Eater contributor Catherine De Orio is a blogger, writer, entrepreneur, and TV and radio personality. In her weekly Tasting Trends piece, she scours the city for what's trending on the dining scene and where you can taste the trend. Follow her culinary adventures on Twitter @CatCalls. This week's trend: Orange wine.
To create we must take what we already know and build upon it. To achieve greatness, sometimes we need to break the rules. To progress we cannot be afraid of being misunderstood. And for the past couple decades, iconoclastic winemakers have done all of these things by challenging what constitutes 'correct' wine production methods and introducing 'orange' wines into the vintners' vernacular. Jeremy Quinn, Food & Wine's Top Sommelier of 2012 and wine director for Telegraph, Webster's Wine Bar, The Bluebird and Reno, talked about the wine that many people may not be drinking yet, but seems to be on everyone's lips.
Before dismissing this as just another marketing gimmick by winemakers, it's important to note that this style of wine has been around for over 5,000 years—originating in the Republic of Georgia, the oldest wine making region in the world. They would combine the stems, juice and fruit in a clay vessel and bury it underground to ferment for a long period of time, resulting in a rich, amber hued wine.
So what exactly is orange wine? The basics: In traditional wine-making, white wine is created when white grapes are crushed and pressed quickly, leaving very little contact between the fruit's juice and skin. In red wine, red grapes are crushed and left in contact with the skin for a prolonged period of time. This skin contact is where the juice procures its color and much of its flavor, texture and structure. Some mistakenly think it is a rosé. Quinn explains, "It's really an inverse of a rosé which is red grapes with little skin contact whereas orange wine is white grapes with lots of skin contact." This prolonged maceration (steeping of the skins in the fruit's juice) gives the wine its orangey hue, hence the designation "orange" wine.
Color, however, isn't the only thing affected by these atypical white wine production practices. For orange wine, "the juice of white grapes is left in contact with the skin for a long period of time (ranging anywhere from five to eight hours, to eight months), picking up color from the skin and tannins, giving a higher note of astringency on the palate." explains Quinn. So essentially this method yields an end product with a flavor profile closer to a white, but textural and structural characteristics more like that of a red. You can drink an orange wine on its own, but similar to certain reds, it comes alive with food. "It does best when paired with bold and exotic flavors," says Quinn. "It matches well with foods with a strong umami character." He recommends the wine be served at room temperature and decanted, not only to allow the sediment of this rustic wine to settle, but also because it provides "ocular pleasure, which is one of the pleasures of wine."
Despite the fact it may never be a huge market share since it is artisanal and difficult to make, Quinn says it is here to stay. "I think it is more valorizing because it is so rare," says Quinn. He is hopeful it will become a recognized category like rosé.
This style of wine has yet to be deemed an official category and thus some places will not be familiar with the designation orange wine. It will often be listed in the white category. The majority of orange wines will be from Italy or Slovenia (although winemakers in Croatia, France and even California are beginning to offer this style wine in their portfolios). Here are the places in the city to try it:
Telegraph: Wine director Jeremy Quinn has a designated orange wine section on the menu. There are usually eight to ten labels by the bottle and at least one by the glass. He recommends bolder and exotic flavors to pair with orange wine—think pheasant with balsamic reduction, sun-dried tomatoes, Indian flavors tamarind and cumin.
2601 N Milwaukee Avenue | 773.292.9463
Webster's Wine Bar: This nearly 20-year-old neighborhood gem's wine list, curated by wine director Jeremy Quinn, usually has about four labels of orange wine by the bottle on offer.
1480 W. Webster | 773.868.0608
Sepia: Wine director Arthur Hon offers four labels of orange-style wines by the bottle. They can be found on the wine list after Italy in the white wine by the bottle section. He recommends pairing these wines with dishes such as sea scallops with parsnips, sage and curry granola; laminated skate wing with sweet potato, miso and black garlic gnocchi; and the Berkshire pork tenderloin and cheek with hoisin and tea-soaked prunes.
123 N Jefferson Street | 312.441.1920
Sixteen at the Trump Hotel Chicago: The darling of the tasting menu set, this Michelin-starred restaurant has an equally-stellar wine list which features three orange wines, all by the bottle, with one included in the pairing for the winter's day tasting menu. Sixteen's restaurant director Damian Reusch likes to pair orange wines with dishes that show a nutty component, balanced with the flavors of more earthy and acidic components: Onion, radish, and ginger. A richer element balances out the pairing, like a dish built around a rich, fatty white fish.
401 N Wabash Avenue | 312.588.8030
The Boarding House: This new River North hotspot offers three orange wines by the bottle on its extensive wine list. Owner and master sommelier, Alpana Singh, categorizes this style wine as 'macerated wines' on her list. She notes, "traditionally, orange wines, being a tannic white, pair well with anything that typically calls for red." She recommends pairing the orange wines with the chicken three ways for two or the Bavarian sausage with apple-braised cabbage—the smokiness compliments the nutty finish.
720 N Wells Street | 312.280.0720
Next: Should you be persistent (or lucky) enough to get tickets to The Hunt, the new menu at the rotating-theme restaurant, you will be treated to an earthy, orange wine from Slovenia. 953 W Fulton Market | 312.226.0858
Catherine De Orio dishes on all things cuisine, cocktail and cosmopolitan for editorial and broadcast outlets locally and nationally. You can follow her on twitter @CatCalls