First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 15th September, 2018
In a move that has already upset the purists, German supermarket Aldi has launched an orange wine, priced at an incredibly cheap €8.99. Not just orange either, but natural and organic as well.
What is orange wine? Firstly, it is not made from oranges. I came across it back in 2005, in Slovenia, where the winemaker described it as “white wine made like red wine”.
Orange wine is made by macerating or fermenting white grapes on their skins for a period, as a winemaker normally would with a red wine. They taste very different, with the freshness and acidity of a white wine and the grippy dry tannins of a red. Some have light red fruits, others are sherry-like, sometimes with grilled nuts and, usually, a pithy quality. If that sounds strange, it is. Not all orange wines are natural, but some are, made using organic grapes in a oxidative way which adds to the general funkiness.
Orange wine is drunk at room temperature, or slightly cool; serve it chilled and the tannins stick out. It has been making waves in the wine world, and now features on wine lists in fashionable restaurants, wine bars and independent wine shops. Some, including Ottolenghi in London, have an orange wine section on their lists. Adherents argue that it is the perfect food wine, able to cope with white and red meats, as well as smelly cheeses. Critics argue that they all taste the same, regardless of grape variety or origin.
I asked two independent retailers for their thoughts. Gerard Maguire of 64 Wine said “we sell it but with difficulty – it is a challenge for consumers because it runs counter to our perceptions of how we think wine should taste”.
“You have to learn to love it,” says Maguire, adding “it took me a long time to get it. Now I understand it but I don’t necessarily always like it”. However, he believes that “the Gravner wine ( see below) is spectacular; every wine lover should try it at least once”. Dave Gallagher of Green Man Wines agreed with Maguire: “It ticks away as a curiosity value, and has a following from people who want to try different things, but it will never be a mass market wine. It is too individual,” and he adds “reasonable expensive”. You don’t find many under €25, hence the surprise with the Aldi wine.
My Slovenian producer, whose winery was close to the Italian border, had probably been inspired by Josko Gravner or Stanko Radikon, the first two winemakers to reinvent orange wine in the 1990s, although the Georgians had been making it for thousands of years.
The Aldi orange wine was made in Romania by Cramele Recas, a very large, modern go-ahead winery. Made from organic grapes, fermented without added yeasts or sulphur, and bottled unfiltered and unfined.
Aldi Orange Natural Wine 2017, Romania 13%, €8.99
Made from a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, this has light apricot and orange peel fruits and pithy tannins. My bottle had a slightly off-note on the finish. Why not experiment with various foods?
From selected branches of Aldi
Tbilvino Rkatsiteli Qvevris JSC Tibilvino 2015, Kakheti Region, Georgia 12%, €16
A lightly orange wine that I have featured before but the new vintage is even better; light orange peel, toasted nuts, lively acidity and fresh pear fruits. By itself or with Khachapuri – look it up, they are delicious.
From Marks & Spencer
Craven Clairette Blanche 2016, Stellenbosch 11.5%, €28
Partially skin-fermented this was slightly cloudy, with an intriguing mix of fruits; quince, apple and orange peel with a lovely hit of stewed fruits on the finish.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie
Ribolla ‘Anfora’ 2008, Gravner 14.5%, €75-€80
Seven months in amphorae, seven years in cask; an unbelievable riot of flavours; nuts, butterscotch, sherry, dried fruits, lemon peel, peaches and so much more. Unique and fascinating.
From siyps.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie