Nutritionists always harp on about eating the rainbow, but what about drinking it? That’s particularly true when it comes to wine, where we are pigeonholed into either having red, white, or rosé. But thanks to some restaurants and bars in Shanghai, you can now add orange to that list.
While the number of places here that offer orange wines is still small, it’s a growing movement internationally as people turn to more food friendly wines and value craft and tradition over industrialized goods.
“Most orange wines are from natural winemakers,” said Simon Briens, who has a sprinkling of these bottles at his wine bar Rac. “People want something different, something original.”
What is it?
First off, orange wine isn’t made from oranges. Rather, it’s a white wine made from both the skins and juice of white grapes. Most contemporary white wines come only from the juice, but pigments in the skins impart color, giving the wine a range of shades from light amber to whisky. That’s why it’s also known as skin contact white wine or vin blanc de maceration in France – the term orange wine exists primarily as a marketing tool.
Making wine this way is not new; it’s a technique that dates back to the Caucasus, the oldest wine-making region in the world, where winemakers would macerate every part of the fruit in large clay vessels buried underground. But that approach fell by the wayside as white wine turned into this modern concept of a “clean, bright, cocktail-party thing,” wrote wine writer Jon Bonné.
The revival only came about in the early 2000s when Josko Gravner, already a respected Italian winemaker by then, upended his current methods for the old ways. A number of wineries neighboring Graver followed suit, turning the northeastern Italian region of of Friuli-Venezia Giulia into the current epicenter for orange wine, but New World examples, from Australia to South Africa, have since sprung up.
How does it taste?
This won’t be your typical book club sauvignon blanc. Orange wine tastes more like dried fruit than fresh, has the same body and tongue-tightening tannin like red wine, plus some nutty, overripe flavors. “I like to compare it to a bruised apple,” said James Teng, head sommelier at Chinese fine dining restaurant Hakkasan.
It’s a character that takes some getting used to. Cult producers such as Gravner and Radikon macerate both juice and skins of their flagship ribolla gialla grape for weeks, turning out wines that are rich, foreboding, and reward both patience and contemplation. “I wouldn’t recommend those to beginners,” said Owen Shen, who runs both the French restaurant Chez Maurice and natural wine bar Vinism. But shorten the mingling time to 10 days, like what South Africa’s Testalonga does to its chenin blanc, and you get a wine that retains its lighter, tropical fruit flavors.
What to eat with it?
If orange wine is hard to swallow initially, drinking it with food lets newcomers better appreciate its flavors. Lighter styles complement fresh seafood, while bolder wines seek out richer dishes like meaty dim sum, heavily sauced seafood, even red meat. “It’s like a pinot (noir) in terms of food pairing,” Teng said.
Briens recommends it with harder cheeses, such as aged comte, manchego, or blue cheese – “something with body,” he said – while Shen goes for the ultimate high-low pairing: orange wine and French fries. “I like fried food,” he said. “I find the wine very suitable with it.”
Where is it going?
Despite its broad culinary appeal, orange wine might not catch on as the default for the casual drinker. The flavors take some getting used to and bottles are expensive due to short supply. “It’s trendy,” said Briens, “but it’s mostly for wine geeks. Some people think there’s something wrong with the wine.”
Shen agreed: “We need to explain it to people,” he said. “That’s why it won’t do so well in bigger restaurants. Customers normally go for what they know. But as a wine bar, we can sell it by the glass for people to try.” Not ready to commit to an entire bottle? A number of the venues below do it in smaller formats, from a taste to a carafe.
Where to drink
Hakkasan has the most traditional wine list out of all the places here, but head sommelier James Teng has found space for two big name orange wines producers, Gravner and Radikon. While both wines are made from ribolla gialla, Gravner vinifies his in clay vessels called qvevri while Radikon sticks to oak. That gives the Radikon a slightly sharper acidity, but they’re both great with the breath of flavors coming out from Hakkasan’s kitchen.
5/F, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Road / 中山东一路18号5楼
Oha Eatery is run by the same people behind Blackbird, but the food and wine list here is more tightly edited. While both restaurants have a section dedicated to skin contact white wines, Oha lets you order a particular style in four sizes from a 2.5-ounce taste to a full bottle. The wine menu changes constantly, and right now you can try a French take from Matassa in the Roussillon, made from a blend of muscat petit grains, muscat of Alexandria, and macabeu.
23 Anfu Road / 安福路23号
136 2164 7680
Vinism is the grand old dame of natural wine bars in Shanghai. While it’s owned by the same folks behind French bistro Chez Maurice, the selection of orange wines here is much more extensive, with bottles from Slovenia to Spain. They also have a promotion every Wednesdays where you can get three glasses of orange wines at ¥180.
57 Dongzhuanbang Road / 东诸安浜路57号
Rac is a creperie by day and wine bar by night. It’s run by Brittany native Simon Briens, who’s complied a French-centric list of natural wines that span from the Jura to southern Rhone. But they also have a number of Italian orange wine producers, including the female-led La Stoppa from Emilia Romagna, the solidly traditional Denavolo from the same region, and the mavericks from Le Coste in Lazio.
322 Anfu Road / 安福路322号