Orange is the new white

Just last year there was an article that appeared in this newspaper about orange wine; in that case a kind of wine made from local oranges here in the Algarve. But the term orange wine actually refers to a growing trend amongst high-quality winemakers around the world, referring to white wine made in the same way as red, i.e. macerated, fermented and, in some cases, aged in contact with the skins, causing the wine to take on an orange or amber hue.

The trend is only just starting to take off in Portugal but is already well established in Italy, Austria and Germany, having spread from Georgia and parts of eastern Europe where it has long been a tradition.

There is a lot more to orange wine, however, than colour, as the wine becomes more unctuous, develops different flavours and, perhaps most noticeably, has evident tannins.

The term used here in Portugal is “curtimenta” and there have been some wines made using the method only partially, such as Anselmo Mendes’ Alvarinho Curtimenta. In this case, the must was left in contact with the skins for only part of the fermentation, creating a more easy-drinking and approachable wine that cannot be classified as orange – it is however excellent.

As for real orange wine, there are only a few being produced in Portugal at the moment and one of them is made right in the Algarve at Quinta dos Vales near Estombar from the Viognier grape. The first vintage of Dialog Secretum 2015 is already sold out and the 2016 will soon be released. I tried the 2015 shortly after it was launched last year and was impressed by the white fruit and nutty aromas along with the long dry finish. It was difficult to approach when first opened but benefited from decanting.

Just this weekend, I picked up a bottle of Casa da Passarella’s version of orange wine from the Dão region, also a 2015. Carrying the producer’s premium “O Fugitivo” label and a bright orange cart on the label, the wine is easy to spot, although not so easy on the pocket at around €30 in Apolónia.

The wine is an intense amber colour and needs to be decanted a few hours before serving, only slightly chilled at around 12ºC. The nose is subtle revealing complex notes of dry flowers with great volume in the mouth and a firm tannic structure. 

These are the only two orange wines I have so far tried and I am certainly no expert on the matter, but I am keen to taste more.

If I can make one observation based on these two, it is that much like red wine, especially when produced with minimum intervention in the cellar (as is the case with these two producers), they do need time and will benefit from a good few years of bottle-ageing.

By Patrick Stuart
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