In some sense, the choice of subject for today feels momentous for me. This is my penultimate review for the Press Herald, and I’m not going to go out with a review of Riojas crianzas or a rundown of New Zealand sauvignon blancs, because there’s too much of the partial there.

I’d like to keep my eye on the whole now, and strangely enough my sightline will be through what appears at first to be an exceptionally slender niche: orange wine.

Such is the nature of contemporary wine culture’s diversification that orange wine will strike some readers as an already outgrown trend, others as some newfangled notion that they now need to appear knowledgeable about, still others as badly made white wine. To a different group it might be an entirely new category they’re right now hearing of for the first time. The truth encompasses all of these.

Orange wine exists on the same spectrum that includes all the other wines made from vitis vinifera grapes. There is wine we call white, wine we call red, wine we call the French word for pink. And wine can come in other colors: vin jaune, for instance, a deeply yellow-hued wine, traditionally from France’s Jura region, made in a manner quite similar to sherry.

There is also orange wine. Orange wine, like white, red and pink, is made from grapes that are crushed and then fermented. Orange wine is a white wine that is treated like a red.

Red wine production entails leaving the juice of crushed grapes in contact with their reddish skins for some time, usually seven to 28 days, before being pulled off the solids to finish fermentation.

White wine production eliminates skin contact: crush, strain and ferment the untinted juice.

Rosé is the vinification of red-wine grapes as if they were white-wine grapes: Separate the juice from the skins no more than a few hours after crush.

Orange wine simply goes in the opposite direction: Crush the white-wine grapes but leave the juice to macerate on the skins and pulp as if it were a red, for a week to a month – or, in the case of amphora-aged orange wines, for many months and even years.

An orange wine is so called because of the color that results from this treatment, specifically the lignin present in grape seeds. No flavor or color of oranges is added. Indeed, a hallmark of orange wines is the absence of any of the additives too often involved in producing mass-marketed whites, rosés and reds. And “orange” can denote so many different qualities – a color, a fragrance, a fruit, a flower – that some enthusiasts prefer to call the wines “amber” or simply “skin-contact” or “skin-fermented.”

Whatever the name, these wines are not made in outer space and zapped down to Earth, nor are they some sort of affront to “traditional” or “normal” wines.

Actually, although modern-day orange wine is only about 20 years old, true orange wine production dates back to some of the first wines ever made, roughly 5,000 years ago in the Caucasus.

So, orange wine might seem strange, but it’s as normal as anything else. Yes, it’s rare. Yes, the flavors are extraordinarily distinctive, and to a palate habituated in certain ways a skin-fermented amber wine will be a provocation.

But if you’re anything like me, searching via wine not just for new discoveries but for new ways to be a discoverer, you will welcome these as one of the surest wine-related paths to a more open mind. And the good ones are not only delicious; they are revelatory. You will marvel at the totally new, beautiful qualities they express.

They have a unique power to stay with me, to haunt – and frankly, to ruin me for the vast majority of whites, rosés and reds that taste weak-willed and one-dimensional by comparison.

Contemporary orange wine has its origins in northeastern Italy’s Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and its neighbor, southwestern Slovenia’s Goriška Brda. There, pioneers such as Gravner, Radikon, Kabaj, Movia, Batič and many more have drawn inspiration from ancient Georgian winemaking practices, in which white-wine grapes were (and still are) fermented and aged in large clay amphorae known as qvevri (“kev-ree”).

These days, wines made in an “orange” style may be fermented and aged in a variety of vessels (wood or clay, often open-topped until aging begins), though they must allow for communication with oxygen rather than the anaerobic and temperature-controlled environment afforded by stainless steel. Only native yeasts ferment the grapes.

The varietals may vary, but some of the common ones are ribolla gialla, chardonnay, riesling italico, malvasia, nosiola and pinot grigio (when made farther south in Italy’s Veneto, the pinot grigio wines are sometimes called “ramato,” or “copper”).

The more that modern orange wine becomes established as a legitimate category, though, the more experimentation. From California and Long Island, N.Y. to Australia, Croatia and Austria, white wine grapes are fermenting longer and longer on their skins.

As you sip an orange wine, absorb it on at least two levels: taste and texture, starting with the latter. The long, slow, natural fermentation and aging lend exceptional richness and body to the wines, while the extended contact with the grapes’ phenolics endows the wines with striking, fascinating tannins.

Some orange wines can almost be chewed, while others are elegant and silky. They age well, they appreciate decanting, and they ought to be served at the temperature reserved for reds (high 50s).

Notice the savory, umami quality. Notice the sheer intensity. Though each amber/orange/skinny wine is different, I’ve never drunk a quiet one. You are in the presence of redness in everything but color.

Flavors are bonkers, at least compared with what we’re used to. I often sense the character of tea – sometimes the floral sweetness of Darjeeling, other times the bracing earthiness of a Chinese black. The wines, all dry, also recall non-sweet versions of sweet foods: baked apple, honey, spiced pear, nut cake. Then, too, totally other tastes: sourdough, orange peel (yes, really), cider, incense. And more. Always, with these wines, more.

Some of the wines bear such extravagant complexity that they can be treated as meditative aids, but they also present some of the best of all vinous partners to food.

Smoked foods work brilliantly. Boldly spiced curries, North African and Ethiopian dishes, fermentation-rich cuisines such as Korean, and serious meats all are complemented and ennobled by these bold, probing, multifaceted wines.

Those are some of the practical facts of orange wines. There is also metaphysical significance to appreciate. For one, orange wines represent the full, unvarnished truth of white wine grapes.

The more of them I drink, the more I ask myself, “Who ever decided that the ‘conventional’ way to make a wine from white grapes was to separate the skins?”

Ordinary white wines are inherently partial; they omit part of their own story. A skin-fermented wine from “white” grapes restores a fuller degree of respect and love for those grapes, by aiming to paint a more comprehensive portrait.

I also feel the power inherent in a wine that is simultaneously very old and very modern. By drinking traditionally made skin-fermented wines, I am reaching back toward wine’s true origins, and forward toward a time when wine can free itself from limitations imposed by fear masquerading as tradition.

On a final practical matter, there are wines to try, but in Maine (as in most places), not many of them. The following list is of skin-fermented wines I like very much that are generally available here. But if you catch the bug, make sure you continually ask around: Several Maine distributors (especially Devenish and Crush) sometimes bring in very limited-edition wines in small quantities.

Search out the Meinklang Graupert Pinot Gris, Kabaj Rebula, Channing Daughters Ramato, Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium Ruscum, Vie di Romans Pinot Grigio, Cornelissen Munjebel Bianco, Mont de Marie Anathème Blanc, and the single-vineyard Sancerres of Sébastien Riffault. Most of these are in the $20-25 range, a couple cost a bit more. (But Gravner is $100).

Additionally, certain more established wineries produce their “whites” in a style that because of skin-contact time and general character could be classified as “orange”: Spain’s R. Lopez de Heredia and Lebanon’s Château Musar, to name the two most obvious.

Joe Appel is the wine buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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