The Orange Wine Spectrum: A Fun and Interesting Diversity of Styles, But Not Quite the New Black

In this in-depth report, Ian D’Agata analyzes the diversity of orange wine available today (from all over the world, and explains the biochemical reasons behind why orange wines are the way they are. Yumi Liu follows up with tasting notes and scores on about twenty excellent orange wines from all over the world.
by Yumi Liu and Ian D’Agata

Thought on orange wines

by Ian D’Agata

There is no doubt that orange wines, which started their lives out mostly as a curiosity and later a fad, are now here to stay. But while orange wines have become  popular world-wide only over the last twenty years or so, they have actually always been around, tracing their history back to ancient winemaking methods born in the area of today’s Georgia (skin-macerated wines were typically made in ancient Greece and Rome as well). The orange wine movement has now grown to such a degree that the category has now been officially recognized and accepted as such by everyone in the industry. So much so, that in 2020 the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) took steps to provide regulations, furnishing guidelines for orange wine production.

Clearly, orange wines may not be everybody’s cup of tea, er, of wine, but their success cannot be denied. The reasons for this undeniable success are numerous. The first, very important, reason is that while many orange wines made today also fit in the category of “natural wines” (or at the very least, are marketed as such by those wineries making natural wines and that often also make more orange wines), most orange wines (certainly not all) are generally well-made and drinkable. You might not like them, but you can try one without fearing for your health, or just having to endure through something that sometimes can unfortunately smell like an overflowing septic tank or a dead horse’s behind. But while the genesis of orange wines and the rise of the orange wine movement has closely followed that of “natural wines” wines, there are far more wineries now making orange wines than ever before, and many such wineries also make (or have a history of having made) world-class “normal” wines too. Names like Gravner in Italy and Domaine Weinbach in Alsace are outstanding examples of this. Orange wines are no longer a small niche of wines that need to rely on factors such as affordable prices, very (exaggeratedly) colorful labels, cartoon-like characters and other cheap gimmicks in order to sell or find someone interested in them. In ultimate analysis, orange wine makers have mostly avoided the mistakes of the “natural wine” movement, and that helps explain at least in part their world-wide success today.

Defining Orange Wine

Actually, the orange wine category provides the missing link in the world of wine as we previously knew it. One that goes beyond the mere reality of colour.

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  • Ian–you have done the wine world a service with your comprehensive essay on Orange wines. It should be mandatory reading for anyone making and selling orange wines!

    • Thanks, I actually had fun writing it, like I do with any topic that becomes faddish and way too many people jump on the banwagon without ever turning their brain switches to “on”.
      I have an incredible number if thought-provoking anecdotes and stories on Orange wines I could write about, and maybe I will one day gain. But two episodes really stand out, that are clearly serious food for though because they were both about the exact same thing. Both a super-famous writer and proponent (super-famous in the realm of orange and natural wines only, that is) and one of the wold’s five or so best-known orange wine producers clearly cannot recognize what they have in the glass. Both inadvertently mixed their glasses up at two different tastings and didn’t catch on the rest of the day. Frankly, it wasn’t just embarrassing, it was also telling that with orange wines being made the way they are, recognizing grape variety is almost moot. And why anyone would think that turning wine into a soft drink, that akways tastes the same no matter where it’s made, is beyond me.

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