Funky & Fab-u-lous: meet our new wine

Went up to that there London to imbibe the vibe. And the vibe that grabbed #SoHoEx was…..orange wine. While we’re (obviously) still loving aperol spritz, there’s a place on our socials for another quirky-hued drink. And this one has a pedigree that spans thousands of years and crosses sub-cultural continents.

Intrigued? I turned to MW Alex Hunt, purchasing director at Berkmann Wines for a steer and some serious sippage.

Q: Starting with the basics, what are orange wines?

AH: Wines made like a red wine but from white grapes. This means they are fermented on the skins and pips then pressed, as opposed to a white wine which might sometimes have a bit of skin contact before fermentation, but is then pressed before it kicks off. It is an ultra-traditional winemaking method that was reintroduced to western Europe in the 1990s by Josko Gravner, in Friuli. I was first introduced to this about 10 years ago – it’s pretty mind-blowing stuff….

….in a genuinely distinctive category. The colour varies from almost-white to amber, gold or pink depending on the variety and production method. The maceration time itself can vary from a week to a year, which has a profound effect on the overall style. Like red wines, orange wines are tannic – subtly so for short macerations, dramatically so with longer skin contact. They can also be strikingly aromatic, since additional aroma is transferred from the skins. The combination of pronounced fruit aroma with a tannic, bone dry structure gives orange wines a unique and successful balance all of their own.

Q: I’m an history-fiend; this is a big part of the appeal. how does that work?

AH: Orange winemaking is inspired by ancient methods, when all wines were made like this, they can often be matured in clay amphorae – traditionally this is a porous ageing vessel that has an oxidative effect on the wine. It is not mandatory, however – stainless steel, oak, and sealed (non-porous) amphorae can all be used instead. Some orange wines can also be influenced by flor, giving them a bit of fino sherry tang – again, very much optional.

Q: So, they tap into the organic, maybe even vegan thang?

AH: Not always. Orange wine is closely associated with the natural wine movement, because of the common revived interest in ancient practices and low-intervention winemaking. However, there is no obligation for an orange wine to have zero added sulphites, or to be organic, or any other stipulation. In fact the term does not exist in wine law – all orange wines count as white wines for legal purposes, and the same rules therefore apply. While it can be argued that the extra tannin content of orange wines makes them more suitable for bottling without sulphites, as ‘natural’ wines, it offers no guarantee of stability.

Q: On your recommendation, we’re going with Esoterica (loving that name) from Australia. What is that like?

AH: For starters, it is vegan. But most importantly, all of the orange wines we list are bottled to normal Berkmann standards, ie with added sulphites, no stinky faults, clean, characterful and delicious. A properly made orange wine has such exhilarating aromatics and precisely balanced structure, it is a travesty in my book for any to be marred by sloppy winemaking under the guise of a so-called ‘philosophy’. This particular wine is a fruity and romantic blend made either wholly or mostly from Muscat.

Q: But we can still call our orange wine funky, right?

AH: Not in the sense of faulty or stinky, but definitely groovy and fabulous.

Q: And totally, fab-u-lously fashionable?

AH: Yes. This is our fastest growing category – albeit from a tiny base. Despite lockdowns, our orange wine sales for the last 12 months are up 328% on the previous year. Keeping up with demand has been challenging, since our orange wines are mostly made in small quantities in far-away places, like your Esoterica.

Esoterica Orange Wine, Único Zelo |Australia, Riverland & Clare now available by the bottle at Southernhay House £39

With thanks to Alex and Berkmann.