Orange is the new pink

I am enjoying sunny Los Angeles for a seminar, to the extent that one can enjoy LA without seeing the La Brea Tar Pits. After a hard day of continuing legal education, followed by a grueling outdoor reception, I went with some colleagues to a local establishment. Scanning the wine list, I saw something I'd never seen before.

"What the hell is orange wine?" I asked aloud, to no one in particular. But there it was, next to the reds, whites and rosés, a category for orange wine. I consider myself reasonably knowledgeable, but this was a new one on me.

None of my friends knew either. So I got out my smart phone, and being a smart aleck, actually Googled "What the hell is orange wine?"

I had to guffaw at the search results, because the lead post was a September, 2015 article from Huffington Post which answered exactly that. It was entitled: "What the Hell Orange Wine Is, and Why It's the New Rosé."

Here we must step back for a primer. Most of us, even if we're beer drinkers or teetotalers, recognize that wine is red, white, or blush (rosé). Red wine is made from dark colored grapes and the pulp is fermented with the grape skins, which give the wine its color. White wine is generally made from lighter colored grapes, crushed to extract the juice, and the skins are removed. In making rosé, the skins are left to mingle with the pulp just long enough to create a pinkish color.

Which brings me back to orange. In this process, light colored grapes are used as in white wine, but instead of removing the skins at the beginning of the fermentation process, they are left with the pulp for weeks or even months. This not only gives it a characteristic orange hue, but increases the tannins. Tannins are a naturally occurring organic compound present in grape stems, seeds, and skins. When the skins ferment with the pulp, the tannins give the resulting wine more dryness and astringency. As an example, tannins are also present in tea especially when it steeps too long and makes the tea taste bitter.

But for wines, tannins also lend complexity, which is why some connoisseurs are going ga-ga over orange wine. Typically served chilled, they can be refreshing like a white or blush wine. But they have enough going on to stand up to richer foods, like poultry or even some meat dishes.

Back to my get-together with colleagues. I did order the orange wine, not without trepidation. I would call it an acquired taste; some reviews note that tasters refused to even finish their samples. Even for the more open minded, some are hesitant to order them in mixed company (the Huff Post article notes that people "feel weird saying, 'What kind of orange wines do you have?' in front of their friends).

As for me, I consider myself educated. I now know what the hell orange wine is. But in retrospect, I wish I'd ordered the amber (ale) instead.

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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience. Follow him at @nickroumel.

Published: Mon, Jul 04, 2016

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