Since opening Haley.Henry in Boston’s Financial District three years back, Haley Fortier has built herself a reputation of being a bit of an orange-wine goodwill ambassador. The tiny wine bar has become the go-to place for wines with a Tang-y hue. Last October, Fortier even initiated what she called “Orange October” involving a punch card and ten wines between her two bars – Haley.Henry and Nathálie. Anyone who drank a glass of all ten wines was awarded a t-shirt.
But aside from the novelty of a style of wine that defies conventional assumptions about color, Fortier has embraced these bottles because of their diversity of flavor, and their flexibility when it comes to food.
Fortier had her first orange wine while working with sommelier Cat Silirie at Barbara Lynch’s Sportello restaurant a decade ago; it was the COS Pithos Bianco from Sicily. “It was the first time I was like, ‘Oh. What is this?’” she says. At the time, there weren’t all that many on the market, but that has changed. Today, Fortier’s customers walk into her bars and ask for a glass of orange wine without even looking at the list.
What makes orange wine orange? Fermenting white grapes with their skins. Fortier thinks of this style of winemaking as being very similar to that of rosé. Most grape juice – both from white grapes and red grapes—is clear when first pressed. The color (and a good dose of flavor, too) comes from time spent with the pigmented grape skins. That’s fairly familiar when it comes to reds: Leave the pressed skins with the juice for a few hours, and you’ve got rosé; several days, and you’ve got red wine. Most whites are made with no skin contact at all. But the skins of white grapes do have pigment to them, and if you let them macerate with the freshly pressed juice, eventually you achieve a wine with a pale (or even fairly deep) orange hue.
In orange wine’s rise to trendiness, a couple of pervasive falsehoods about it have come along as well. Fortier is aiming to dispel those. The first is that all orange wine is “funky” – a word that’s quickly become overused in the world of wine for anything that doesn’t fit a traditional mold. “We always try to have ‘starter’ orange wines, so that guests can see for themselves that the category still has minerality and acidity—and that it pairs well with food,” says Fortier. At Haley.Henry, tinned fish make up much of the menu; conservas from Spain, Portugal and other parts of Europe. While these treats can be tricky with some wines, they’re sublime with orange wine. Fortier also feels that orange wine is great with oysters and certain cheeses, too.
The second bit of fake news is that all orange wine tastes the same. The truth is that, just as with white wine, orange wine offers a very wide range of flavors. “All orange wines start the same way, but I think the difference in flavor profile comes from terroir and the soil and the grape, and then what vessel it’s being aged in and for how long,” Fortier says. The wines can be light, juicy and fresh, or more cider-like or intensely peppery and deep in flavor.
Many of Fortier’s favorite orange wines come from the country of Georgia, which is one of the oldest wine-making areas of the world. There, wine was traditionally—and often still is—raised in large clay containers, called qvevri (kwev-ree), that are buried in the ground. In other countries, orange wine producers might use stainless steel or fiberglass tanks, for a more neutral aging process, or oak barrels for something more impactful.
“Because a lot of people are starting to make orange wine and really experiment with it,” says Fortier, “I think that in the future, maybe five years from now, you'll treat it like you would any other category of wine—white, rose or red.”
Here are five orange wines Fortier recommends, from beginner to hard-core:
2017 Opi d’Aqui L’Orangeade ($25)
Fortier describes this bright, clementine-colored bottling, from the southern French region of Languedoc, as “something you can drink for breakfast with a straw.” The wine is a blend of two white grapes, Clairette and Picpoul, and it’s just juicy and thirst-quenching.
2017 Cantina Marilina Sikelè Bianco ($20)
Sisters Marilina and Federica Paternò make this super-salty wine near Sicily’s coastal city of Siracusa. “This wine is only on its skins for 13 hours, but the grape it’s made from, Grecanico, is stronger, so it naturally achieves a bigger flavor profile,” says Fortier; brassy, salty and almondy would be a good way to describe it.
2017 Day Wine Tears of Vulcan ($33)
Oregon winemaker Brianne Day is a go-to for a variety of wines at Fortier’s wine bar. The name for this orange bottling was inspired by Day’s time spent learning to make wine in Sicily, where the volcanic soil is similar to what she’s working with in Oregon. The wine, which is aged in French and Russian oak, is full-bodied and wonderfully peachy, accented by tangerine and vanilla flavors. It reminds Fortier, she says, of a day at the beach.
2016 Baia’s Wine ($40)
Winemaker Baia Abuladze produces this wine in Imerati, Georgia, using the Tsolikouri grape. It’s aged for three months in clay qvevri that are buried in the ground. Fortier says the wine is honeyed and cidery, almost like a sour beer.
2015 Batono Qvevruli Tetri Batono Vineyard ($20)
A blend of three grapes, Kisi, Mtsvane and Rkatsiteli, this wine is also from Georgia, but has a much more intense flavor profile. “It tastes like you spent the entire night before just ripping cigarettes; it’s so smoky,” says Fortier. The wine, which is aged for six months in qvevri, is what Fortier describes as an end-of-the-night wine: an orange wine for Scotch drinkers.
See the full list of 2019 Sommeliers of the Year.