Though the tradition of making skin-contact white wines is an ancient one, its modern resurgence is fairly new. Just two decades ago, “orange wine” (shorthand for wines made via skin maceration), was still a fringe curiosity. The wines that had been made this way, in clay pots in the Republic of Georgia for hundreds of years, were barely part of modern wine’s consciousness; the band of Slovenian and Friulian winemakers who kicked off the style’s modern renaissance were just getting warmed up. Fast-forward, and here we are, awash in orange—from Greece to the Columbia Gorge, Le Marche to Maryland. In 2018, we wagered that we were amid the third wave of orange wine (at least). Now there is evidence to suggest its peak is still far off.
To wit, each new vintage brings a new set of orange wines to market, ever expanding our understanding of the category and its promise. To kick off orange wine season (at least for us) 2020, we asked five sommeliers and retailers to pick their go-to right now. Here’s what they had to say.
Zwann Grays | Olmsted, Brooklyn
Gotsa Family Wines Chinuri Kartli Georgia 2017
In March 2019, Olmsted hosted five women making wine in Georgia. Two months later, I was on a plane to Georgia. They have a natural wine fair called Zero Compromise that features all the natural and natural-leaning producers in the country. There in Tbilisi is where I met Beka Gotsadze, the primary winemaker at Gotsa. This wine, from the Chinuri grape, ferments in the traditional clay qvevri vessel and macerates on the skins for six months.
Chinuri is a high-acid variety, used for both still and sparkling wines. Gotsa stood out just for its tradition. It’s first, and I think all the fun happens when you can play around with the rules of skin-contact wines from the beginning of where it started. It’s evolved in so many ways but def wanna get people back to its beginning.
Marie Cheslik | Slik Wines, Chicago
Forlorn Hope Queen of the Sierra Amber Wine 2019
The name of the winery itself, Forlorn Hope, may conjure images of soldiers valiantly charging to the front lines, but hey, just because you’re sitting at home doesn’t mean you can’t dream big. This winemaking team has been hustling in the Sierra Foothills of California since 2005, and their newest cuvée, the “Queen of the Sierra,” is the level of fun I need in my life right now. A mix of verdelho, muscat, chardonnay and a handful of other grapes, this wine is a wonderful balance of fruit, earth, elegance and intrigue. A great orange wine for first-timers, it’s the kind of bottle I can bring to Thanksgiving and my mom won’t be mad at me for bringing “something weird” to the holidays. Love you, Mom!
Ashley Santoro | Leisir Wine and L’itos, NYC
Costador Terroirs Mediterranis Metamorphika Brisat 2019
With orange wine, I generally gravitate towards a little bit more of a savory vibe. While there’s a herbaceous note to the Metamorphika, it’s also approachable and incredibly balanced. As we cozy into the fall/winter months, this is your go-to.
Janeen Jason | Vinoteca, Atlanta
Division L’Orange Willamette Valley 2019
My favorite orange wine of this year is the Division L’Orange 2019 from Willamette Valley, Oregon. Müller thurgau, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and carbonic chardonnay fermented on the skins for three weeks. I’m not the biggest fan of orange wines because they can tend to focus more on color than character [but] Tom and Kate did a great job of making sure their orange had expressive fruit and secondary florals.
Tira Johnson | Terroir Tribeca, NYC
Troupis Hoof & Lur 2019
My favorite orange wine of the season is the Troupis Hoof & Lur. It’s a wild-ferment, skin-contact moschofilero from Mantinia, which is located high in the mountains of central Peloponnese in southern Greece. Moschofilero is a pink-skinned aromatic grape, so this wine has a gorgeous amber color (think Ramato!) with an enticing floral nose, as well as lots of juicy blood orange, hibiscus and apricot. The texture from the terra cotta aging, lending fresh acidity, makes it perfect for multiple pairings. This is what I want to drink after work on a Tuesday night or to bring to Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, this is an orange wine your family will like!