Location: Ridgewood, NY
In Defense of Orange Wine
Orange Wines. Some call them retro, allowing a perfectly fine bunch of white wine grapes to be crushed and fermented, even aged, on the skins. Some go as far as aging them in anfora (large oval-shaped concreate vats), which are buried in the ground where the wine completes its maturation; a throwback to aceint Roman times. Most are organic and some are bio-dynamic. In the end, they are different from what most people preceive wine to be, and maybe that’s the problem.
A friend recently told me a story about how he went into a wine store and asked for an orange wine. To which the clerk replied, “We only sell wines made from grapes.”
It's sad to think that such an interesting category of wine, which has gained footing in regions well outside its home of Italy, is often forgotten or simply unknown. I recall one of my own experiences, while looking for a new orange wine, In which I went to a wine shop that I consider to be on the cutting edge, and with a respectable selection of Italian wine, only to find that the salespeople had never heard of orange style wines. Drat, foiled again…
It was with this in mind that I thought it was time that I address the topic of orange wine, and so a tasting was planned and e-mails were sent to the usual cronies--but no one was interested. How could this be? Yet I refused to be stopped, and so I bypassed all the rest of my usual lists of wine collectors, lovers and drinkers (the who's who of wine dining in N.Y.C.). Instead, I decided to pick and choose, inviting people who I thought were open-minded enough and eager to explore. It took some doing, but the result was one of the most enjoyable tastings that I have ever hosted. It was a mix of people from tastings going back years, and it was glorious.
So how were the wines? They were spellbinding with wild aromas and verve that are seldom found elsewhere. Each one teetered on the edge of what wine is now compared to what it may have been centuries ago. With each sniff you encounter a set of seductive aromas that would challenge the senses and incite wild fascination. What's more, they each opened up a world of exciting food pairings and combinations that I had never thought possible. Imagine a Pinot Grigio with the body and tannin to handle a steak, and you've just crossed a bridge that you never thought existed, and what if that Pinot Grigio was worth the price of admission on the aromatics alone? That's orange wine.
As for the top wines of the night, northern Italy (orange wine’s place of origin) came out on top, yet nearly all the bottles performed well, and as I tried to place then into order of my favorites, it became very difficult to choose which wine was better than the one before.