Let’s get this out of the way upfront: orange wines are not made from oranges, they’re made from grapes.
What sets orange wines apart is their slightly oxidized quality. On first sip, you might conclude you got a bad bottle of white wine, but the slightly woodsy, sherry-like nose is intentional. Orange wines are sometimes aged in amphora or other not-exactly-air-tight containers, so oxygen does get in and the wine does, indeed, become oxidized. Although this oxidation is controlled, the character of an orange wine is less predictable than most red or white wines, which makes orange wines a constant surprise and kind of fun. You never know what flavors will arise in the next pour.
Master sommelier and restaurateur Alpana Singh (Seven Lions, Boarding House, Terra and Vine) once described orange wines as “white wines that drink like red wines.” That’s a very good way to think about these unusual beverages, which are undeniably complex. To help untangle some of this complexity, we chatted with Anthony Rossi, sommelier at Enolo Wine Café (450 North Clark).
How are orange wines different from the more common red and white wines?
Orange wines combine the tannic structure of red wines with the acidity of whites. They are made from white or pink-skinned grapes that undergo extended maceration with the skins, much like a red grape.
What do you like about orange wines; what specialness do they bring to the table?
Every characteristic about orange wines is unexpected and a bit austere. From the savory and oxidative qualities in the nose to the combination of acid and tannin on the palate.
It’s my experience that the personality of an orange wine can change significantly over the course of a dinner—does this make pairing a problem?
It depends on the dish. Since orange wines can be very tannic right out of the bottle, dishes loaded with fat (like butter- or cream-based sauces) work well. I just like to have it open all meal and try it with everything. I have one open every Thanksgiving, and by the end of the meal, it even works with pumpkin pie.
What foods pair well with orange wine?
With orange wines, I get a lot of savory tea-like smells on the nose and my favorite pairings have been with tea-smoked duck or smoked sausage. I’m not a big fan of tannin and fish, but a skin-on fish in sauce works well, matching the oxidative aromatics. We also serve a semi-sparkling orange that is killer with chicken liver mousse.
What are some of the orange wines you have on the menu at Enolo Wine Café?
• 2005 Vodopivec Vitovska Classica, Venezia Giulia, Italy… a true freak. Long, whole berry maceration in clay amphora pots, honeyed orange and citrus with sherry-like, very oxidative, aromatic qualities and maximum tannin. Not a wine I would recommend to pop and pour: it needs an hour or two to breath before serving.
• 2013 Yorkville Cellars “Amber Folly,” Mendocino, California… one-hundred percent Semillon that was forgotten about and left on the skins for a few days. A wonderful intro to orange wines, with salted-caramel aromatics and tannins that are present but not aggressive.
• 2014 Domaine Glinavos Paleokerisio, Ioannina, Greece… semi-sparkling wine made from the pink-skinned debina grape. It smells like tea and soy sauce and the combo of bubbles and tannin on the palate is truly unique. (David Hammond)