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The orange myth - why everyone is still confused about orange wine

Published:  22 June, 2016

"Orange is not the new rosé," says Doug Wregg at Les Caves de Pyrene. "It would be more accurate to say it's the new red."

Orange wine has been dubbed the "wine of the summer" not only by those in the trade but in consumer-facing publications including the Telegraph last week.

But Wregg insists that misconceptions still abound around this eye-catching wine.

The first is around how it's made.

"The Telegraph and others have been comparing it to rosé, but there are very few natural rosés. Orange wines are really substantial. They're made like reds, with long maceration on the skins, so they're well protected against oxidation, for example. Saying they're the new red - that would be more accurate."

The second misconception is the newness of orange wine.

An 8,000-year-old phenomenon, orange wine was resurrected by Italian winemaker Josko Gravner and Stanislao Radikon after visiting Georgia in the late eighties.

Traditionally made with long maceration on the skins using clay pots, they have been known in the trade for decades as "skin-contact wines".

"'Orange wine' has been around for 8,000 years and no one batted an eyelid," Wregg explained. "But it's become popular in the last few years because someone's given it the name 'orange'." 

"In actuality 'orange wine' can be anything from a golden pink to a deep, burnt amber. It's very visual. It's a wine that is drunk with the eyes."

Les Caves de Pyrene, an importer, agent, distributor and retailer of global wines, currently has around 80 orange wines on its books.

However, the growing trend has limits in terms of how many orange wines growers are willing to produce.

"Whether it's Australia, New Zealand, Chile or California, every time we ship wine from a grower we find out they're making orange wine - but no one wants to make more than one," Wregg said.

"Sometimes, winemakers will use the same grape and do one with skin contact and one without, which is opening up some interesting debates about which one is the terroir wine. The answer is they both are."

Orange wines' extreme versatility makes it a favourite of sommeliers, who can pair it with various food groups throughout a meal.

Despite the facts - orange wine is essentially white wine made as if it was red - orange wine is still being touted as the hip alternative to rosé this summer.

However, Wregg is skeptical about its ability to live up to these lofty expectations.

He said: "I've heard people say orange wine will be flooding onto the supermarket shelves but I don't think so; it's made in small volumes because it needs to be made carefully. When it doesn't work well it can be quite bitter, so you need to find a good balance.

"It's made best when it isn't temperature controlled, and it doesn't need any sulphur added during the fermentation process or at the end. Everyone wants a go. Chapel Down released one because they could, but I'm not convinced everyone is doing it right, which will stop it from being commercial. I'm not sure the public or the trade are ready for it yet."