No Oranges Were Harmed In The Making Of This Wine

The emergence of orange wines in new world wine regions is a recent trend that has stirred some intrigue in many wine drinkers. These wines are indeed orange in colour, but are of course made entirely of grapes. White(green) skinned grapes of many varieties are being tested and tasted for their orange wine-producing capability and potential in many countries and wine regions. The amount of production of orange wine is still minuscule in comparison to the better known red, white and rose styles. It is not, however, a new phenomenon on the world stage. For thousands of years the area to the east of The Black Sea, which is now the country of Georgia, has been producing an orange or amber wine called Qvevri(pronounced kway-vree) . The wine is named for the vessel used for maturation. In place of the well-known oak barrel, the Georgians have been making qvevri from terracotta clay for millennia. These huge egg-shaped clay pots are buried underground to give them the strength to withstand the pressure of being filled with liquid, and to maintain a steady and cool temperature throughout the maturation process. They are filled with the grape must, including the juice, skins, pips and even some stem, where they mature for six to eight months. The skin contact imparts many flavours and aromas that are absent in most white wines. It also adds the amber hue that gives orange wine its name. In the West of Georgia, the same process is used for making red wine, though the Eastern half of the country grows far more grapes and grows more of the white berried varieties. There are over 500 distinct varieties of wine grape grown in the country, and the qvevri wines are often a blend of several to many. The giant pots, used in this ancient method of winemaking, vary in size from a couple of dozen litres all the way up to the 10000-litre behemoths. More often, they house a volume in the several hundreds of litres. The clay is porous and, although the lids are sealed with beeswax, can allow oxidative aromas and flavours to develop. These add complexity, as does the malolactic fermentation, and the lees ageing that naturally occurs in the qvevri. These processes are not so controlled as in modern winemaking, giving unique characteristics to each of the Georgian wines. The process is a throwback to an earlier age since it has been in use for about 8000 years. The area is, after all, the cradle of both winemaking and human civilization in general. Intrigued? Pick up an amphora of Qvevri, and try it for yourself.