They aren’t enjoying their moment like dry rose and they aren’t nearly as trendy as Pétillant Naturel — pet nat for short — but orange wines are lurking just beneath both in wine circles. Once not all that common domestically, they are now being made in many regions — from a vast array of grapes — across North America. In most basic terms, orange wines are white wines made the way red wines are made — with extended skin contact, which extracts not only color (thus they look coppery or orange) but also flavor compounds and tannin.
In the most basic of terms, orange wines are white wines made the way red wines are made — with extended skin contact, which extracts not only color (thus the coppery or orange color) but also flavor compounds and tannin.
Too often, however, these wines are more intellectually interesting than they are delicious. I enjoy drinking them, but often it’s more a mental and tasting exercise than anything else. Throw in the fact that at least some of them are technically flawed, either with volatile acidity (VA) or oxidation, or both, and this is an oft-overrated category.
That context is part of what makes King Family Vineyards “Small Batch Series” 2015 Orange Viognier ($35) a standout and and an outlier. It is as clean and unabashedly delicious as any domestic orange wine I’ve tasted.
“I am a winemaker and you are trained through school and your career to not like volatile acidity, brett and other flaws in wines,” King Family winemaker Matthieu Finot told me in an email. “But how do you define flawed? One of my favorite wines is a vin jaune from Jura, which is fully oxidized. So, what is a flaw or a typicity of the wine style?”
Finot likes some Georgian orange wines, but is always bothered by the high levels of VA. “I do not like ‘vin naturel’ if they are not clean,” he said. So, he does use some sulfur in the making of this wine, but not a lot.
When I asked Finot why he chose Viognier for this wine, he pointed to his “love and hate relationship” with it.
King Family Vineyards “Small Batch Series” 2015 Orange Viognier
Apricots and orange peel are accented by spice, ginger and dried flowers. Clean (no VA or oxidation) and pure. No oak impact. Broad, mouth-filling texture that is soft, but buoyed by the kind of tannic grip you might expect from a medium-bodied red. Long, complex finish. Don't over-chill. Serve at cellar temperature.
Winemaking: Open-top oak puncheon fermentation, 3 weeks of punch downs during fermentation
Retail Price: $35 (wine club only)