In this edition of the great wine debate where friends gather on an Atlanta front porch to discuss such topics, we’re uncorking the magic that is orange wine.
But let’s start with the basics: what is it? No, this isn’t wine made from oranges.
“Orange wine refers to a style of white wine making where the grape skin is left in contact with the juice after pressing,” explained Caleb Hopkins, wine director at Atlas in Buckhead. “This is typical for red wine, but white wine skins are separated to maintain their style and color. Orange wine creates some really amazing styles and in some ways bridges the gap between red and white.”
In layman’s terms, grape variety and skin contact help create the color as well as many of those tasting notes you see on the labels. The longer the skin contact with the juice, the darker the color of the wine.
Hopkins said he likes to pair the restaurant’s orange wine selections with chef Christopher Grossman’s tasting menu as they tend to make more interesting choices beyond the typical reds or whites. And, in his opinion, make great food pairing wines, particularly with proteins like fish or lamb due to their tannins.
What the heck are tannins? Think of these as digestifs. These molecular worker bees assist in the process of breaking down proteins in your saliva that aid in digestion. It’s science.
“If you take a sip of a big tannic cabernet sauvignon just by itself, your teeth will feel like they have a film on them. That’s
because the tannins attack the protein in your saliva. Add some fat–aka a juicy steak–and viola! The same effect is achieved with an orange wine, but it is much lighter and can be a better match for a more vibrant summer dish,” Hopkins said.
While orange wines vary in color from light yellow to golden to amber to burnt orange, so, too, does the nose and tasting notes. Although, when we asked for a general consensus from wine shop owners and sommeliers on what orange wine likens to, they agreed that most orange wines drink like sherry, with some labels leaning on the funky side.
We sipped six different labels from four different shops around Atlanta; choosing bottles with price points ranging from $18.00 to $57.00. The conclusions we reached: price offered little indication of quality, and orange wine bridges the gap not only between red and white but between summer and fall. Here are our top four.
Movia Lunar – $57 (Slovenia)
This may be the healthiest wine you’ll ever drink. We’re talking no pesticides, full moon harvesting, Mother Nature and a lot of intuition. It drinks like a sherry with that funk and oxidation you expect and has a rich, golden hue with nutty, floral notes. You’ll have to decant this wine as the sediment is pretty substantial. Hop on YouTube, search for Movia Lunar decanting and watch the mesmerizing “How To” video. We suggest pairing this with rich, buttery cheeses, figs and charcuterie.
Perrine’s, 1168 Howell Mill Road NW, Atlanta. 404-254-5077, perrineswine.com.
Rami Bianco, Cos 2012 – $42 (Sicily)
Lighter in body, texture and funk than the Lunar, we found this to be the color of a deep golden chardonnay with a bit of salinity and nuttiness. It’s robust enough to hold its own alongside roasted vegetables, pork roast or even a nice fall stew.
H&F Bottle Shop, 2357 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-841-4070, hfbottleshop.com.
Nuo Vermentino di Sardegna – $17.99 (Sardinia)
The price is right and so is this wine. If you want to dip your toe into the orange wine pool, this is a great introductory bottle–although, some argue it isn’t exactly an orange due to limited skin contact. It sips much like a white and is a light golden raisin color. You can feel those tannins in the textures of this wine but it’s still light enough to drink on a warm day, and hearty enough to stand up against bold flavors on your plate.
Hop City Westside, 1000 Marietta St. NW, Atlanta. 404-350-9998, www.hopcitybeer.com.
Coenobium Bianco – $24.99 (Lazio)
What could be purer than wine made by Italian nuns? The Sisters of Monastero Suore to be exact. Nutty with notes of pear and brie, this lightly sweet orange wine is smooth and carries faint hints of acid. This is the bridge wine we were searching for as we begin to transition into cooler weather. While you could pair this with fish, pork or even a Porterhouse, we found it easily sipped all by its lonesome.
Hop City Krog Street Market, 99 Krog St. NE, Atlanta. 470-355-2534, www.hopcitybeer.com.
Where to sip orange wine around Atlanta:
By the glass and bottle:
Big Table Farms orange Pinot Gris
Domaine Jean-Yves Peron
Sadie Family Wines
Atlas, 88 West Paces Ferry Road NW, Atlanta. 404-600-6471, atlasrestaurant.com.
Coenobium Bianco, Lazio
Tokaj, Radikon, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Ribolla Gialla, Gravner, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Bellina-Alimentari, Ponce City Market, 675 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta. 404-330-9933, bellina-alimentari.com.
By the Bottle:
Cerasuolo di Vittoria, COS
Semillon, Dirty & Rowdy
Ribolla Gialla, Josko Gravner
Ribolla Gialla, Radikon
Vine & Tap, 2770 Lenox Road NE, Atlanta. 404-600-5820, vineandtapatl.com.