Curious Wine

Excellent with food, orange wine is a global trend on lists across Europe and the US. Guest writer and wine aficionado David Cope shares three local versions.

Despite the name, orange wine has nothing to do with the fruit you squeeze at breakfast for a dose of vitamin C. Orange wine refers to white wine made according to red-wine principles: it is produced with skin contact, a key part of the winemaking process. Traditionally, white-wine grapes are harvested, the juice pressed from the grapes and the remaining skins discarded, whereas orange wines are crushed and left to mix with the skins to gain additional character, more similar to red-wine production, and resulting in an orange hue.

Grape skins contain tannins, colour pigmentation and other compounds that give the wine flavour, texture and colour. The time the wine sits in a barrel or tank mixing with the skins determines the effect on the finished product. This can range from a few hours or days to several months. Some winemakers will only macerate a portion of their grapes for the wine, maybe 10 to 20 per cent, and for just a few days, then blend this with the rest to give it added complexity. These wines might not taste markedly different to a regular white wine, while wines made with 100 per cent of the grapes macerated on the skins for several months are a golden orange colour and have a strong tannin character.

To the unsuspecting drinker these latter wines can be a rather odd surprise, but once you wrap your head around why the wine tastes different, it opens up a whole new category of wine to enjoy. Cheers to that!

Testalonga ‘El Bandito’ Skin Contact 2015

Craig Hawkins first made this wine in 2008, which makes him the orange-wine pioneer in South Africa. Made from Swartland Chenin Blanc with a maceration time of three weeks, what was outrageous back then is in huge demand now.

Thorne & Daughters ‘Tin Soldier’ Semillon 2015

Tin Soldier is a skin-contact Semillon from a 32-year-old vineyard in Franschhoek and a young vineyard in the Swartland. A fine example of using the skins to create a unique wine, while not getting too unusual in style.

Yardstick ‘Raised by Wolves’ Muscat de Frontignan 2015

Adam Mason’s superb skin-contact wine made using grapes from a 30-year-old Muscat de Frontignan vineyard in Stellenbosch is only available in magnum format, but it makes sense when you have your first taste: 750ml would never be enough.

Portrait photograph Kristoffer Paulsen