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.

“Viognier is very popular in Virginia. but the reason why I have chosen this grape for my orange is the same reason why i find it difficult to work with for a regular white wine,” he said, pointing to its tendency to be higher pH with lower acidity.  He also finds that the phenols in the skins can be harsh and the wine bitter in its youth. all these
“All  of these points are good if you think red (wine) instead of white,” he said, adding “Also, the alcohol (levels) of the wine when harvested at phenolic ripeness can be very high for a balanced white wine — but work very well for an orange wine.”

King Family Vineyards “Small Batch Series” 2015 Orange Viognier

90 points

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. 

AVA: Monticello
ABV: 14.5%
Winemaking: Open-top oak puncheon fermentation, 3 weeks of punch downs during fermentation
Retail Price: $35 (wine club only)

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About Author

Lenn Thompson, a proud Pittsburgh, PA native, moved to Long Island more than a decade ago and quickly fell in love with the region’s dynamic and emerging wine community. A digital and content marketing and community professional by day, he founded in early 2004 to share his passion for the wines, beers and spirits of New York State. After running that site -- which became the premier source for independent New York wine commentary, reviews and news -- for 12 years, he launched in late 2016 to add the wines of Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont and beyond to his beat. Lenn currently serves as the wine columnist for The Suffolk Times weekly newspaper and is the former editor of the Long Island Wine Gazette. He contributes or has contributed to publications like Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Beverage Media, Edible Brooklyn, Edible East End and Edible Hudson Valley. Lenn served on the board of directors for Drink Local Wine, and is the creator and founder of TasteCamp, an annual regional wine immersion conference for writers and trade. An admitted riesling and cabernet franc fanatic, he’s intensely passionate about eating local and the many local wine regions of America. Lenn lives in Miller Place, NY with his wife Nena, son Jackson, daughter Anna and their dog, Casey Lemieux Thompson.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Len,

    Thanks for taking the time to reach out to Matthieu and also to review our Orange Vigonier. He loves experimenting with his Small Batch Series and it’s definitely been something that our Wine Club members have come to enjoy. Be on the look out for his next small batch series coming this fall!


    James King
    King Family Vineyards

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