Sometime in the endless days of early summer 2020, an unexpected colour started to disrupt the sea of beige on my Instagram timeline: orange. Manicured hands cradled it; beards popped up behind it, and it sat artfully atop books and coffee tables – a lightly chilled glass of orange wine.
It’s by no means a new style of wine, in fact it’s one of the oldest, but the buzz around it finally reached the zenith during lockdown 1.0. I would bet that a lot of people were looking for something – anything – new to experience and orange wine provided just the right amount of novelty.
Orange wine originated in the country of Georgia (where it goes by ‘amber wine), at least a few thousand years ago and where it’s still produced using the traditional method. What gives the wine its signature hue, ranging from pale peach to Ibiza’s most vibrant sunset, is the inclusion of grape skins (often pips and stalks too) during the fermentation process. The longer the grape stays in contact with the skin, the more of the colour it takes on. All red wine is made in this way and orange wine applies the same method to white grapes. This also gives orange wine characteristics most often associated with red – tannins, spice, body, and its distinct tint.
The Georgian method sees the wine poured into clay amphorae, called qvevri, and buried to ferment for months at a time. Other counties have their own orange wine traditions, namely Italy and Slovenia, though more are starting to produce it too. As you can tell, it’s definitely not a ‘new’ new style of wine, just one the mainstream consumer is finally ready for. The proof? London’s very own bar and bottle shop, Silver Lining, dedicated solely to orange and skin-contact wines and (when not under social distancing restrictions) complementary small plates.
Having tried a few styles of orange wine in the years prior, and generally favouring red to white, I pressed on in my quest for new drinking experiences. I knew I had to hunt down the one bottle that seemed to follow me around the internet: The Calcarius Nu Litr Orange. For weeks at a time, every time I opened Instagram close to the weekend, I would spot the unassuming yet appealing bottle, with no ‘#AD’ in the description. The faded lo-fi label and the (lockdown-friendly) litre size drew me to the wine even more.
Calcarius wine has a life of its own on the internet, featuring heavily on the orange wine fan account @skincontactvino, sitting at just over a thousand followers. All the images are sourced directly from wine drinkers and tags. While the account features many of the wines Calcarius makes (and other examples of the styles), the majority are of the orange favourite.
When I reached out to the owner of the Instagram account, they confirmed my suspicions: “Orange Ca is a cult classic, it was *the* drink of Summer 2020 and its hipster symbolism makes me smile.” Adding that all the wines from the label are “earthy and light and easy to drink. Perfect for long, heady days.” They also mentioned that Calcarius’ was the first orange wine they tried, falling instantly in love, then going on to seek out more orange styles.
Sipping on a glass of the chilled, peachy-hued Calcarius, I could see what all the fanfare was about. The taste was at once familiar and new, with a pleasant savoury finish and aromas of stone fruits, a hint of citrus mingling in the far back. I enjoyed its light grip on my palate and the gentle honeyed floral scent. It also paired effortlessly with many of my favourite Ottolenghi recipes; no mean feat when considering the orchestra of flavours and textures commingling in each recipe.
Sipping and sitting outside on one of London’s hottest, sweatiest, lockdown days, I lamented that this was the first new thing I had done in months, after days of unbroken and uncertain monotony. Maybe the orange wine craze was all about the wine, or maybe it was about seeking out threads of frivolity and pleasure when both were near impossible to come by.
I’ve since purchased many more bottles of orange wine (including multiple repurchases of the Calcarius orange) and below is my list of recommendations, plus a few suggestions from the owner of @skincontactvino’s account.