By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 1 September 2018
You might have noticed an unusual wine on one of the UK’s leading discounter’s shelves – calling itself an ‘Orange Wine’.
This has nothing to do with oranges – apart from the colour. It is made from grapes – in this case Chardonnay – but there is no mention of the grape on the label.
Instead of emblazoning the variety and country of origin on the front label, Aldi’s wine just states ‘Orange Wine: made naturally with no added sugar, no added yeasts and no added sulphur’.
Orange wine is a trendy new (unregulated) term for wine made leaving grape skins and seeds in contact with pressed juice, which creates an orange tinge. So basically it is like a white wine, but made like a red wine. You get colours, flavours and tannins extracted, the latter being natural antioxidant preservatives, reducing the need for sulphur.
According to Mike James, Aldi’s wine buyer, their Orange wine was made by blending two styles of wine. “50% of grapes were destemmed, lightly crushed, then macerated with full skin contact for 3 weeks at low temperatures, until fully dry. The other 50% of grapes underwent carbonic maceration with un-stemmed grapes fermented under natural pressure of CO2”.
“Both wines were blended together and lightly oak aged for 3 months in one year old French barriques. No added yeasts, sulphur or additives were used”, says James.
Aldi’s Orange Wine calls itself a ‘natural’ wine – although not all Orange wines are made naturally without additives or sulphur.
Whilst Aldi’s label states ‘no added sulphur’, according to the winemaker there was a ‘very small amount of sulphur added in grape transport to the winery to protect the grapes’. This sulphur would have disappeared during fermentation and the total is below 40mg within the accepted limit for natural wines, but Aldi are not quite correct stating ‘no added sulphur’.
The label also states the wine is suitable for vegans, with no additives derived from animal products. Although again not all orange wines are vegan-friendly – this one definitely is.
The first person to use the term ‘Orange Wine’ was actually a Scottish sommelier. David Harvey worked at Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh and Cliveden Hotel in Maidenhead. He coined the phrase whilst working a vintage with Frank Cornelissen, a natural winemaker based on Mount Etna in Sicily, back in 2004. Harvey now works in London for Raeburn Wines.
What is unusual about Aldi’s Orange wine is its price. Most Orange wines are usually over £15, painstakingly handcrafted low-intervention wines made in tiny volumes. So it is astonishing that they have managed to produce this wine ‘naturally’ in large volume. Aldi are no doubt selling it as a loss leader, at the same price they bought it.
Wines have been made naturally using extended skin contact and no additives since ancient times, so it could perhaps be the world’s oldest wine style. It has long been popular in Georgia, but in modern Europe the first wines made with extended skin contact were by Josko Gravner in Friuli in north-east Italy in 1997.
Gravner and another Italian wine pioneer Stanko Radikon, who died in 2016, have been influential in spreading the Orange and natural wine cult. Orange wines are now very popular across the Balkans in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia – and now in France, Spain, Austria, Australasia and America. They did however initially get a mixed reception from critics.
Orange wine is a bit of a marmite wine. I find that people either love them or hate them. The best Orange wine I have tasted to date was Muscat Tierra de Itata 2016 from one of Chile’s oldest wine regions, Itata Valley, made by gifted natural winemakers Leonardo Erazo and Christelle Guibert (£18.95 Henris of Edinburgh).
Aldi’s Orange wine made by Romanian winery Cramele Recas in the Banat region is a pale imitation of the best Orange wines, but it does offer an approachable introduction to the style.
Cramele Recas are well known in the UK for their affordable wines. This huge Romanian winery (25 million bottles annual production) is run by Englishman, Philip Cox, whose wife’s family own the winery – and the grapes used for this wine were organically-farmed grapes grown by Cox’s ‘neighbour’, some 70km away.
Interestingly Cox in a recent interview apparently stated he thought Orange wines he had tasted previously in Romania were horrible and he wanted to make something commercial.
When I asked Aldi why they chose Romania, they gave me a very generic reply: “Aldi’s core principle is to get the right quality product at the best price so we look for suppliers who are attuned to this and help us to achieve this goal”.
If you want to learn more about the history of Orange wine – Simon Woolf’s new book ‘Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine’ (£26.99 Amazon) is the first book on the subject. In it, Woolf reveals that the world’s first known contemporary broadsheet article about Orange wines first appeared here in this column in The Scotsman back in April 2008 – written by none other than myself!
ORANGE WINE 2017
Taste: Pungent aromas of ginger, apricots and herbs. Starts well with fresh fruity hints and a slight refreshing spritz, but becomes very dry with clawing tannins, finishing even drier. More suitable served with spicy charcuterie or a mild curry, rather than as aperitif. Due to the lack of preservatives, it is important to consume as soon as possible after purchase.
Join Rose’s Austria v Hungary Wine Tasting at The Royal Scots Club in Edinburgh on Thursday 20 September £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com