Somm Chloe Helfand Explains ‘Orange Wines’

Posted in Interviews on February 2, 2017

Rosé has long since broken into the mainstream, and even a novice drinker knows the difference between whites and reds. But what about orange wine? Recently, sommeliers have been going nuts for these wines of unusual hue. We spoke with Chloe Helfand, sommelier at Bazaar Meat by José Andrés, about the trend.

Explain to readers unfamiliar with the concept of what “orange wine” is. Orange wine is the process of taking white grapes and letting them ferment on their skins for an extended period of time. This very natural process allows the wine to get color from the skins in addition to texture and tannin. Orange wine can macerate for days, weeks, or months depending on the desired result of the wine maker. People often liken the process to white wines made like a red wine with exposure to skin for color and mouthfeel.

The white grape varietals used to make orange wine depends on the region. For example Friuli-Venezia Giulia often uses varietals such a as Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio and Friulano to make orange wine.

Are there any generalizations that can be made about their character, or are they all over the map? In terms of flavor, I would say, from the orange wines I have tried there is a very bruised apple, nutty-oxidative, orange rind, Asian spice, honeyed floral on the nose and palate. In terms of structure, they range from orange to amber in color, high in acidity, almost effervescent and very fleshy in mouth feel. Orange wine has a lot of texture and complexity.

Why do you think orange wines are beginning to take off? Orange wine has been a topic of interest for some wine communities building over the past 5-10 years. I don’t know if orange wine will become mainstream but it can appeal to wine lovers trying it in a food and wine pairing. I personally think it has application to several of our dishes at Bazaar Meat, such as the Pulpo a la Gallega and the Wagyu beef cheeks with mojo rojo. Finishing a glass of orange wine is a textural experience.

Tell us about one or two bottles that you love now. I currently have the 2005 Gravner, Anfora, Ribolla Gialla, Friuli, Italy — it tastes of apricots and apples, with structured tannins and acidity. The 2008 Movia, Lunar 8, Ribolla Gialla, Brda, Slovenia is more spiced apple, stone fruit, honey, unfiltered with sediment. Both intense but worth trying!