Is orange the new white?

With Aldi leading the charge, orange wines could be set for a baptism of fire in the UK, finds Sonya Hook

With great fanfare last month, Brits were treated to the news that Aldi was to stock its first orange wine – but could this help to catapult this niche style into the mainstream or could it damage its image?

Charlie Brown is co-owner of retailer Vino Vero in Leigh-on-Sea, which has stocked five orange wines of different hues and intensity for the past four years.

She says: “People ask about them a lot – we have had an orange wine on our drink-in menu and we have a lot of people wanting to try it by the glass. We have noticed an increase in popularity over the past 18 months since they have been getting more media coverage. Most people don’t know what they are but many ask, which shows an interest in the category.

“They definitely are an acquired taste but many things that are an acquired taste have the opportunity to become mainstream. What’s more likely to affect this is the fact that orange wines tend to be made in small production by small wineries so their distribution will continue to be via independent sources.”

The listing with Aldi generated a lot of discussion in the wine trade, but, as Brown points out, the retailer only acquired 12,500 bottles, which is “a tiny amount of wine for such a large supermarket chain”.

And she adds that Aldi’s £6 price point could be a concern for independent retailers.

“Aldi is selling its orange wine basically at cost price, which can be really damaging for independent retailers. Consumers see an orange wine at £6 and then they see one in our shop at £15 to £23 and think we’re taking too much margin and the wine isn’t competitively priced. They don’t always realise there will be a difference in quality between, say, our £20 orange wine and the one in Aldi.”

But Sarah Abbott MW doesn’t think retailers should worry about the price differences.

She says: “I think it reflects that this new category of wine is becoming established. Every other major wine retails at prices from the everyday to the ultra-premium. Why shouldn’t orange wine? And I am glad that consumers can try what is a newsworthy and fashionable trend at an accessible price.”

The wine is so-called orange because of the colour that emerges when white grapes are used to produce a wine in an unconventional way.

Basically, white grapes are treated in the manner normally reserved for red grapes, whereby the skins are not removed after the grapes are pressed, so the must is fermented in contact with the skins.

Orange wine is more commonly found in countries that have very old traditions, such as Georgia, but other countries are now experimenting more with this style.

To better understand what orange wine – or amber wine – actually is, DRN caught up with Abbott, who has worked with wineries all over the world, including in Georgia.

“The flavour is hugely varied,” she says. “Amber wines can express the nuance of grape, place and maker just as diversely as any other wine category. In a sense they have the aromatic quality and freshness of a white and the texture and grip of a red. But they definitely have their own character, which brings a new dimension to wine. The fruit character is different, for example, to a conventional white. Depending on the grape and origin, you will find saffron, dried marigold, turmeric, bay leaf, dried herbs, sour-dough (in a good way) and salinity.

“Amber wines made from aromatic grapes also keep the top notes from those grapes, so Georgian Amber Mtsvane keeps the peachy and floral notes of that grape. And the aromatic varieties of Austria, Slovenia and Germany also make this perfumed style. Orange wines come alive with food. In Georgian tradition, every type of dish is served at once – cheese, salads, meats, herbs. It is telling that orange wine has its contemporary renaissance in Georgia.

“These wines are so versatile. Japan is the biggest export market for premium orange wine from Georgia because it pairs so well with sushi.”

It is still quite niche, so how easy is it for retailers to source orange wine, and what can they do to educate consumers about it?

“I have spoken to three importers who have selected new Georgian producers and all of them have led with amber wines,” says Abbott. “Theatre of Wine has just added six Georgian wines, three of which are orange. Beyond Georgia, you see Orange wine from Austria, Germany, Spain, Australia, Italy, Slovenia and South Africa on restaurant lists, and increasingly in independent retailers. Like all new, niche, high quality trends, it has started with the somms.

“When people first try orange it can freak them out a bit. Indies can add a lot of value through offering that moment of discovery and adventure. I have hosted numerous tastings of these wines for retailers, and they have all been vibrant, engaging events.”

Abbott also confirms that more young producers are experimenting in this area, which is likely to result in more styles of orange wine being available to the UK market in the future.

She notes: “In Soave for example, there are some producers doing really interesting things with skin-contact Garganega. But a little bit of skin contact has always been one of the traditional options there. So it is a logical and authentic exploration. In Japan, several young winemakers are making skin-contact Koshu, with great results. Again, this is a winemaking decision of integrity, because Koshi has famously thick skins, and rather than treating that characteristic as a problem, these young innovators are deciding to work with it.

“I think we will see more and more orange wine, being made all over the world.” 

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