At Anfora in the West Village, a server pours a wine with a distinct orange glint, like the last rays of a summer sunset. In a certain light, it could be mistaken for an easy drinking, easily forgettable rosé — until you have a sip.
This wine, called Coenobium “Ruscum,” is made at a nunnery in Lazio, Italy, and its intense aromas and tastes run to dried pears, sage and hazelnuts. In place of a rosé’s cheery gulpability, this sipper verges on austere, with a bit of tannin that nips at your gums, as if it were a red. But Coenobium (Latin for “convent”) is an orange wine, an ancient style from the republic of Georgia that’s come into vogue in modern wine circles.
“This category may be the oldest, but it’s also the newest category in the Western world,” says Joe Campanale, wine director for Anfora.
While rosés are made with red wine grapes whose skin is removed early in the process, leaving just a hint of color, oranges are made in the opposite style. They come from white wine grapes that are left to macerate with their skins on, instead of separating the pressed juices from the skins to preserve clarity and avoid tannins. The result is a pour with a unique amber hue, tannins that grip your mouth, and flavors and aromas that range from musk to mushrooms to orange Creamsicle.
“These are not refreshing white wines,” says Campanale.
“The first thing I tell people is to put on the shelf everything you already know about wine,” says wine blogger Alice Feiring of how to approach a glass of orange. “Then I tell them that they are about to experience a snapshot into how wines must have tasted centuries ago. ”
Orange wines have been made in the republic of Georgia for thousands of years, but more recently Italy and Slovenia have produced them. Now vintners from Long Island to Australia are jumping on the trend. But not everyone’s a fan.
“I’m more intrigued than enamored by them,” says Josh Wesson, a former champion sommelier and founder of the Best Cellars retail shops. “I tend to savor fruit in wine. Orange wines trade that for other things.”
If you’re trying orange wine for the first time, it’s critical to enjoy them with an appropriate food — salty, smoky, richer fare like hard cheeses and cured meats are a safe bet — at a place that cares about them.
“They need to be served the right way—at cool cellar temperature and maybe even with decanting,” says Pascaline Lepeltier, wine director at the soon-to-reopen Rouge Tomate.
Even then, Campanale cautions that it might not be love at first sip. “Some will love it immediately, some will be repulsed, and some will be intrigued,” he says. “ You need a certain mind-set.”
Or, as wine radio personality Levi Dalton puts it, “These are not wines that come to you. You have to come to them.”
5 orange wines to try
Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli 2011
This amber-tinted Georgian bottle is aged in clay vessels buried in earth; it has a smokey aroma and tastes of lychee. $19 a bottle at Thirst Wine Merchants, 187 Dekalb Ave., Brooklyn
Coenobrium “Ruscum” 2011
Bursting with nutty, spicy, even guava notes, this is a good starter orange. $17 a glass at Anfora Wine Bar, 34 Eighth Ave.
Fog Monster 2012
“Up front, it’s in the happy honey zone, then white grapefruit takes over,” says L.J. Hollins, wine director at Kilo Wine Bar, of this California option aged in concrete. $65 a bottle at Kilo Wine Bar, 857 Ninth Ave.
Gravner Anfora Ribolla Gialla 2004
Calm and rich, it delivers a mouthful of autumn essences. $89.99 a bottle at Italian Wine Merchants, 108 E. 16th St.
Brooklyn Oenology Gewurztraminer 2012
This Finger Lakes entry is the color of ripe cantaloupe, and evokes jasmine tea, ginger and citrus. “I tell people it tastes like a high-class orange Creamsicle,” says server Jose Cepin. $25.99 a bottle at the BOE tasting room, 209 Wythe Ave., Brooklyn