Until recently, wine drinkers had been used to seeing the wine in their glass as white, pink or red.
Not anymore. A pair of outliers is expanding the wine color spectrum. Orange and blue wines are making inroads into the international wine market and may soon be in Sonoma County wine stores.
Yes, you read that right. Orange wine has been around for years in Europe, but the emergence of this wine oddity in the U.S market is new. Stranger still for American wine drinkers is the appearance of blue wines, a tiny effort by a few entrepreneurial winemakers to try something new and please the ever-changing tastes of millennials.
Rosé wine, or pink if you prefer, have been long ignored in favor of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, but finally the category is enjoying new growth. Here’s a look at orange and blue wines, along with the rising star of rosé.
Orange wine takes its name from the color of the finished wine and has nothing to do with the citrus fruit. For generations, winemakers in the Caucasus mountain region of Georgia fermented the juice of white grapes, and sometimes red grapes, in large clay amphorae that were buried in the ground. Long fermentations in buried clay pots and glass jars is common in many cultures; Korean kimchi, which is fermented, salted vegetables, comes to mind.
Josko Gravner, a winemaker in Northern Italy’s Friuli region has revitalized the Georgian technique for orange wine and presently has 45 clay amphorae he had shipped from Georgia in his cellar in the Colio district. Gravner’s best-known orange wine is Ribolla Anfora made from ribolla grapes. He also ferments and ages the red grape pignolo in amphora, as well as an orange wine called Breg Anfora, made from a blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot grigio and riesling.
Extended fermentations on the skins of white grapes extracts deeper colors that vary from a light orange to deeper orange with more tannins than would normally be found in white wine. The flavor of orange wine is like concentrated fruit, some say stewed fruit, nutty and with warm spices, all supported by a light tannic backbone.
Unlike orange wines, the blue wine phenomenon is just now hitting the market. Accounts vary about the origin of blue wine, but one account claims the inspiration came from “Blue Ocean Strategy,” a book written by W. Chan Kim, a business theorist who argues for the creation of new “blue ocean” markets. Perhaps, but there may also be a Caribbean connection.
While not a blue food, Blue Curacao is a popular liqueur made of dried orange peel and blue food colorings and hails from the Caribbean island of Curacao. Brilliant Blue is the food coloring used in Curacao and such products as ice pops and mouthwash. Recently, food scientists discovered how to extract natural blue color from algae and an Asian plant called butterfly pea flower, the new dye being used in coloring some blue wines.
Gik Blue. a Spanish brand, is generating the most interest in blue wine. Gik Blue is a sweet wine with an electric-blue color. It is a proprietary blend of both red and white grapes that combines anthocyanin from the red grape skins and an indigo plant compound for the coloring. The producers of Gik are moving into the U.S. market. Also from Spain, there are blue wines made from chardonnay: Vino Azul, Passion Blue and Blue Prefer sparkling blue wine.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Cabernet Sauvignon, the venerable statesman
Rodney Strong, 2015 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5% alcohol, $20. ★★★★
This is a cab that clearly overdelivers. It has generous fruit — black cherry and black raspberry — with herbs and spicy oak. It has good structure with firm tannins and a nice length.
J. Lohr, 2015 Hilltop, Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.9%, $35. ★★★★: This is a pretty cab with black raspberry fruit, herbs and spice, and the flavors meld together seamlessly. The cab has good balance, ripe tannins and a lingering finish. It’s well-crafted.
Duckhorn, 2014 Three Palms Vineyard, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.9%, $98. ★★★★: This is a gorgeous cab with notes of black raspberry fruit, and notes of cinnamon and clove in the mix. It has a soft and supple texture, with ripe tannins. Nice length. Striking.
Cliff Lede, 2015 Stag’s Leap District, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 15%, $78. ★★★★: This is a striking cab with complex aromas and flavors. It has notes of jasmine, black currant, blackberry, cinnamon and black pepper. The Cliff Lede has bright acidity and great balance. Top rate.
Justin, 2015 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5%, $25. ★★★1/2: This is a savory cab with dried herbs at the forefront, while cherry and black currant fruit play backup. What melds it together is a hint of caramel. Smart.