May 22, 2022
Karin Rockstad, Spanish translator, WSET Educator, SWS, FWS, Albariño Ambassador, Certified Cava Educator
If you drink wine even a little bit, you've probably heard mention of the above terms more than once. Are they the same? Are they different? What ARE they?
Amber wine is a term that's been used for centuries in the Republic of Georgia, which is believed to be the "cradle" of wine. They've been making wine there for 8000 years.
The process is making a white wine like you'd make a red wine, i.e., leaving the grape skins in contact with the juice, therefore giving it more color than it would have by just fermenting the juice alone. The white wine then looks "amber." Leaving the skins also gives the wine more complex flavors and aromas than a typical clear white wine. These can range from hazelnut, Brazil nut, bruised fruit, and dried apricot to Sherry-like aromas and flavors to musty basement.
This winemaking process has also been used for generations in Slovenia and the Friuli region of northeast Italy. It became trendy in the New World in the last 20 years or so and the term "orange" wine came into play. But it's the exact same process.
You'll now see the term "skin-contact wine" being used a lot more too. I like this term better, as it gives me more information on how the wine was made. And besides, people's perceptions of color are different. What's orange to you, might be rust or brown to me.
Check out Simon J. Woolf's book for a lot more detail:
A couple of wines to try:
Krasno Orange from Slovenia
Neotari Amber from The Republic of Georgia
This is kind of a misnomer since wine is an agricultural product, but the wine we're all used to drinking (let's call them "conventional" wines) can have additives and the grapes can be sprayed with pesticides, among a host of other things. "Natural" wines, by contrast, are only made with organic grapes and there is much less intervention by winemakers. You may see the term "low-intervention wines" around too.
Again, these wines are not new. This is how wine was made for thousands of years. But like any technological advance, winegrowing and winemaking have had theirs too (temperature controls, cultured yeasts, etc.).
Alice Feiring, the go-to person on "natural" wines, calls them "nothing added, and nothing taken away." Check out her newsletter and blog here:
Like many of you, I didn't know much about these wines, so I went to find out. In April, I attended Vellaterra, a natural wine fair, in Barcelona (https://vellaterra.com/). It was held in the beautiful Estació del Nord train station and there were winemakers from all over Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Argentina, France, and Portugal.
The wines ranged from yes, skin-contact (amber, orange) white and red wines, pet-nats to fully sparkling. The winemakers I talked to are fully committed to making super clean, fresh wines. Some practice biodynamics and all are doing everything they can to take care of the environment.
I found the aromas in nearly all the wines quite similar: forest floor, decaying leaves, mushrooms, and wet wood. However, their flavors were remarkably different, and very much their own, depending on the grape and the terroir. I was pleasantly surprised and thrilled to have tried wines that I didn't know much about.
A few links if you'd like to learn more or try some for yourself: