If pumpkin spiced anything just isn’t your thing, there is another way to sip the season: try an orange wine. This category of wine has nothing to do with the fall vegetable, or with citrus fruit, or even with the color of the grapes, for that matter. They are actually produced using white grapes whose skins are left on to macerate with the juice, extracting color and tannins.
“They’re even more mysterious than the most esoteric whites or reds, and they usually come from exotic places to boot,” declares Iron Gate sommelier Daniel Runnerstrom, who adds that orange wines have aromas and flavors that you simply don’t get from other styles. “There is a steeped tea quality to them, they’re honeyed but dry, they have spices, nuttiness, dried tree fruit and even a little orange peel to them.”
All of these eclectic notes--coupled with the wine’s vibrant acidity and grippy tannins--means it can be an unexpected food partner, too.
Speaking of drinking them with food, Sebastian Zutant, co-owner of The Red Hen and All-Purpose, uses one general rule of thumb when matching them with dishes. “The lighter the color, the lighter the food,” and vice versa, says Zutant. “I like meat with these wines, so I go lighter meats with the lighter orange wines, and darker meats for the ones more amber in hue.” Runnerstrom likes to mirror how white wines from Germany or the Alsace region in France are used at the table, pairing them with pork and mustard. “It has also worked well with lamb tartare accompanied by a little Greek yogurt and carrots,” he adds.
To wrap your head around orange wine, especially if you have never tried one, Rosewood Hotel Master Sommelier Keith Goldston makes another beverage comparison. “They can sometimes remind me of a fresher version of a fino Sherry,” he notes. “Oddly enough, my most common association is with Belgian style ales, slightly fruity and bitter.” Though he’s turned on many a beer drinker to orange wines, if he’s being honest, he’s not really a fan. Think about, he says, enjoying a just-sliced apple, versus one that’s sliced and set in the fridge for a day; the former is crisp and fresh, while the latter is brown, mushy and oxidized. So while he admits orange wine can be fun, it’s more of a curiosity and a niche in the wine market rather than a growing trend. “Our ancestors figured out a long time ago that there are better ways to make wine.”
Still, Runnerstrom says, since orange wines are generally made in a 100 percent natural style, with no sulfites, filtration or fining, they can appeal to earth-conscious oenophiles. And, Zutant notes, they are just funky and different. “They have been around forever, but they didn’t always warrant their own category as they do today,” he notes. “Wine drinkers are increasingly more experimental and looking for the next ‘thing’.”
Where to try orange wine in DC:
The Red Hen:
- 2014 Forlorn Hope, Calaveras, California: “A great entry level wine. Looks like a dark rosé, but drinks like a bright fresh apricot. I’d whip up a coq au vin or veal scallopini with this one,” says Zutant. ($60/bottle)
The Grill Room:
- 2008 Movia, Lunar, Slovenia: “Super funky and extremely viscous (it absolutely requires decanting and is throwing more sediment than most 15-year-old red wines.) Lots of yellow apples and stone fruits with a bitter but refreshing finish. It really reminds me of a saison ale crossed with a sour ale; [chef] Frank [Ruta’s] gnocchi works pretty well with it,” notes Goldston. ($92/bottle)
- 2014 Orgo, Kisi, Kakheti, Georgia: “It really emphasizes dried tree fruit flavors and has a touch of cinnamon. It is my favorite orange wine. Fuller-bodied, a little bit of residual sugar, the tannin is less aggressive, and no funk,” says Runnerstrom. ($60/bottle)