The Fourth Color of Wine: Wines of Slovenia

Jure Gašperšič  -  February 9, 2017

Nearly everyone is familiar with red, white, and rosé wines. But what about the fourth color of wine? “What fourth color?” you ask.

Orange! Regions like France’s Jura are well known for their oranges wines, but one emerging wine producer has some great oranges to offer as well: Slovenia.

So how do you get orange wines? In short, the vintner follows the same process he would for a red wine, but using white grapes. Whereas the crushed grapes are immediately separated from their skins when making white wine, in this case they are left to macerate with their skins, which contain pigments, phenols, and tannins that give orange wines both their distinct color and flavor.

The orange wine process is, in fact, the exact opposite of rosé, when the producer uses red grapes but removes the skins right after crushing to give them their light hue.

Slovenia happens to be one of the foremost producers of orange wines. In recent years, orange wines have gained immense popularity as a delicious and fascinating alternative to the standard three options, but they are by no means a new type of wine. Slovenian winemakers, particularly in the hills of Karst (also known as the Slovenian Tuscany), Goriška Brda, and their Italian brothers from Friuli have been macerating white grapes with their skins for years.

One of the most renowned producers is Josko Gravner, an Italian by nationality but Slovenian by upbringing. At a recent wine festival in Ljubljana, their orange wines were well represented as part of a cooperative (called the Simbiosa) along with winemakers Vasja Čotar, Aleks Klinec, Valter Mlečnik, and Franco Terpin.

The members of this Simbiosa don’t only collaborate on promoting orange wine alone, but also convene to talk about winemaking philosophy in general. They are all engaged in organic farming, and point out that they represent four different approaches, but that they are similar in their thinking and attitude towards nature.

The rules of organic farming, and viticulture in their case, are governed by law. The use of artificial fertilizers, synthetic protective agents, and genetically modified organisms is strictly prohibited. Grape processing and wine production are similarly regulated by internal rules. This means that they use grapes exclusively from their own vineyards, and harvest most of their crop by hand.

For both whites and reds, the grapes are macerated with their skins for at least 24 hours, and only native yeasts may be used for the fermentation. Sulphur is the additive they are allowed, and even then only in limited quantities. Finally, they are required to age the wines at least a year and a half before bottling. All of these tight regulations ensure and reliable excellent final product.

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