In the late 1990s, iconoclastic Italian winemaker Josko Gravner, disenchanted with modern vinification techniques, decided to take a maverick chance. Traveling to the Caucasus Mountains in
the Republic of Georgia, he purchased a number of gigantic terracotta pots called kvevri and returned to his Friuli vineyard, where he filled them with his harvest of indigenous green-skinned Ribolla Gialla grapes. He sealed the tops with molten beeswax, then buried them beneath a stone-walled cellar — a method of winemaking that dates back as much as 8,000 years. Seven months later, natural fermentation had produced a dense, tannic wine with warmly-tinged hues of tawny amber.
Dubbed "orange," Gravner’s creation was essentially a white wine vinified as a red — just the opposite of a pink Rosé, which is a red wine made in the style of a white. Traditional whites are produced by first crushing green-skinned grapes, then separating the juice from the skins (which contain pigment, flavor compounds, and tannins considered undesirable in white wines) before fermentation in stainless steel vats. But orange wines are made by maceration, in which whole grape clusters — stems, leaves and all — are left to ferment naturally for months or even years, with full contact between the skins and the juice, just as red wines are made. The result is a white wine displaying color profiles from pale gold, to golden orange, to copper, depending on the grape varietal, with the same gripping tannic structure, rich texture, and complex flavor compounds of red wines, but also with the elevated acid levels, intense fruit and minerality of classic whites. Orange wines are often oxidized and unfiltered with a funky, tangy, aromatic nose and flavor profiles of cherries, apricots, citrus, nuts, herbs, and hints of smoke and spice. They should be decanted and served at cellar temperature (55 degrees).
Today, winemakers all over the world produce orange wines, though usually in cement vats or wooden barrels rather than in clay pots. Although they’ve become stars on the lists
of trend-setting sommeliers, orange wines are still a bit scarce on retail shelves.
Expert Wine Recommendations
• KATE DECK Standard Market in Naperville
- 2012 Barra Pioneer Cabernet $14, a velvety-smooth blend of Cabernet, Merlot, and Petite Sirah from Mendocino, showcasing flavors of blackberries, currants, and cloves framed by hints of oak spice and vanilla.
- 2014 Domaine des Cedres Rosé d’Anjou $14, coral pink in the glass, with a palate of fresh strawberries and touches of black pepper. The sweetness is balanced by a dry, bright acidity.
• JESSE SIEBOLD Wines of Woodman’s in North Aurora
-2012 Wild Thing Old Vine Zinfandel $18, plush flavors of black cherries, plums, raspberries, blackberries, spice, and vanilla fill the mouth, undergirded by integrated tannins and balanced acidity.
- 2013 Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc $13, effusive aromas of tropical melons, mangoes, and citrus fill the senses before ushering in a palate of lemon-lime, kiwi and grapefruit shored up by lively
acidity and clean wet stone minerality.
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