Orange, or amber, wine is creating a lot of buzz these days. According to Decanter magazine, the term is “increasingly used for white wines where the grapes were left in contact with their skins for days, weeks or even months. Effectively, this is a white wine made as if it were a red.”
Ranging from amber to copper in tone, the colour is derived from grape juice’s contact with grape skins, rather than oxidation. The aromatics are unique, and often evocative of autumn, with a nose of intense, dried candied fruit and nuts. Tasted blind, the wine can be mistaken for a red with its firm structure and high tannins.
Orange wine is still a niche product, made in Georgia, Italy and Slovenia. It may sound like a new fad, but its history stretches back 8,000 years. One of the earliest examples comes from Georgia, where the wine is made in a qvevri (pronounced kev-ree), a conical-shaped amphora buried in the ground.
Master of Wine Jancis Robinson says, “Georgian qvevri wines also tend to be seriously structured. The best producers achieve balance and elegance, but with poor winemaking or unripe tannins the result can be a clumsy mess akin to chewing cold tea leaves.”
With their firm tannic structure and savouriness, orange wines are versatile for food pairing. They can be difficult to find, but a few Hong Kong importers are bringing in Georgian amber wines. Here are three orange wines to try.
Binekhi Rkatsiteli Qvevri 2012 Founded in 1994, the winery has 90 hectares of vineyards throughout Georgia giving winemakers the luxury of experimenting with a diverse range of indigenous grapes and terroirs. The rkatsiteli grape, a popular variety in the former Soviet Union, is ideal for qvevri wine owing to its high acidity and thick skin, which give the wines a firm tannic structure.
Amber coloured, with notes of dried apricot, green tea and walnuts. Medium bodied, the tannins are balanced with crisp acidity. Finishing very long. HK$510
Binekhi Kisi of Qvevri 2012
Kisi is an indigenous Georgian grape variety. Almost extinct, it is slowly making a comeback and vineyard planting is on the increase. Kisi has floral, pear and citrus aromatics, and in a qvevri style, you will find notes of walnut, apricot and orange.
Deep amber-rose coloured, with red berry fruit, raisiny with orange peel. Full bodied, high fruit intensity, firm tannin, long finish. HK$530
Bagrationi Rkatsiteli Qvevri, Limited Edition 2012 The royal Bagrationi dynasty is said to have one of the longest lineages in Europe, tracing its origins to biblical times and King David of Palestine. The family’s experience in the wine industry started in 1876 when Prince Ivane Bagration of Mukhrani established vineyards and was instrumental in modernising the Georgian wine industry. With the arrival of the Red Army in 1921, the family left for Spain, returning to Georgia with independence in 1991. Prince Juan Bagration Mukhrani represents its new generation of winemakers, producing a small quantity of high-quality qvevri wine.
Extremely fragrant with dried fruit, orange peel, dried apricots and honey. Full bodied, tannic, medium acid, very intense with a long finish. HK$544
The wines are available from georgian-wine.com.hk.