The wine shop owner looked up from his laptop.
“I suppose you’re looking for orange wine,” he asked, with not much enthusiasm.
“Oh yes,” I replied, very enthusiastically, “I am indeed.”
He paused, then said, with just a suspicion of disdain, “you do know its not made from oranges?”
I laughed. “It is white wine, made in the same way as red, with the grape skin left on for up to a year.”
He smiled, “Sometimes two years, I know some producers who can leave it for maybe two years now.”
And so began our very brief education on orange wine, as sommelier David Sinigoj began telling us about the delights of this peculiar Slovenian wine.
Except it is not peculiar. And it is not, solely, Slovenian.
All white wine was orange – or pink – until relatively recently, when wine presses were invented to separate the skin from the white grape.
And orange wine – all wine – production can be traced back to Georgia, on the Black Sea. People have been making wine there since around 6,000 BC, long before the Romans, and definitely a few thousand years before the French started growing grapes.
Many Georgians still make wine using the same method their ancestors did. The grapes are pressed, then everything, the grape skins, stalks and pips are poured into an earthenware pot called a Qvevri, which is sealed and buried in the ground.
The wine ferments for five to six months before being ready to drink.
Today the Slovenian wine makers who specialise in orange wine use slightly more sophisticated methods to produce their product, but it is still organic, with no addiitives. And it is a gorgeous amber-orange colour.
But what does it taste like?
Some wine buffs dismiss it as nothing more than a hipster fad, others are effusive in their praise for a wine that goes with meat as easily as it does with fish.
We are no experts, but we do like a glass, or two, of red with our evening meal, so would the young orange wine from the Mansus estate in the Vipava Valley live up – or down – to it’s hype.
Our new Slovenian friend Nina had suggested we try it with a plate of prsut, Slovenia dry-cured ham, some cheese and olives, which I did. Nigel a non-meat eater had extra cheese.
It was delicious, like nothing we had tried before. It had the feel of a red wine in your mouth, but with its own unique savoury, but honeyed, taste. I could easily drink it with anything, from a rich beef stew to fried fish. Or on its own.
We only bought one bottle from David – at 15 euros a pop it was well above our travel budget for wine. That currently sits at around 3 – 4 euros a bottle, to be spent on the best of whatever Lidl has to offer in that price range.
However, we discovered you can buy Georgian orange wine from M&S, so we will be trying it out when we get home in a few month’s time. But you don’t have to wait…
- Splash out this weekend on a bottle of Georgian orange wine from good old M&S.
- Visit David Sinigoj’s wine store in Ljubljana, it is delightful and sommelier David knows his stuff!
- If you like prosciutto you will love prsut, Slovenia’s dry-cured ham. Find out more here.
- For an expert’s view on orange wine, this article by Simon Woolf, from The Decanter magazine, is very helpful.
- The Rough Guide’s guide to orange wine in Slovenia is also worth a read.
- The Georgian method of wine making is so important is on UNESCO’s heritage list.