The secret to good advertising, common wisdom tells us, is to create a problem people didn’t know they had and then solve it for them. Until recently, I existed in a world where wine came in three shades: red, white, and rosé. I didn’t know I was missing out on a new variety until I glimpsed a novel option on the menu of my local wine bar: orange wine.
Orange wine is, essentially, white wine made in the style of a red. Vintners start with white grapes and, instead of immediately taking the skins off, they leave them on for days, weeks, or even months of the fermentation process, lending a more complex flavor profile and darker color to the end result. It can range in hue from thick wild honey to orange Gatorade, depending on the grape variety and duration of skin contact.
For those truly in the know, orange wine isn’t exactly new—“It’s been a trend among the wine community for a few years now,” a bartender told me—but it hasn’t quite caught on with the vino-guzzling masses yet, either. I recently took up the noble task of tasting several different Willamette Valley varieties, which ranged from middling to excellent.
THE WINE: 2014 Skin Contact Chardonnay, Coopers Hall
WHERE I DRANK IT: Coopers Hall, $8 for a glass
WHAT I THOUGHT: This is not your mom’s buttery Napa Valley Chardonnay, and thank Dionysus for that. The extended skin contact gives it a solid tannic structure, meaning it drinks more like a red. The menu suggested pairing it with salty, fatty foods, and I could see why—I’d recommend this wine to anyone whose go-to cocktail is an extra-dirty martini.
THE COLOR: This was the least “orange” orange wine I tasted—it could probably pass for regular white.
WOULD I ORDER IT AGAIN?: Yes, with a cheese plate.
The wine: 2012 “L’Orange” Willamette Valley Chardonnay, Southeast Wine Collective
WHERE I DRANK IT: Oui! Wine Bar + Restaurant, $7 for a half glass
WHAT I THOUGHT: This was the most underwhelming of the orange wines I sampled, though it did finish with a little fermented funk, which is always welcome on my palette.
THE COLOR: A pleasantly rusty, reddish-orange hue.
WOULD I ORDER IT AGAIN?: No, though I did appreciate the half-glass option.
THE WINE: 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Holden Wine Company
WHERE I DRANK IT: Coopers Hall, $15 for a glass (and worth every penny)
WHAT I THOUGHT: This isn’t just the best orange wine I tasted—this is one of the best wines I’ve ever had, period. “It starts with a tropical nose and then finishes with that funkiness, so you get everything,” my server said, and she was completely right. This wine tasted the way I imagine a bee feels when it makes sweet, sweet love to a fresh spring flower.
THE COLOR: Like sun shining through a jar of honey on the longest day of the year.
WOULD I ORDER IT AGAIN?: Yes! In fact, I’m considering setting up a GoFundMe for that very purpose.
THE WINE: 2016 Ramato Pinot Gris, Goodfellow Cellars
WHERE I DRANK IT: Coopers Hall, $10 for a glass
WHAT I THOUGHT: Pinot Gris is generally crisp and clean, and this wine was no exception. But instead of the citrus or honeysuckle flavors usually associated with this grape, the Ramato was the savoriest orange wine I sampled. The skins were left on the grapes for just four days of fermentation, so it doesn’t approach the boldness of a big, tannic red—but on a simple summer day, that’s not a problem.
THE COLOR: Light copper.
WOULD I ORDER IT AGAIN?: Yes, for a picky friend who wanted an introduction to skin-contact whites.