Orange or amber wine is made out of white grapes. After the grapes are harvested they get crushed. For ordinary white wines, the grapes are immediately pressed, so the grape juice is separated from skins and stalks. In the case of orange wine, however, the bunches are not pressed immediately. After they are gently squeezed, the bunches are transferred to a container and then lie there together with the skins and the remains of the stalks from a few days to a year. During this time, the grape juice ferments, while in contact with the skins. This process is called maceration.
The vast majority of wine produced around the world is made in large quantities, for sale at low prices on supermarket shelves. Major wine producers who output millions of bottles of wine per year will typically utilise very different methods to small, artisan producers or those making natural wine.
Conventional techniques include machine harvesting, for speed and freshness, and the use of selected laboratory yeasts for fast, reliable fermentations. Interventions such as chaptalisation (adding sugar or rectified grape must to increase the wine’s alcohol level), acidification or de-acidification (where the grape’s natural properties at harvest time were sub-optimal) are standard.
More than 70 different additives are permitted in winemaking in Europe alone, including enzymes, yeast nutrients, yeasts and other processing aids such as Velcorin, which can mask bacterial problems in the grapes. Additives that correct the colour or texture of wine can also be used.
Mass produced wine is typically sterile-filtered to ensure that no solid particles, yeast cells or other living bacteria remain in the bottle. It will be fined to ensure it is completely clear, with no haziness. Fining products include some animal-derived substances such as isinglass (fish bladders) or albumin (egg white).
Mass produced wines will tend to contain higher levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2), as producers want to ensure the wines are completely stable and able to withstand sustained periods of transport, sometimes in environments which are not temperature-controlled.
Decantation of Wine
The process of slow pour of the wine from its bottle into a different container, without disturbing the sediment at the bottom is called decanation. Its main goal is to to remove the sediments that remain in the bottle from the older wines. Its other effect is also airing the bottle. The process of decantation can last from 30 minutes up to 4 hours.
Fermentation is a metabolic process that converts sugar into acids, gases or alcohol. It is a complicated process involving many biochemical reactions. Different types of yeasts are involved in spontaneous fermentation. During fermentation or even later in the wine, some other types of bad yeast can be present, causing defects and diseases of the wine. This can be prevented by using sulfur dioxide.
Maceration is a winemaking process whereby the colour, flavour and tannins are transferred from the grape skins to the wine juice. Macerate literally means “to soften by soaking”; the grape skins are left to soak in their own juices so that they soften and release the qualities that give wines colour, body,mouth-feel and the ability to age. Grapes will usually have been lightly crushed and destemmed before maceration begins.
From the original French term “vin natur”, which actually means a wine made without additives. However, the term has evolved to have a wider meaning: a wine made with minimal intervention in both the cellar and the vineyard, produced from grapes that have been organically or biodynamically farmed and made with no additives or corrections during vinification and ageing.
In general, natural wines are made by smaller producers, working in an artisanal fashion, and often respecting older more traditional methods that require less intervention. They will be fermented using wild (ambient) yeasts, without correcting sugar levels (chaptalisation) or acidity. Natural wines are typically unfiltered and unfined, and may be cloudy or have naturally occurring deposits in the bottle. They will be produced with very low or no added sulphites.
Natural wine bars
The concept of “vin natur” originated in France, and was connected with the “sans souffre” movement (without sulphur). Parisian wine bars specialising only in “vins sans souffre” or “vin natur” began to become popular in the 1990s. The movement has gradually spread worldwide, with Japan, New York, London and Berlin particularly at the forefront of the trend.
Natural wine bars are often linked with a wider “back to the roots” movement in gastronomy, which celebrates “authentic” and “natural” products, often from local sourcing and seen to be artisanal rather than mass produced. US journalist Alice Feiring has written about the growth in Parisian natural wine bars in 2005.
Oxidation happens when a wine’s exposure to air triggers a series of chemical reactions that convert ethanol (what we commonly refer to as alcohol) into acetaldehyde. This concentrates colour and creates aromas and flavours generally considered to be nutty or apple-y – and often reminiscent of sherry or madeira wines (which undergo deliberate and controlled oxidation). Open-tank fermentation, pumping over, racking and bâttonage (lees stirring) are all processes that introduce oxygen into the wine. So called oxidative ageing (sometimes called micro-oxidation) is the gentle ingress of oxygen that occurs with porous vessels such as wood barrels, clay amphorae or qvevris. Bottle ageing under cork can also result in minute amounts of oxygen transfer into the wine, over the period of many years.
Style of wine produced out of white grape varieties, with a longer skin-contact period. The longer maceration gives the wine amber or orange color. For more information see Amber Wine.
Skin Contact Wine
Skin contact is another term for maceration or the period during winemaking when the grape skins
remain in contact with the juice. Most wines actually rely on some skin contact (aka maceration), but in the case of rosé wines and white wines, this will be before the start of fermentation, and usually at low temperature. Red wines are, like orange wines, effectively skin fermented or skin contact wines. Thus, the term “skin contact wine” is not a useful term to describe orange wines, as it is not specific enough.
This is a complex, overarching French term which encompasses all the site-specific factors that can affect the taste and profile of a wine. These include the soil type in the vineyard, the aspect of the vineyard (eg: whether south-facing, on a hill, or near a body of water), the climate and the specific weather events in that vintage. Many argue that the winemaker, and local winemaking traditions also form a part of “terroir”.
The concept is most often applied to long-established, historical winemaking countries and regions such as France, Italy or Spain. However, terroir is an abstract concept, and any region where wine is made can be said to have its own individual terroir.
Terroir is arguably what makes a wine made from the same grape variety, or using the same winemaking techniques taste completely different from one wine region to another – or sometimes even just from one vineyard to another, in the same region.
The reason that all wines are not vegan or even vegetarian-friendly has to do with how the wine is clarified and a process called ‘fining’. All young wines are hazy and contain tiny molecules such as proteins, tartrates,tannins and phenolics. These are all natural, and in no way harmful. Most wines, if left long enough, will self-stabilize and self-fine. However, traditionally producers have used a variety of aids called ‘fining agents’ to help the process along. Traditionally the most commonly used fining agents were casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). These fining agents are known as processing aids. They are not additives to the wine, as they are precipitated out along with any solid particles.
Additionally, some strict vegans do not agree with the philosophy of biodynamics, which requires the use of animal body parts (cow horns for buring manure to make the preparations, for example) and encourages the integration of animals into a working, holistic farm. Many biodynamic estates also use horses in place of tractors. This is also frowned upon by vegans, who see it as the exploitation of animals.
Qvevri (or sometimes Kvevri)
Qvevri refers specifically to a large lemon-shaped terracotta vessel that is buried in the ground up to its neck.
The word literally means ‘that which is buried’. Although qvevris are similar to amphorae in their shape and material, they are distinct, due to their pointed bottom and the fact that they are buried rather than freestanding The Georgian traditional way of spelling Qvevri is Kvevri . The entire winemaking process takes place within the
Qvevri, from fermentation right through to maturation, with the fermenting grape juice typically being left on the skins and even grape stems (the ‘mother’) for up to six months. This create wines of exceptional flavour, complexity, and colour.
The lees in wine are essentially the dead yeast cells, leftover from the fermentation process. There are two kinds of lees; gross lees and fine lees. Gross lees refer to the sediment that forms in the wine and tend to naturally fall to the bottom of the wine vessel. They are normally removed from the wine soon after fermentation has ceased. Fine lees are smaller particles that settle more slowly in the wine. They can also be filtered out of the wine, but some winemakers choose to leave them in for differing lengths of time in an effort to enhance the complexity of the wine.