Different wine colours: the orange & the blue
Orange wine & blue wine; fads or mainstream wines?
I was asked recently to comment about blue wine for an article in The Independent newspaper. Early in 2017 in my wine predictions for that year, I had mentioned the growing trend for orange wine - and I wrote the following about blue wine... "Fortunately blue wine which emerged in 2016 is not expected to be as popular - surely that's just not right?!". With an apparently growing fan club and a couple of new blue wine brands emerging in the last year, blue wine may be taking off in 2018 so perhaps I was wrong. What is blue wine - and what is orange wine for that matter - and are they passing fads or are they here to stay?
I would put orange and blue wine in different categories. First...
What is orange wine?
Orange wine is (usually) just that, wine. According to the EU definition, wine is "product obtained exclusively from the total or partial alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes, whether or not crushed, or of grape must". Orange wine has been produced for many years in countries such as Georgia, Slovenia and Italy and many other countries are joining the list of orange wine producers. There is no specific EU category or appellation for orange wine and it is labelled as white wine since that is essentially what it is. Orange wine is white wine that has spent extended time on the grape skins during fermentation; this can be for just days or for many months. Extraction of colour from the grape skins gives orange wine its colour though actually it can range in colour from deep yellow/ gold to amber to bright orange.
In addition the time spent on the skins (and pips) also imparts some tannins and more body into the wine so that orange wine has more structure and sometimes that drying sensation that you get from tannins in red wine, though usually to a lesser degree. Orange wine is usually also produced naturally. There is much debate about natural wine and exactly what it is as I write in my blog post on natural, organic and bio-dynamic wine. There is no official definition but it usually means that no yeasts are added, the wine ferments using yeasts native to its surroundings, minimal or no sulphites are added and the wine is usually unfined and unfiltered. Although not all orange wines are natural wines (and vice versa), they have a strong association with that category.
What does orange wine taste like?
It is possible that you have tasted orange wine and not realised it though most examples of orange wine are likely to stop you in your tracks and make you wonder what you are tasting. They are white wines with 'oomph', more aromatic, much riper, more rounded on the palate. Extreme examples will taste yeasty or a little earthy - aromas often described in the wine industry as funky - and orange wines may look cloudy. This style of wine has its fans but the slightly odd aromas can sometimes be mistaken as a sign of a faulty wine; if in doubt, check with the sommelier or your wine merchant.
What is blue wine?
Blue wine is much newer and there are only a handful of brands so far. I admit that I don't know them all but those blue wines that I am familiar with are not allowed to call themselves wine in the EU because they are not made purely from fermented grapes or fermented grape juice. A paler brand of blue wine claims to extract the colour wholly from black grape skins but most also have added plant dyes or fruit extracts to enhance the colour. These blue wines can therefore claim to be natural but they are not 'natural wines' in the same sense as many orange wines are. Some blue wines also have sweeteners added (as do some red, white and rosé wines to be fair).
What does blue wine taste like?
The blue wines that I have tasted tend to be sweeter, more in the off-dry or medium-dry wine category. They tend to be simple in style and towards the entry-level end of the wine spectrum. Certainly they are more commercial in style than orange wine but that is no surprise since one of the aims of orange wine producers is to enhance the complexity of the wine by leaving it on the skins for longer than usual.
Are orange wines just a fad?
I think orange wine has taken hold already in the UK wine market. It is accepted though not ubiquitously loved by the wine trade and there are merchants and wine bars which specialise in it. I can see orange wine sticking around mainly because of the increased demand from all age groups for natural and organic products. The millennial generation also seems to drink less than their predecessors - but they tend to be willing to pay more for fewer drinks of better quality. Plus they are more open to new ideas and products. I suspect therefore that the demand for orange wine is stronger with younger wine drinkers - and amongst older wine drinkers looking for something different. Orange wine also has the advantage of matching well with a wide range of foods because of its tannins and fuller body.
Is blue wine just a gimmick?
There are those who say that blue wine could become the next rosé which as we all know has been undergoing a bit of a revival in the last couple of years. Like orange and blue wine, rosé wine gets its colour from the grape skins either directly or indirectly (by adding red wine to white wine). One of the main reasons for the recent success of rosé wine however is that it has generally improved in quality. The jury is still out on the quality of blue wine. Nor does blue wine have quite the same natural credentials, or rather, reputation as orange wine.
On the other hand blue wine does look great and is a fun product. It feeds into that demand from millennials for new products and also into the demand for aesthetic brands that will look good on Instagram and other social media. As I say in The Independent article "you can’t deny that blue wine looks great on a sunny day against the backdrop of the ocean". Although it is more popular with the younger generation, I’m less sure about the longevity of blue wine's popularity; I wouldn't dismiss it as a gimmick but it is a bit of a novelty that I suspect with time will fall out of favour as people look for the next new trend in wine.
Would you like red, white, rosé, orange or blue wine with that?
I think you can tell from my comments above that I am more of a fan of orange wine than of blue wine but that’s not to say that all orange wine is great and all blue wine is not. Do I still agree with my rather flippant comment that blue wine is "just not right"? I'm certainly willing to be proved wrong - a blind tasting could be interesting - but, as I say in The Independent article, blue wine "still has to prove itself both in terms of its natural characteristics and in terms of its general quality".
Bring me a more complex, well-made, dry blue wine and I'll add it to the Wines With Attitude portfolio. But, as always, wine preferences are very personal and the proof of the wine is in the drinking!
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