 020 3490 1210

77 Lo Zerbone, Cuvée Curtéis 2014, Emilia-Romagna, Italy (Cortese)
‘There are apple and floral notes on the nose of this golden wine, leading to more pronounced apple on the palate, as well as some elderflower, with low tannins. A well-balanced wine, reminiscent of cider,’ AR. ‘A super-fresh wine, with some herbal notes and a savoury element coming through. This would be great paired with goats’ cheese,’ BB.
£9.27, Borough Wines Imports, 020 8532 8588

76 Koráb, Živá Hora Natur Ryšák 2015, Moravia, Czech Republic (Gewürztraminer/Riesling/Grüner Veltliner)
‘A super-interesting nose, with stalks and stone fruit, leading to more great stone-fruit flavour. Well-balanced tannins are kept in line by some good fruit flavours, as well as some acidity,’ BB. ‘Apple tart with toasted almonds on the nose here, along with some lemon meringue. The palate is dry, but with good balance from some apple and pear fruit. I’d serve this with octopus,’ CF.
£13, Basket Press Wines, 07838 744 738

74 Cramele Recas, Sole Orange Wine 2016, Timiș, Romania (Chardonnay/Viognier)
‘There’s lively acidity here, with nice body from the Chardonnay, and some oiliness from the Viognier, not to mention some minerality on the palate,’ KL. ‘This is an interesting blend, but both grapes show their own character. This is full-bodied, both herbal and spicy, and with some smokiness too. Great with roast chicken,’ MW.
£9.48, Tanners Wines, 01743 234400

74 Domaine Fouassier, Opus Sancerre 2015, Loire, France (Sauvignon Blanc)
‘This is an amazing expression of Sauvignon Blanc, with some nice herbal characteristics from the grape, supported by some bitterness, and beautiful, smooth tannins,’ KL. ‘There’s a savoury
element on the nose, followed by a mineral, wet-stone element on the palate, joined by yellow flowers and warm spices. An easy-drinking wine with great balance,’ MW.
£27.60, Bibendum, 0845 263 6924

74 Logan Wines, Clementine 2016, Orange, Australia (Pinot Gris)
‘A beautiful salmon-pink colour. There’s good, intense fruit and spice on the very inviting nose, with soft nectarine on the palate, as well as tangy tangerine. Some gentle spice in the background gives some lift, before a really generous finish,’ AP. ‘Strawberries and raspberries on the nose, followed by some tannin and bitterness on the palate, together with some fresh acidity – this would be a great wine for mushroom dishes,’ MW.
£10.93, Castelnau Wine Agencies, 020 7751 2490

74 Pheasant’s Tears, Kisi 2016, Kakheti, Georgia
‘A special wine, and very different, from its deep orange colour to its aromas of mandarin, as well as lemon and orange peel. The palate follows with some apricot notes, as well as more mandarin,’ AR. ‘Long maceration, judging by its copper colour. This would be great with game, like rabbit,’ BB.
£14, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820

72 Litmus, Orange 2015, Surrey, England (Bacchus)
‘Pink grapefruit and some herbal aromas develop into yellow plum and orange blossom on the nose, leading to a clean palate with unripe melon and white flowers. A beautiful summer wine,’ MW. ‘Well-defined stone fruit and zesty aromas lead to a fresh, ripe palate, with juicy mango and white peach, making for a vibrant, tropical wine. The fresh juiciness of the wine would enhance the saltiness and butteriness of scallop tartare,’ AP.
£13.94, Bibendum, 0845 263 6924

Panel comments

Bert Blaize, The Mandrake Hotel
‘The range here was good, including some low-maceration wines that are a nice introduction to
the style. These are all food wines, but some work as an aperitif too.’

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘Orange wines have a reputation for being funky and challenging, yet there were very few examples of this in this flight, and even they were compelling in their own way. Something here for every wine list.’

Carlos Ferreira, The Don Bar and Bistro
‘There’s definitely a market for these, and I thought the prices were really good overall. The general freshness here makes them an interesting match for flavours like wasabi, and for summertime salads or grilled fish.’

Greta Ghiardello, Skylon
‘I didn’t know orange wines could be so diverse! They were all interesting, and so different. But as a sommelier, it’s not always easy to sell these. Just because a wine is cloudy, doesn’t mean it isn’t good.’

Konrad Tadeusz Lassota, Duddell’s London
‘I was surprised by the diversity here. There were such completely different styles. And most were good value for money too. Orange wines are underappreciated now, but I think one day these will be mainstream.’

Alex Pitt, Typing Room
‘With a lot of these wines, you really want another glass, not only because you like it, but because you’re intrigued. It’s such a dynamic category, and so versatile when it comes to food. We usually have an orange wine in the pairings for our tasting menu, in the middle, before the reds.’

Jelena Prosevich, Nopi by Ottolenghi
‘We have five or six orange wines on the list, as they work so well with the flavours and spices in the food – often where a clean white would never do. For customers trying orange wines for the first time, though, I’d maybe offer something lighter to begin.’

Andres Rangel, Sketch
‘I was finding nuttiness, eucalyptus, honey, ginger… with that complexity you can find a lot of food to match with these. With wines so complex, it’s good to offer them by the glass, and explain them to customers, highlighting the characteristics they would find in other wines.’

Melody Wong, Ten Trinity Square Private Club
‘The lighter wines here would go really well with roasted or chargrilled vegetables, particularly when there was some bitterness. When it came to the richer styles, I thought some could be alternatives to dessert wines for people that don’t want that residual sugar.’

Many thanks to the team at The Mandrake for hosting the tasting, and for all of their help on the day.

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