What are the Orange Wines?

El método ancestral de elaboración de vinos blancos vive un resurgimiento


The Orange Wines have something special that catches you from the first time you have in your hands a glass of a white wine produced in this style. In my case, the first one that stoke me hard knowing what I was tasting was a wine by Andreas Tscheppe, an Austrian winemaker from Styria whose Hirschkäfer 2014 captivated me right from the start. Its appearance is so distinct, not only because the wine can be hazier, but because it presents sometimes different color and density no matter the wine might be filtered or not. Its aromas are different from the usual, much more refined, far from tropical fruits and with hints of bitter orange skin. In the mouth the acidity has vanished and the body is more pronounced and full of tannins. But above, all you cannot stop drinking it.

After this experience it was imperative to conduct a research on the elaboration of this style of white wines.

For hundreds of years, perhaps even millennia (some even say up to 8.000 years ago), in the Caucasian region that we now know as Georgia, white wines have been produced in large clay or terracotta vases buried underground. In these vases, called qvevris, the must extracted from the grapes is macerated in contact with the skins for extended periods of time. This elaboration process makes the wine distinguished by the characteristics listed above. This maceration gives the wine a darker, orange tone, which made them to be known as Orange wines, though some producers prefer to call them Amber Wines.

This method of elaboration expanded from Georgia to other areas, though with the passing of the time it became out of use. Late in the last century a revival of these wines surged in parts of close areas of Italy, Croatia and Slovenia, and later on Austria, France, Greece and Spain, among other countries, started producing these wines. At present we can find a large number of wineries producing Orange wines. Many of them are also characterized by using biodynamic practices in agriculture as well as making their wines in a natural and non-sulfurous way.

An advantage of this method of elaboration is that it adapts perfectly to each area and its native varieties. The winemakers are finding the best way for adaptation, being in many cases single varietal wines, though we can also find blends in which different varieties have gone through different periods of maceration. In Italy we can find Orange wines made in many areas and with international and local varieties. In Friuli-Venezia Giulia they are mainly produced using Ribolla Gialla, Vitovska, Malvasia and Friulano, also with Pinot Grigio but to a lesser extent. In Trentino with Nosiola, in Sicily with Grecanico and Zibibbo, in Abruzzo with the Montepulciano, among other regions of the Italian peninsula.

In neighboring Slovenia and Croatia winemakers mainly use Malvasia Istriana and Rebulla varieties. Orange wines in Austria offer examples made with Chardonnay and Sauvignon. In France we can find the Savagnin, in Greece the Assyrtiko and the Xinomavro and in Georgia the Saperavi and the Rkatsiteli. In Spain we find producers making Orange wines in many areas and also macerating in terracotta amphorae. There are examples in the Sierra de Gredos, Ávila and Segovia, in Galicia, in Alicante or in La Mancha, among other regions. Airén, Albillo Real, Verdejo, Moscatel, Merseguera or Sauvignon varieties are among the most common.

For the elaboration of these wines we find a great variety of methods. Since the aforementioned amphorae to big oak vats that normally come from the Croatian region of Eslavonia. The maceration periods of the must with their skins are also very varied and depend mainly on the variety used, from the four days of some Pinot Grigio in Friuli to the fourteen months of an Airén in Spain. Everything goes when the producers strive to achieve the limits that this method allows them to reach.

This is all I intend to talk about in this blog: about the producers, the varieties, the wines and everything that surrounds them. Step by step, day by day, with a great passion to discover the work and the people behind this interesting method of elaboration, so ancestral and so modern at the same time. I hope you join me in this adventure.

Weingut Andreas Tscheppe
Weingut Andreas Tscheppe