Written by Murissa Shalapata, local foodie and wine blogger at Okanagan Wine Collective.
Okanagan Orange Wine; What is it, where can you get it and what food can you pair it with?
In 2017 I sat overlooking a stunning Pacific Ocean view while dining at Long Beach Lodge in Tofino. I poured over the wine list to find something very different – a category of Orange Wines. It was the first time I had ever seen a section of a wine list dedicated to something other than the usual suspects; red, white and rosé.
When I looked closer almost all of the six listed wines were from the Okanagan. I felt a fraud. Hailing from the Okanagan myself, how could I have not known that local wineries were making orange wines? On top of that I found myself asking, what the hell is an orange wine? How is it made? Is it a trend like this abomination of blue wine, or something more?
I ordered the Sperling Organic Natural Amber Pinot Gris and it paired well with my pea risotto and freshly caught ling cod. The sunset view and the matching amber colour in my glass made the evening even more memorable.
Two years later, sitting in a WSET 1 class in Bar Norcino – the speakeasy hidden in the back of The Curious Café – I was presented with a chance to ask a winemaker to explain orange wine. Having spent the last 2 weeks studying for WSET 1, I felt ready to tackle any wine with confidence. Body, sweetness, acidity, flavours and colour were all now part of my vocabulary. I was able to pick out a Merlot from a Cabernet Sauvignon and describe what I was tasting, granted with some superfluous nouns and adjectives, but I’m getting better. But I couldn’t exactly describe any wine with confidence prior to my education with Wine Plus, taught by Master of Wine (one of 350 in the world) Rhys Pender.
Pender is not only a Master of Wine and WSET educator but he’s also winemaker at Little Farm Wines in the Similkameen Valley.
He was able to put it quite simply; it is taking white wine grapes, such as Riesling in the case of Little Farm’s Pied de Cuve Orange, and go through the process as if making red wine. The winemaker presses the grapes extracting the juice from the pulp and the colour from the seeds and skins. This is unlike rosé which is made from red wine grapes which lends the wine a pink or deep rose tone.
Orange wines are also natural wines, in that the winemaker has very limited control over the outcome because they receive little to no intervention. This limited intervention is part of the ancient process of orange wines that dates back 5,000+ years. Many Okanagan wineries are
also using amphoras to keep this ancient tradition going, however, stainless steel can also be used in the maturation process.
During a recent wine tour with Red Lips & Wine Sips, Tanja Martell, one of the local certified sommeliers with expertise in Okanagan wines, asked Grant Biggs, winemaker at Kitsch Wines, his thoughts on natural wines. His stance as a winemaker is that they are a fad. Because the winemaker doesn’t have as much control, it becomes harder to end with a great wine each year. It is very volatile and can be costly if the wine isn’t pleasant. It appears to be a divisive issue and, in the end, comes down to whether or not you enjoy the wine.
So, after my WSET 1 exam, to celebrate, I cracked open a bottle of Little Farm’s Pied de Cuve Orange, purchased from Cask & Barrel in West Kelowna for about $30. I swirled it in my long stemmed wine glass careful not to allow my hands to warm the lightly chilled wine. I smelled it and….I drew a blank. Had it gone bad?
Wild aromas were populating my mind; Faint apple cider vinegar. Petrol. Orange rind. Was this normal?
I couldn’t get past the apple cider vinegar. Normally, any odour of vinegar
suggests the wine is faulty. But there was something I couldn’t put my finger on.
I decided to finally sip.
The palate was much more pleasant; Apricot. Honey. Sour crab apple.
With orange wines you can expect to get the same complexity and texture as you would from a red wine. Little Farm’s orange wine was medium body and had plenty of “wine diamonds” in the bottle, those little floaty bits that might put you off from buying a bottle if you aren’t familiar.
After this tasting I headed down to my old familiar. My first. Sperling Vineyard. Another $30 later, the going rate for an Okanagan orange wine, I proceeded with procedure. Swirl, smell, sip, repeat.
Again, similar profiles emerged. Dried apricot, apple cider vinegar and a faint yet pleasant yeast odour. This time I was able to put my finger on that distinct smell and taste. Orange wines are so similar to sour beers, just without the effervescence. They are tart, sour and even a little savoury with notes of salt like an oyster or juniper berries. Some even find wood varnish as a palpable note on the palate.
My training from Wine Plus tells me that Okanagan orange wines may be more acidic and tart as compared to warmer climates like California or Australia. Self education and time will only tell. Now, with a wine this complex and shocking to a palate what foods should you pair with it?
For me, I would pair these orange wines with something equally as tart and acidic like Kimchi, in particular, the Cactus Club lettuce wraps or freshly shucked Codfathers’ oysters with citrus vinaigrette and horseradish.
Is it a fad? Having been around for over 5,000+ years I doubt it. Rhys Pender MW noted that orange wines have been making the rounds for the last 20+ years and seem to be growing in popularity. Perhaps social media, like Instagram and the desire to photograph colourful and unique food and beverages, has increased the demand for orange wines even further. Many wine regions are producing these flavourful spirits from New York to South Africa, and the Okanagan is following suit.
So how ‘bout it? Want to share a bottle of Okanagan orange wine? Have you tried an orange wine? What did you taste?