My focus in this class was to present orange wines as products of extended skin contact. There are wines that are orange in color for other reasons, such as the Tondonia Rose-- this is a rose wine that has aged to an orange color-- but these wines to me are not orange; they are oxodized or aged roses. When a red wine turns garnet with age we don't change its category from "red wine" to "garnet wine" because the wine is still the same thing-- the garnet is simply an aged version of the red. The same things applies to white wines: when a white wine ages and becomes golden in hue, we don't change its category from "white wine" to "gold wine;" again, because one is simply an aged version of the other. I think the same should apply to roses. When a rose ages and turns orange in color, it is still a rose-- the orange hued rose is simply an aged version of the rose.
So, despite the fact that many other somms will categorize oxodized roses as orange, I don't; and for the purpose of this class I presented orange wines as white wines with extended skin contact. The extended skin contact-- to me-- is crucial in the definition of orange wine and the possibilities for flavor profiles within orange wines.
By categorizing orange wines in this way (i.e. leaving out the aged roses and focusing only on extended skin contact), four distinct wine categories emerge:
White - wine made from white grapes that have had little skin contact
Orange- wine made from white grapes with extended skin contact
Rose- wine made from red grapes that have had little skin contact
Red- wine made from red grapes that have had extended skin contact
Of course there are tons of exceptions (white wine made from red grapes, white-red blends of roses, viognier in cote rotie, etc.) but as an overarching concept of how orange wine fits into the grander scheme of things, I think the above simplified chart makes the common production methods easily digestible.
By presenting wine production methods and colors in this way, what emerged in the classroom was a pretty big question: If orange wines are an entire category of wine with just as much production potential as rose, red or white wine, why aren't there more of them? Why are so few being produced? This is a question I ask myself every day, and I'm pretty baffled by the fact that practically nobody is making these amazing wines. This is an entire untapped category of wine production. Seriously- imagine a world without rose? Imagine if people never experimented with little skin-contact in red wines and never created rose? Imagine the gaping hole that would be left in your lifelong sensory wine experience without rose. The lack of orange wines on the market is an equally tragic gaping hole in our wine drinking experience. We are really losing out here.
Other big questions on the table were:
With such a global demand for high quality rich and powerful red wines, wouldn't this palate also be more inclined to like a tannin-driven, rich orange wine as opposed to white wine? Is terroir transmitted or partially transmitted through skin contact, and if so, why have more white wine producers not experimented with extended skin contact as a way to enhance the emergence of terroir in their wines? With the new idea that what we perceive as minerality in wine is actually sulfides and not, in fact, trace minerals from the soil as we had all assumed/hoped, then wouldn't extended skin contact in white wines be a way to actually get real trace elements from the soil into the wine?
In the tasting portion of the class we went through:
Shinn Estate "Skin Fermented Chardonnay" 2009 (North Fork of Long Island, NY)
I chose this wine to taste first-- I wanted to lead the drinkers into orange wine with that familiar chardonnay taste, but presented in a slightly orange way. Baby steps!
Tissot "Amphore" 2009 (Jura, France)
I chose this wine to taste second- it's completely different from the Shinn and immediately showcased the diversity possible with orange wines.
Paolo Bea "Chiara" 2009 (Umbria, Italy)
I chose this wine to show third- the color is extremely orange and it's such a classic wine with a great taste.
Coenobium "Rusticum" 2009 (Lazio, Italy)
I chose this wine to show the diaspora of orange wines within Italy, and to show how Paolo Bea's influence spread to Lazio.
It ended on a very positive note- lots of people who had never tried it before were really interested in finding out where they could get more.