A romanticised category that has seen a resurgence among both London venues and discerning wine drinkers, skin contact white wines – widely referred to as orange, or sometimes amber, due to their often deep honey tones – have been around for centuries, originating in Georgia more than 5,000 years ago where they still follow the same traditional method and ferment the grape juice and skins in large clay jars known as Qvevri. With many of the revered wines still coming from their homeland, there are also fantastic examples coming from Slovenia, northern Italy, Sicily and Spain to seek out.
Despite the orange moniker, their appearance can vary widely – depending on grape varieties used, time left with the skins, and time, if any, in barrel – from pale golden through to burnt orange and rust, clear through to very cloudy, covering all the shades of a beautiful Autumn palate.
Although it may have a look of sweet nectar, generally speaking these wines can be tart and sometimes sour, earthy and nutty, they have high tannins like a red wine, and can certainly be a bit of a marmite experience. Whatever your thoughts it is apparent that this style of winemaking ensures the end result has a very true reflection of the terroir and as such a complex layering of flavours. The skin contact method also tends to go hand in hand with natural winemaking, with less cleaning, clarifying and toying to mould the flavour into something new.
Regardless of the renaissance orange wines are still fairly rare, but if you know where to look you’ll be able to try a range of styles and no doubt find at least one that hits the spot and piques your interest further…
Head to Spiritland…
If you’ve not already been to newly opened Spiritland in Kings Cross for the unbelievable sound system and fantastic music programme, then get there for the wine list – a selection of really interesting wines including two contrasting skin contact whites.
Baglio Bianco, Cataratto, Sicily, 2014. £6 by the glass.
A great starting point to explore orange wines, this cloudy pale orange organic wine from western Sicily has seen 3 days skin maceration and makes a great fresh aperitif that shows excellent structure. It’s a good balance of fruity grape and savoury and is deliciously quaffable with a side plate of Gildas.
El Carro Moscatel, Bernabe Navarro, Alicante, 2014. £7 by the glass.
From 30-year-old, dry-grown Moscatel planted on sand on original rootstocks right by the sea, it’s lighter in colour although this one packs much more of a unique tangy punch with its light grapey purity and tart, almost sour flavour profile.
Head to Vinoteca…
Chenin Blanc ‘Smiley NV’, Silwervis, Swartland, South Africa. £6.70 by the glass.
A unique and exciting wine made from a blend of four vintages spanning 2013-2016 – one of which being skin contact, but also including one aged under a layer of flor (the same process as sherry) and some ‘madeirised’ sun heated wine – with natural low-intervention technique and aged 30% in a concrete egg. The multi-faceted craft of this wine delivers something spectacular – it’s rich and weighty but perfectly balanced, has a savoury nutty side but also traces of apricots and peaches and a creamy finish. Complex and utterly delicious.
Enjoyed at Vinoteca where it features both on the wine list but also in the merchant side if you’d like to grab a bottle to take away.
Head to Bedales…
Buondonno, Bianco Alla Marta 2014, Tuscany, Italy. £9.15 by the glass.
Nestled in the Chianti hills, according to historical letters this farm was once owned by Michelangelo - in 16th century letters to his nephew, who is known to have resided there, he writes of his love for for Trebbiano and requests some to be sent as a gift for the Pope. In the present day however the farm is widely known and celebrated for being an advocate of organic methods and spearheading organic farming movements in Italy.
A honeyed caramel colour with sweet apricot fruit on the nose and a rich and elegant flavour, this wine is hand harvested from its old vines and sees eight days of skin maceration before aging a year in oak – the result is a structured and balanced wine that is very easy drinking and perhaps more of an interesting oaked white flavour profile than anything too off piste.
Savoured at Bedales at Spitalfields, highly recommended with a side of juicy green olives.