When it comes to the term orange wine, a lot of casual wine drinkers can be confused, even if this style of winemaking is on trend right now. Orange wine simply refers to the fact that white wine grapes are fermented with the skins on, imparting color, tannic structure and body not necessarily typical of these grape varietals.
The amount of time fermented on the skins can vary wildly, from just a few days to months. This difference in fermentation can create much fuller bodied wines, though even some of the longer skin contact expressions can be released as quaffable versions for peak summer enjoyment.
In the end, these orange wines should be approached like any other wine: what are the fundamental smells, fruit characteristics, acidity and tannic structure that you get while drinking a glass? With that in mind, it was an exciting week for us as we moved from Mexico to Italy to California with surprising results along the way.
Hailing from Southern California, AmByth makes some of the most forward thinking Californian wines we have tasted. They are consistently innovative and delicious. For their Sauvignon Blanc O.W., they showcase the lighter and juicier expression of orange wine, without sacrificing flavor.
If there was ever a wine that signifies a particular, the AmByth would be it. When you first open it, you smell vibrant peach candy notes. This follows with this similarly sweet peach flavor tempered by a driving acidity that keeps the wine balanced. As things open up, the peach notes evolve; you get more taste of peach skins, as if biting into an overripe end-of-summer fruit. There are some tannins but they are light in this expression, offering just enough grip to keep things interesting.
Mexican wines are hot, hot, hot right now. Thanks in part to Bichi dominating the natural wine conversation. But newer Mexican producers with every old wines are starting to enter the scene, including Casa Vieja. Using Palomino, a grape typically used for sherries in Spain, the winemakers demonstrate the elegance of old vines and the success of skin contact wine making.
This is a deep yellow in color, verging on a light orange, that opens up with floral aromatics and a soft floral palette. You get ripe apricot and a touch of nectarine acidity, which is broadly elegant overall, owing to the wine’s lower acidity and the vines’ age. For all of this broadness in the mid palette, however, you get a surprisingly wispy finish as the stone fruit notes return with even more subtlety.
Our last wine comes from a Riesling made in one of the northernmost regions in Italy. It was the most full bodied of orange wines we had for the week, capturing the richer and rounder characteristics we come to expect from an aged Riesling.
Out of the glass, this wine is undeniably amber in color. It’s not a particularly aromatic or delicate wine, but the initial overripe apple and stone fruit notes quickly evolve into something more savory. We got whiffs of woodsy notes with a camphor profile. This wine is particularly dry and especially tannic. Even though it is broad, it has a nice structured minerality to balance out this roundness. On the second day, there is more integration of the fruit and tannins but be careful of the sediment that lingers in the end of your pours.