Since I’ve started this blog, no fewer than 3 people a week ask me about orange wine, so here it is. Below you’ll find answers to all your pressing questions about orange wine like what is it? how is it made? and what orange wines you should try. I’m starting with Greek orange wine because those are the ones I’ve tried and can speak most confidently about. Please leave a comment with orange wines you’re loving and where you are located so that other readers can find them.
What is Orange Wine?
Orange wine is wine made from white grapes that spend an extended period of time in contact with their grape skins. In modern wine making, white grapes are crushed and pressed away from their skins immediately so no color is imparted on the wine. With skin contact and oxidation, the wine takes on an amber/orange hue and thus is called orange wine. No, there are no actual oranges in orange wine.
Is Orange Wine Natural Wine?
Orange wines, generally, are natural wines. However, not all orange wine is natural wine and not all natural wine is orange wine. What does that mean? Natural wine makers adhere to a strict protocol with how they grow grapes and make wine. Natural wine makers have a hands-off approach to wine making and want the wines to do their thing on their own. It’s a philosophical approach, if not a lifestyle, for these wine makers. They are generally biodynamic, or at the very least organic. (In very laymen terms, biodynamic is to organic what vegan is to vegetarian).
Natural wines are made with minimum intervention. Wine makers add little to no sulfites, don’t use cultured yeast strains, and don’t use additives in their wines. They don’t use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides in their vineyards. Now, it is my personal opinion that there is nothing wrong with most of these. Don’t run off and only drink natural wines thinking non-natural wines are evil. Natural winemakers believe the true essence of the wine can only be achieved with as little human intervention as possible. Does that make sense?
Why is Orange Wine Trendy?
Funny thing about Greek orange wine is that it’s not necessarily trendy, but more of a way things were before modern wine making took over. Greece has been a wine making country for 4000 years. It may be cool now to ferment wine in amphora but Greeks have been doing that for millennia. The modern Greek wine industry is no older than 50 years old. Orange wine and natural wine was just wine to the Greeks before that.
Greece is a relatively poor country. Wine making equipment is very expensive so it was impossible for the village winemaker to have more than a cement vat to produce their wines. White grapes could not be pressed immediately because a fancy wine press simply didn’t exist. Best case was an old hand-pumped press that took forever. In most cases though, a few planks of wood on top of the must with a spout at the bottom of the vat was as good as it got. Round-up type chemicals didn’t exist either so vineyards could only be organic. These open cement vats exposed the wines to plenty of oxidation. Just like with an apple that’s been cut, white wine also starts to turn an amber hue as it’s exposed to oxygen. There was no place to buy manufactured yeast, it was always whatever was floating around in the air.
My 2 Cents about Natural Wine
Natural wine and by extension, orange wine, can be wonderful if the wine maker truly lives the philosophy. My issue is with wine makers that are jumping on the trend and simply not adding sulfites to their wine and saying, “Oh look, I made a natural wine!” Well, guess what, sulfites prevent a wine from going bad and if you don’t know what you’re doing, congratulations, you just made vinegar. Making natural wine well is really difficult. Depending on wild yeast is a crapshoot. Not using sulfites is a giant risk, especially if you plan on exporting the wines. Successful natural wine makers live and breathe what they do. Of course, I’m in favor of making good environmental choices in wine making, but ultimately, I care that a wine tastes good and doesn’t spoil.
What Does Orange Wine Taste Like?
Orange wines can be funky as hell. If you’re not down with some funk, orange wines are not for you. They aren’t pretty, clean, pristine wines. They are often cloudy, randomly effervescent, and stink like fruity feet. Orange wines are nutty, like literally, because of oxidation, they often smell like roasted almonds and toasted hazelnuts. Because of the skin contact, orange wines are also tannic. You’ll often get fruit flavors that are the dried or marmalade versions of themselves. For example, not fresh apricots but apricot jam, not flowers but potpourri. Orange wines are great if you want to try something new and dip your toes into natural wines and see if they are for you. But please, for the love of goddess, don’t become a soap-box natural wine drinker, those people are insufferable.
Greek Orange Wines to Check Out
I’ve compiled a small list of Greek orange wine made by producers who are not trend-chasers but believe in the philosophy of natural wine.
Domaine Glinavos Paleokerisio
I’ll start with the first Greek orange wine I ever saw back in 2010. Heck, I think it was the first orange wine of any kind I had ever seen. The odd shaped bottle, the weird color, and wtf is this thing sparkling? sent me down a path to figure out what on earth Greek orange wine was all about.
Domaine Glinavos Paleokerisio is made of two rare grapes; Debina, a white grape, and a tiny amount of Vlahiko, a red grape. Domaine Glinavos is located in Ioannina, Greece where this style of wine had a long and healthy history before modern winemaking took favor. In fact, paleokerisio loosely translates to “like old times”. The wine is a semi-sparkling, semi-sweet wine with bright pumpkin hues. Glinavos Paleokerisio gets its sparkle from the ancestral method of sparkling wine, or pet nat, which means it was bottled halfway through the first fermentation. This wasn’t always done on purpose. Since it’s unfiltered, the yeast is still present and starts eating up the sugar again once the weather warms up in the spring. The bubbles get trapped inside the bottle causes a slight fizz.
What does Domaine Glinavos Paleokerisio smell like?
It smells like honeycrisp apple cider, buttered rum, guava paste, clove cigarettes, and baking spices. There are herbal notes, nutty notes, definitely some funk, but really pleasant apricot and bitter orange smells as well. Glinavos Paleokerisio is one of the most unique wines you’ll ever try.
Agelakis Winery Takimi Vidiano 2017
Agelakis Winery is located in Thrapsano, Crete; an ancient village famous for its pottery. It is from this village that most of the clay dating back to the Minoans was formed into pottery and amphora. It was only natural for the family-owned winery to make an orange wine in the traditional method of their ancestors. The Takimi is an experimental wine for Agelakis Winery that was perfectly executed and the results are beyond all expectations.
Agelakis Winery made Takimi from 100% Vidiano grapes. The wine is fermented with its skins and aged in amphora for 12 months. The result is an absolutely gorgeous orange wine. The color is copper with bronze highlights. The wine is very aromatic with apricot, honey, and bergamot notes. The flavor is what really is striking. The Takimi Vidiano tastes like cinnamon with a lingering persimmon finish. The wine is round and syrupy yet dry; a fascinating juxtaposition. This is easily my favorite Greek orange wine.
Tatsis Winery Roditis
I had the pleasure of visiting Tatsis Winery in Goumenissa, Greece in 2019. Periklis Tatsis was a gracious host. Chatting with him about grape growing and wine making is pretty special. He’s a rough and tumble guy who cares for his vineyards like each grape is a porcelain egg. Tatsis Winery is completely biodynamic. They plant horns in the vineyards, harvest by the moon, and all that jazz. All their wines are natural.
Tatsis Winery‘s orange wine is made from the pink-skinned grape variety Roditis. The juice is left with the skins for 30 days and barrel aged for 12 months. The wine is unfiltered and the color is a dark citrine. The wine smells of toasted pecans, dried apricots, and candied lemon rind. Tatsis Roditis is brightly acidic with substantial tannins. The wine simply sings.
Troupis Winery Hoof & Lur
Troupis Winery is located in Mantineia, the high plateau of the Peloponnese. Mantineia is a Protected Geographic Indication for the pink-skinned grape Moschofilero. While Troupis makes an excellent modern expression of Moschofilero, the Hoof & Lur orange Moschofilero is rather special. The winemaker, Yiannis Troupis, longed to make a Moschofilero like his grandfather used to make, before Moschofilero got so commercially pretty.
He remembered the apricot-colored Moschofileros of the past and decided to honor the traditional style. Troupis makes the Hoof & Lur with extended skin contact and wild yeast fermentation. The result is a richly aromatic wine that smells like dried roses, peach jam, and honey. The wine is still zesty but with much more complexity.
Tetramythos Winery Roditis
Tetramythos Winery is an organic winery located halfway between Corinth and Patra on the very northern part of the Peloponnese. They make several different natural wines in their “Naturε” line. Like a few other Greek orange wine makers, one of their orange wines is made from the pink-skinned grape Roditis.
Tetramythos Winery makes the Roditis Orange Nature from very old vines in the area of Patras, Greece. The grapes are fermented with their skins for 21 days in amphora pots then aged in oak barrels for 6 months. The wine has a gorgeous amber color. The wine retains its citrusy aromatics with some caramel smells and a few herbal notes like pepper and eucalyptus. The acidity is banging! This is a very food-friendly wine.
Economou Thrapsathiri 2012
I had the pleasure of meeting Giannis Economou in the summer of 2019. He is by far one of the most interesting humans on the planet. There’s a lot of lore around him and I can confirm; once you meet Giannis Economou you will never look at wine the same way again. It was a transformative experience and even chatting with him for this article left me questioning everything I ever knew about wine. Economou (Οικονομου in Greek so that’s why you may also see it spelled Oikonomou) is a magician. There’s no other explanation of how his wine making defies logic. I digress, onto the wine.
Economou Thrapsathiri is a butterscotch color not so much from skin contact (skin contact is mere hours) but because of oxidation. Economou will release the 2012 in March 2021. But Anna Maria, you said that white wines only stay fresh for 2-3 years! I told you he was a magician. Thrapsathiri is a rare Cretan white grape which clearly has immense ageing potential. The 2012 Economou Thrapsathiri smells like honey, beeswax, and toasted hazelnuts . It is not as tannic as other orange wines but does get a good amount of structure from acidity and barrel ageing.
Sclavos Winery Metagitnion
Sclavos Winery is located on the Ionian island of Kefalonia. All their wines are very interesting and a nice reset to the palate. Their vines are all ungrafted, meaning that they are on their original rootstock. The winery follows biodynamic farming principles and this philosophy continues to their natural wine making approach. They ferment with wild yeasts and the wines are not filtered or fined.
The Metagitnion is made from the 100 year old vines of the white grape Goustolidi. Goustolidi is another super rare Greek variety which is sometimes called Vostylidi, you know, just to confuse matters further. This wine spends a solid year is giant oak barrels. The result is an yellow-orange wine with spectacular aromas of apricot, honey, citrus zest. The slight sweetness helps to balance the acidity and tannins.
Domaine Ligas Kydonitsa
So, remember I said don’t buy a wine based on its label? I make the exception for Domaine Ligas. The three wines of their barrique line feature legendary Greek women. The Kydonitsa has Katina Paxinou who was the first Greek actor to win an Oscar for her role in For Whom The Bell Tolls. I just adore this tribute and these labels. Now on to the wine!
Kydonitsa is destined to become one of the best Greek grapes. It is heavenly and so promising. It gets its name because it smells so much like quince which in Greek is kydoni. Domaine Ligas Kydonitsa is a golden amber color. Believe it or not this Greek orange wine smells like, you guessed it, oranges! Plenty of citrus fruit on the nose and the unmistakable smell of quince paste. The wine spends a good amount of time in wood and has perfumed spiciness.
Anatolikos Winery Natural Orange Wine
Anatolikos Winery is located in the region of Thrace in northern Greece. It is relatively young winery planting grapes on ancient soils. Anatolikos follow biodynamic farming for their estate wines. Their orange wine is a blend of Assyrtiko and Malagousia. The grapes are fermented together with their skins in amphora for 9 months. The winery uses native yeasts and does not add any sulfites. (It should be noted that sulfites do occur naturally during fermentation). The wine is a hazy marigold color with intense aromas of pears, Earl Grey tea, and orange marmalade. The acidity from the Assyrtiko and the suppleness of Malagousia’s mouthfeel remain true to the varieties on the palate.
Have you ever had an orange wine before? Are you tempted to try one now? What are your favorite Greek orange wines or natural wines? Tell me in the comments below.