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Orange Wines

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Vinous exotica. If the latin term for orange wines doesn’t pique your interest, we don’t know what will. But while these wines are indeed exotic, they’re quickly becoming less rare with their global popularity now increasing at a rapid clip. Until recently, the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Italy, and Slovenia dominated this market, but now nearly every wine region in the world has started producing orange wines, including U.S. vintners from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to New York’s Finger Lakes. Don’t let the name fool you. Not associated with the citrus fruit, these wines are actually white wines. During fermentation and aging, white-grape skins, stems, and seeds are left in the juice, infusing it with golden amber hues. Due to this au naturel approach and usually no added yeast or pesticides, orange wines are part of the natural wine movement, a recent trend captivating American wine drinkers. Much like umami’s classification as the mysterious fifth taste, orange wines enjoy similar intrigue. Oenophiles consider them the fourth wine color: red, white, rose, and orange. Unlike the recent release of Pagani’s Huayra roadster, orange wines are not the showroom’s newest model. Originally from Georgia — the Eastern European country, not the U.S. state — they’re considered the world’s oldest type of wine, dating back to 8000 B.C. Visit Kakheti, the country’s predominant wine region, and you’ll discover they’re still made exactly as they were thousands of years ago. Here, the bronze, amber, or marigold hues are derived not only from skin contact, but also from giant underground clay vessels, called qvevri (KEV-ree), the juice rests in. Clay pots also offer slow, oxidative aging that belies an unmistakable earthy quality and viscous texture. Because Georgians are extremely proud of their heritage, most make backyard wine according to family tradition — if you spot huge circles in the ground, you’ve stumbled upon their qvevri storage — and regard drinking it as commonplace as drinking water. But beyond the country’s borders, these orange wines have become a highly regarded treasure for oenophiles around the world. UNESCO even awarded Georgian wine an Intangible Heritage designation in 2013. “This style of wine is not new for us. For the world, it is new old wine,” says Irakli Cholobargia, with the Georgian National Wine Agency. But beyond the novelty, how do these orange wines taste? In general, they have aromas of sourdough, hazelnut, dried orange peel, and jackfruit. Best to sit down if you’re trying one for the first time. The light color deceives. Much like red wine, they are often extremely viscous, meaty, and tannin-forward with intense flavors of sour earthiness. But this bait-and-switch has a serious upside: versatility. They can dance with a platter of oysters as deftly as with roasted duck or spicy Indian cuisine. “Like rose, they can pair with both delicate and hearty dishes. They’re ballerinas that ride Harleys,” says Fahara Zamorano, head sommelier at Gwen restaurant in LA, about their multifaceted personality. Q&A WITH AN EXPERT Anthony Rossi, sommelier at Chicago’s Enolo Wine Cafe, is an orange wine enthusiast educating restaurant patrons, one glass at a time, about the category’s unexpected, yet alluring, characteristics. Who will like orange wines? I sell orange wines the same as I do stinky cheese. I say, “You’re probably not going to like this, but …” Otherwise, IPA beer drinkers tend to love orange wines. Tannin and hops have a very similar, astringent effect on the palate, and the combination of citrus and resin on the nose is strikingly similar. What temperature should you serve them? People serve many orange wines too cold, as with many white wines. Serve them at room or cellar temperature (roughly 55 degrees). Best food pairings? You can drink them with just about anything. I like bringing an orange wine to a picnic to go with cheese, charcuterie, or foie gras. In the fall, I love them with Thanksgiving dinner, especially with gamey fowl and squash dishes. But you can find an excuse to drink orange wine anytime, even with fatty fish or as a dessert wine.

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