Orange wine – The wine that has actually never seen an orange

We’ll be honest: we don’t understand this whole orange wine thing. We have tasted orange wine several times here in Hungary, in Austria and in Germany, and from amphoras, concrete eggs, barrels and tanks. It’s an exciting undertaking for winemakers; a journey of exploration to discover the direction towards traditional maceration or whole bunch fermentation. However, the outcome is usually more ‘interesting’ than truly enjoyable. 

Spin barrel

One thing is for certain, we have to readjust our senses and judgment when we taste orange wines. If you’re not open enough, you’re better off steering well clear of them. For example, if you familiarise yourself with orange wine by treating it as a white wine, along with the set of expectations that come along with that, then it’s almost certainly going to disappoint. In fact, orange wine is made by traditional red wine making methods involving long skin contact – the only difference being that the raw material is in fact not red wine grapes but white. In the spring, Zsolt Liptai showed us a ‘spin’ barrel and two bottles with orange coloured labels with a mysterious look:

“Our orange wine is made in these two barrels and that’s how it’s going to be. We’d already taken the decision to make orange wine during the harvest but we wanted it to be a surprise. We purchased two ‘spin’ barrels which are rotated on caster wheels – with a view to getting the most out of them. We harvested the two chosen grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, at perfect phenolic ripeness, then macerated them after destemming and crushing, and we kept them on the skins for four weeks. We macerated the fermenting mash in the 500-litre ‘spin’ barrels with constant turning, which is similar to the punch down method deployed in making red wine. Following pressing, we put the new wine back into the barrels and then aged it on fine lees for five months. With the continued spinning of the barrels during the period of ageing, we liberated further aroma and flavour notes and enriched the structure of the wine. The outcome is a robust wine with pronounced honey and tropical aromas on the nose and the palate. The unusual spectrum of aromas consists of walnuts, peanuts, apple mush, vanilla, linseed oil, juniper, yeast and dried orange peel. In order to minimalise the use of sulphur, we didn’t separate the wine from its fine lees, which is how it was bottled. Furthermore, in the name of naturalness, we didn’t carry out any chemical or physical stabilisation. It’s completely unfiltered, so you might find sediment coming from the lees in the bottles, and possibly with time also tartrate crystals. Neither of these are faults of the wine, but merely the result of naturalness.” Zsolt Liptai, winemaker.