Wait, Orange Wine? The Fourth Wine Color

"In truth, it's a white wine, but it's produced with the extended skin contact characteristic of red wines, which produces deeper, more intense colors."


[Flickr: Angela Rutherford]

I always thought wine came in exactly three "colors." Red, white, and rose. And then I learned about orange wines, apparently, a category gaining favor among some younger, edgier sommeliers. They can be devilishly difficult to track down, but they are worth the effort.

I tried asking for some at a boutique wine store. "Do you mean wines made with oranges, or orange-colored wines?" the clerk replied, puzzled. The latter, please. "Oh, sorry, we don't have any. But let me know if you find some, I'd love to try it." Gee, thanks.

I tried asking at the Tangled Vine wine bar, where the general manager had gushed about orange wines to me, and featuring the only wine list I know of with a section devoted to orange wines. Can I try a glass, please? "Sorry, we're only selling them by the bottle."

Orange Wine List.jpg

The orange wine section on the Tangled Vine's wine list [Photograph: The Tangled Vine]

Next up: a small but tried-and-true wine shop. And again, went through the made-with-oranges-or-orange-wine routine with the owner. But when I uttered the word "oxidized," I saw the light bulb go on.

"Do you mean yellow wines from the Jura region of France?" he asked. No, but good to know that I can add them to my wine rainbow spectrum. (I later learned some orange wines do indeed come from Jura, so he was pretty darn close.)

"Maybe the category isn't called orange wines," he mused. "Maybe that's just the phrase that's caught on, which is why you're having trouble finding them."

He was right.

In truth, it's a white wine, but it's produced with the extended skin contact characteristic of red wines, which produces deeper, more intense colors. The wine also may be aged and fermented in the open air, so the wine partly oxidizes, which creates the orangey-amber color—very different from the cheerful pinkish tone of a rose. In addition, many are deliberately left in their un-clarified, cloudy state. If you enjoy a deeper, wine-geek-y explanation, here's a good one.

I went back to my desk and wondered what I was going to write about this week, since clearly it wasn't going to be orange wine. And then Magdalena Spirydowicz, PR impresario for The Tangled Vine (and other New York restaurants and bars), who had witnessed my earlier frustration, took pity and whispered in my ear (by email), "Ma Peche [Ed. note: Also known as "Momofuku Midtown."] is pouring The Prince in His Caves by the glass." So off I went, and I'm glad I did.

The 2008 California wine, made by Scholium Project, is named for a romantic story about an Italian prince/vintner who destroyed his vineyard when he became too old to make his wines, and couldn't bear the thought of anyone else doing it.

So was it worth hunting down, even at $17 a glass? Yes. The color was a distinct cloudy orange-amber. At first, the scent reminded me of orange and burnt lemon peel, and a sweetness that reminded me of birch beer. It had a full, rounded taste, a little like a cream sherry, but with a surprisingly dry, crisp finish.

Orange wines are notoriously hard to pair; when I asked, the bartender suggested a spicy-sweet fried cauliflower dish, which worked nicely. The wine stood up well to the food, and I thought I also detected a faint cardamom scent from the wine, and a deeper, mellower flavor that made me think of bourbon. In short, weird but worth it.

And to top it all off—this morning I learned that The Tangled Vine is now pouring one of their orange wines by the glass (Domaine André et Mireille Tissot 2002 from Jura, France). I like to think this is at least in part my doing, but it's possible that I'm just viewing the world through orange-tinted glasses today.

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