Wines in alternative colors coming to Sonoma County

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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.

The jury is still out on whether orange and blue wine will gain traction in a constantly changing wine market.

Meanwhile, interest in rosé wine is taking up the slack, offering a more traditional choice in a range of styles, from bland, sweet fruit bombs to dry and fruity quaffs with crisp acidity

The best rosés are made employing a short maceration of the juice with the skins of dark-colored grapes to extract the desired amount of color, a level that varies with the variety. The juice is then separated from the skins and fermented like a white wine.

In the saigneé (French bleeding) method, the rosé is made as a byproduct of making a red wine, with some of the pink juice removed at an early stage to intensify the red wine remaining in the vats. Both the saignée method and the blending of red wine with white wine results in a pink wine with less complexity and depth of favor.

Today, pink wines are made from a variety of red grapes such as pinot noir, syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and grenache. Rosés from France’s southern Rhone Valley, like Tavel Rosé, use grenache sometimes with a little cinsault. The blend provides a pleasant fruit sweetness that works well with the wine’s natural acidity, an ideal match with light foods.

Another popular French pink from the Loire Valley is Rose d’Anjou, made from gamay and groslot. French rosés are light in color, even pale pink with a faint orange tint and are deceptively dry; the antithesis of what many American wine drinkers think of as a typical rosé.

Import rosés worth a try include those from Ch. Miraval, a Cote de Provence Rose blend of syrah, rolle, cinsault and grenache; or a lighter Provence rosé such as Ch. De Campuget Costieres de Nimes “Tradition Rose.” Take it up a notch to medium-full rosés such as Marquis de Caceres 2015 Rioja (Spain) Tempranillo Rosé.

California rosé wines tend to be fruitier, deeper in color and softer on the palate than their French cousins. If this style appeals to you, try these gold medal roses from the 2017 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge: Taft Street 2016 Russian River Rosé of Pinot Noir, Mathis 2016 Rosé de Grenache, Westwood 2016 Estate Rosé, Kobler 2016 Russian River Rosé of Grenache.

Also worth a look are these California rosés: Lasseter Sonoma Valley Enjoué, Rockwall Grenache Rosé, Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel, Heitz Grignolino Rosé and Francis Coppola’s lightly sparkling Sofia, available in cans.

A lighter pink wine that attempts more finesse and delicacy while still retaining the true fruit flavor of the grape in known as vin gris, a French pale pink wine that is not “grey” but lacks the color of a traditional rosé.

Vin gris, common in the Loire Valley and Burgundy, is made by lightly pressing, but not macerating, red grapes for a pale color. Vin gris is the stylistic opposite of most California rosés, but two California versions to try are Bonny Doon Vineyard California Vin Gris de Cigare and Cruess Dry Creek Valley Vin Gris of Grenache.

And while roses are delightful year-round sipping wines, you might be tempted to have more than one glass, so add some light foods, such as cold ham, salads and holiday leftovers.

Gerald D. Boyd is a Santa Rosa-based wine and spirits writer. Reach him at

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