Ever Had Orange Wine? Sooner or Later, You Will.

Orange wine is trending

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By David Hammond

Orange wine is not wine made from orange juice; it's wine made from white grapes that are crushed and allowed to sit, juice and skins together, for upwards of several months.

Wine menus in Chicago wine bars – places like Telegraph and Tasting Room – now list white, red and orange wines, and last week I attended a dinner centered around orange wine at Spiaggia, one of Chicago's premier Italian restaurants.

Clearly, orange wine is trending.

Which is not to say I, personally, like orange wine that much.

Orange wine is very challenging.  Some of it is aged in amphorae, old clay jugs that have been in use since B.C. The result is sometimes a wine that is slightly oxidized, and oxidation is usually considered a flaw. With orange wine, however, as with the vin jaune of France's Jura region, oxidation is sometimes intended and the result is a slightly sherry-like sip that can taste like a mistake but is actually part of the planned flavor profile.

At the Spiaggia dinner, chef Sarah "Top Chef, Texas" Gruenberg explained that "the orange wine was the muse" when she was constructing the menu. Usually, chefs create dishes and then find a wine to go with them; for this dinner, sommelier Jason Carlen selected the orange wines and then Gruenberg created dishes to go with them.

All the wines we tasted were from Friuli, and orange wines tend to be produced in northern Italy, Slovenia, Yugoslavia and elsewhere on the Dalmatian Coast.

We had several orange wines, but instead of running through them all, I'll just focus on the one that was probably the best and also the most typical orange wine: Vodopivec.  This wine was created by crushing white grapes and then letting the juice and skins sit in clay amphorae for three years (!). The result is a wine that our sommelier Jason Carlen described as "all about the aromatics, with dynamic tannic structure and salinity."  Simply stated, the Vodopivec smelled great, was full in the mouth, and was good with food.

We had this wine with a rabbit loin sprinkled with salty pancetta, which is the kind of dish that might be too much for most whites, almost not powerful enough to stand up to stronger reds, but just right for orange wine.

I called a number of liquor stores in areas surrounding Oak Park to see if they carried orange wines, and of the two local major wine outlets, the salespeople I spoke with were not even sure what orange wine was. Suffice it to say, orange wine is starting to gain traction in Chicago, so it should be available around our village sometime late next year or early 2014.

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