Why we do not call orange wine an orange wine?

Ronco Severo

Sometimes I preach in the desert. Not for fun, of course, and not only a few times, either. It rather happens frequently, because the Powers-that-be, even in this wine thing of ours, they are still hard to bring down. It’s not that I’m gonna get depressed because we people in wine industry barely agree on anything, but it saddens me that we’re not able to agree on something as simple as what is an orange wine. And it’s not that I’m referring to the large groups that don’t want anyone to live outside the box, or to the small producers who sell motorcycles that don’t have an engine. I mean that we can’t even agree on when to call a wine orange and when not.

The orange wine name, or originally amber wine as it was, comes from the Caucasus region where Georgia is located now. About 8,000 years ago they began to make white wines following the same winemaking style as reds wine, that is, macerating the must with the skins. Why? Very simple. They didn’t have anything other than the substances in the grape skins to protect and preserve the wine. This maceration period gave the must an amber color, and that name remained until the end of the last century, when this style of winemaking began to spread outside the Caucasus. Far from that region it began to be called orange wine. It is still known, however, as amber wine and some producers from Italy and Slovenia also call it the same way. In Spain, for example, throughout the Mediterranean area it is known as Brisado or Brisat. In areas of Castilla and León it is known as Embabujado.

In the end, they are still different names to refer to a type of wine coming from white grapes whose must has been macerated on the skins for a period of time that is left to the decision of the producer. In other words, an orange wine is a wine marked by its elaboration style. It is not a wine marked by the color resulting from the maceration process, because there are orange wines that are perfectly golden or pale yellow in color. We do not, I repeat, we do not call a wine orange just because its color is orange. We should call a wine orange when the vinification includes a period of skin contact.

An orange wine is not a white wine, since white wine is not macerated with the skins (pre-fermentation or cold maceration is not the same). It is not a rosé or red wine because it does not come from red grapes. I have always defended that it is a different wine color, although it seems to me that I am somewhat alone in this. There is white wine, rosé wine, red wine, and orange wine. This is my position and this is what I have been defending for years.

There are producers who have so many years of experience making wine and who have recently tried to make a white wine with skin contact for the first time. They didn’t know they were making an orange wine because they had never heard of them. Something that is perfectly logical, on the other hand. There is so much to learn and know in the world of wine that it is impossible to know everything. There are producers who believe that an orange wine has to be orange in color in order to be called that. Wrong.

A rosé wine is made from red grapes. Its must is in contact with the skins for a few hours, maybe overnight, or even just a few minutes. This period gives the must its characteristic pinkish or reddish hue. Hence, we call a wine rosé because of its style of production.

If we do not have any problem for calling a wine rosé regardless of the time the must passes through the skins, why do we do it in the case of an orange wine? It must be first said that there is nothing regulated in this regard. Orange is not a recognized category in terms of color, as I have mentioned before. There is also no regulation of the time the must has to stay on the skins for us to call a specific wine orange, brisadobrisat, amber or embabujado.

As my faithful reader, you already know what I am going to say, because I have proclaimed this in all four corners of the world: if we call rosé a wine whose must has been in contact with the skins for minutes or hours, or only during the pressing time, for me a wine belongs to the orange wine class if it has had a maceration time. I don’t consider cold maceration as part of the production of an orange wine, but rather a way for reducing the temperature of the grapes before pressing to preserve flavors and aromas. Maceration for me consists of having whole or partially broken grapes in a container for a period of time in which some kind of punching may or may not be done, even if it’s just pushing the hat down with your hands.

And how long this skin contact period should be? If it goes for 24 hours, it works for me. Less than that would work too, but I don’t see the effects of the skins in the must for maybe 12 hours. I do not recall cases of an orange wine whose maceration period was less than four days. The Pinot Grigio is a variety whose skin dyes the must very quickly; therefore the skin contact time is around four days. This is a somewhat common period, as is a week. In most of the cases I know, the period usually goes from one to four weeks. There are some cases where the skin contact goes for six months or even a year, though this is less common.

So it gives me chills when a winemaker (who also makes orange wines) says that four days of maceration does not allow a wine to be called orange. I believe that putting limits on this only makes it more difficult to get a wider recognition of this winemaking style. Why not four days? Where is the minimum? If there is no legislation in this regard, and I think it will take some time until we have one, wouldn’t it be better if wine producers and people involved in the wine industry reached an agreement? It doesn’t hurt at all, man, and it helps a lot. I think it would be ridiculous organizing an orange wine tasting and have to say that if the maceration on the skins lasts for three days, it is not an orange wine, when the winemaking style says so. An orange wine is not an orange wine because it is orange or because it has been macerating with the skins for five days or more. A wine is orange because the must of white grapes has been macerated with the skins.

I have recently found couple of producers making an orange wine coming from red grapes. Obviously, and for all the aforementioned reasons, that’s not an orange wine. This is just adding confusion to the wine market.

I will continue to preach in the desert, which I have a lot of practice at, but with a glass or four of a good orange wine of my liking. My stay in the desert, I am afraid, will be one of a long maceration.