Lighter than reds and earthier than whites, orange wines have created a buzz in trendier quarters. And winemakers reviving the ancient practice like how the “skin-fermented” wines introduce more complex flavors to the bottle.
“Pretty outgoing characteristics. Very spicy, peppery. A lot of tea flavors, too, come through,” winemaker Vinny Aliperti said, taking a break from harvest duties at Atwater Estate Vineyards on Seneca Lake. “They’re more thoughtful wines. They’re more meditative.”
Atwater is among a few wineries encircling these glacier-carved lakes that have added orange to their mix of whites and reds.
The practice dates back thousands of years, when winemakers in the Caucasus, a region located at the border of Europe and Asia, would ferment wine in buried clay jars.
It has been revitalized in recent decades by vintners in Italy, California and elsewhere looking to connect wine to its roots or to conjure new tastes from the grapes. Or both. Clay jars are optional.
Aliperti has been experimenting with skin fermenting for years, first by blending a bit into traditional chardonnays to change up the flavor and more recently with full-on orange wines.
This fall, he fermented Vignoles grapes with their skins in a stainless steel vat for a couple of weeks before pressing and then aging them in oak barrels.
Orange wines account for “far less than 1 percent” of what is handled by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, the nation’s largest distributor with about a quarter of the market, according to Eric Hemer, senior vice president and corporate director of wine education.
Hemer expects orange wines to remain a niche variety due to small-scale production, higher retail prices — up to $200 for a premium bottle — and the nature of the wine.
“It’s not a wine that’s going to appeal to the novice consumer or the mainstream wine drinker,” Hemer said. “It really takes a little bit more of, I think, a sophisticated palate.”