How old is too old with orange wine? Although Orange Wine production is a wine style that has been around forever, we still don’t know a lot about how we consume these wines. We know that orange wine or amber wine is here to stay and we know that it is VERY popular. What we don’t know is how these wines fit into our wine cellar. Should I be buying cases or one-off bottles? This month we look at the aging of Orange Wines and check in on some older vintages of Trail Estate Orange Wines.
As soon as I started writing this wine club I realized how little I know about how Orange Wines age. I’ve reached out to a couple experts and compiled anecdotal evidence from my winemaking to piece together how these wines age. I recently tried through our 2016 and 2017 ORNG and found them to have a lot of mushroom and candied orange peel notes.
There are a few older orange wines that I think are important. Radikon is a producer who makes a skin fermented wine that is later aged for 4 years prior to bottling. The other producer to note is Gravner. His wine ages for 7 years prior to bottling!
THE BASICS: HOW WINES AGE
Colour Change — A red wine becomes lighter around the edges and moves from bright red to tawny and eventually brown (usually when it’s gone too far). White wines move from greenish or slightly yellow to deep and rich yellows and golds. And what about Orange Wine? The direction the colour moves depends on where it began. Gewürztraminer or Pinot Gris aged on the skins can have quite a pink colour so you can expect these wines to develop a browner shade of pink. Lighter skinned white varieties, like Riesling, will change from the classic orange colour to a blend of gold and tawny. I found our 2016, which was on skins for a year and bottled without sulphur turned very brown, very fast once open.
Oxidation — Wines age differently depending on the amount of oxygen in the neck of the bottle or the closure used. For example, cork allows more oxygen to pass through than a screw cap. Cork can actually be quite variable, since each cork is entirely different to the next. Screw caps can be selected for different oxygen transfer rates, allowing winemakers to control the ageing of their wines more effectively. In addition, the way the wine was made affects how prone it is to oxidation.
Tannins — Over time tannins fall out. This means that the wine which had such a grippy texture now is softer and smoother.
Tertiary Flavours — This is the term we use to describe the flavours that develop as a wine ages in bottle. These are flavours like honey, mushroom, herbal notes and dried fruit. Generally speaking, as a wine ages the fresher aromatics aren’t as prominent, making way for the abovementioned tertiary notes. I noted a LOT of mushroom aromatics on our older Orange Wines.
Sugar as a Preservative — If a wine has a lot of sugar
it actually ages really well. The sugar itself acts as a preservative and protects the wine. Maybe a skin contact sweet wine is in the plans sometime in the following years.
Storage Conditions — If I can pass along anything in this wine club it is this. Unless you have good storage conditions…. Just drink your wine. Temperature fluctuations, changes in humidity, contact with light and even vibrations can change your ageing wine from good to bad.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ANN SPERLING
Ann Sperling is a big name in Canadian wine (or even out further in the world). She’s a bit of an expert when it comes to Orange wines, having made them since 2014 at Southbrook winery in Ontario. I reached out to her to get a bit more information for us:
Q: When did you make your first orange wine?
A: I made small batches of both Vidal at Southbrook and Pinot Gris at Sperling in 2014.
Q: How long do your orange wines stay on skins?
A: Vidal made with whole clusters – 21 to 28 days;
Chardonnay Musque skins only 21 days;
Pinot Gris in BC 40% whole clusters 20-25 days.
Q: How do you find orange wines age? In particular yours and those you’ve tried from Canada?
A: I’ve really only followed my own wines – my 2014’s and 2015s are still delicious, and complex… drinking well. All my orange wines are bottled on lees and made without sulphites. Brett plays a role in their character; it’s most notable within 6-8 months of fermentation, then steps back and allows the fruit and savouriness to show through. Terpenic varieties seem to make “stand-out” wines, showing unique aromatic traits due to the skin fermentation, especially when young. The added tannins in these varieties often provide more structure and
balance, avoiding oiliness. However Pinot Gris is also worthy of this process since it produces wines noted for their textural qualities. The added colour and tannin make it pretty beefy and memorable on the palate.
ASK THE EXPERT – SIMON J. WOOLF:
The author of Amber Revolution, Simon J. Woolf seemed to appear out of nowhere, but took the Orange Wine community by storm. He has become to expert and go-to-person when it comes to orange – or rather, amber wine. I am excited to share with you some comments he wrote
just for us:
“It’s rare for any wine to show its best when it’s only a year old, in my opinion. And certainly when we consider orange wines, which often have more complex textures and flavours due to the skin fermentation, ageing becomes really key. If we’re talking about the bigger, more structured styles such as Georgian qvevri wines or macerated Ribolla from the Collio or Brda, these wines demand age. It’s not for nothing that Gravner decided on a seven year release cycle for his multi-layered Ribolla and Breg.
Sadly, lack of storage space or financial stability often means that winemakers rush these kinds of wine unto the market. So then it’s up to the drinker to intervene. Most knowledgeable wine lovers wouldn’t dream of broaching serious Barolo or Bordeaux before its 10th birthday. And in many cases Orange Wines ought to be considered in the same way.
That said, the world of orange wine is hugely varied — so of course the more fruit focused, lighter textured styles are accessible much earlier. But in general, I’ve had great results ageing a huge diversity of orange wine styles for between 5-10 years. There is a lot of scaremongering that natural wines, or wines made without added sulphites (which encompasses a significant proportion of Orange Wines) can somehow not age. I would actually say the opposite. Wines made with very low intervention and very low levels of sulphites are usually at their most fragile and unstable when they are young. My anecdotal evidence suggests that they virtually always improve and stabilise after 2-4 years.
Thus far, the world of commercially available orange wines doesn’t go back a lot further than 20 years. But anyone who has enjoyed Gravner or Radikon from the late 1990s, or perhaps La Stoppa’s Ageno from 2004, will know that these are wines that can be just as compelling as other aged styles.”
SKIN CONTACT WINES
When thinking about ageing Orange Wine there are a few things to consider. How long did the wine spend on the skins — a day, 1 week, 2 weeks, months, years? What type of vessel did it live in? How much oxygen contact did it have? How much sulphur was added? If a wine is aged on skins for a long time in a vessel that allows a lot of oxygen and not treated with sulphur it can be incredibly fragile and very susceptible to any changes. Alternatively, a wine that spends a tiny amount of time on skins, has very little oxygen and has loads of sulphur added can last for a significantly longer time. Here are some different styles of Orange Wines. Some on skins for a couple weeks and some on skins for months! I hope you enjoy!
2017 Skin Fermented Gewürztraminer
Fruit was hand harvested and destemmed into vertical stainless steel tanks. Fermented on skins using natural yeast and no temperature control. Each tank was punched down gently twice daily to optimize extraction from the skins. Pressed after 16 days and aged in stainless steel until bottling.
TASTING NOTE AT THE TIME OF BOTTLING:A tangy bouquet of limonene from freshly peeled oranges woven with delicate rose blossoms. The palate is layered with citrus, ending with an extra dry finish that carries waves of apricot and orange.
TASTING NOTE IN 2022: A beautiful golden colour. Rich, yolk-heavy lemon curd with spicy rose petals and a dusty floral note on the nose. Lemon steel with delicate tannins and a mild acidity. I tasted this wine at room temperature and found the alcohol was hot on the palate. I recommend chilling to put the wine into balance.
Fruit was destemmed and fermented naturally in vertical stainless steel tanks. During fermentation the cap was punched down twice daily until it started to weaken. Tanks were then sealed tight for several months. Pressed after 8 months on skins. Aged in neutral oak for 2 months. Bottled unfined and unfiltered with a minute amount of Sulphur added.
TASTING NOTE AT THE TIME OF BOTTLING: Spiced orange and ginger on the nose. A strong acid backbone in this wine carry the tannins and citrus driven flavours through to the finish.
TASTING NOTE IN 2022: Light orange-peach coloured wine. The nose of this wine was quite muted at first and then slowly started to show very delicate aromatics. Like orange blossoms and pepper on the nose. The palate still maintains a very strong acid backbone but the flavour profile has a much weightier component to it now. The tannins are really well integrated and the wine leaves your palate with a very pleasant waxy sensation.