Has your Prosecco bubble burst? Then it’s time to give amber wine the green light
- Slowing Prosecco sales this summer could suggest we have hit ‘peak prosecco’
- Now amber wines, usually just drank by hipsters, are suddenly widely popular
- For years, these wines have fallen under the umbrella of ‘orange’ wines
Navigating the shelves in the supermarket wine aisle can feel overwhelming. But when it comes to picking a colour, the choice has always been relatively simple: red, white or rosé.
Until now — because there’s a new hue on the horizon and it’s set to become this summer’s hottest tipple, as slowing Prosecco sales spark talk that we have hit ‘peak Prosecco’.
Amber wines, for years a well-kept secret among hipsters, are appearing on wine lists everywhere and taking taste buds by storm. But what exactly is amber wine?
For years, amber wines have been for only a few, but with prosecco sales slowing, could they be taking over?
Think white wine, but made like a red one. So, instead of the juice of the grapes being separated from the skins before the wine is fermented — the usual way white wine is made — the juice and skins are left together for days, weeks, months or even years.
This allows the juice to take on colour from the skins, turning it any shade from pale amber to deep orange.
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For years, these ‘skin-contact’ white wines have fallen under the umbrella of ‘orange’ wines. But as the wine expert Simon J. Woolf, author of The Amber Revolution, points out: ‘The Georgians prefer to call it “amber wine” — and they’ve been making it for centuries.’
In fact, amber wines date back thousands of years in Georgia, where they were made and aged in large clay pots called qvevri (pronounced kev-ree). White grapes were pressed and left to ferment — juice, skins, pips, stems and all — in the qvevri, then sealed and buried in the ground, to keep the cool temperature constant.
White wines have been fermented with their grape skins for centuries in Slovenia and northern Italy, too, but a more recent resurgence of interest in the style has seen white-made-as-red wines popping up in such places as Canada, Australia, South Africa — and even England.
Alongside their long tradition, the obvious attraction of these amber-hued wines hits you long before you’ve tasted it. The colours are incredible, ranging from pale amber to deep orange, depending on the grape and how and where it is made.
Amber wines date back thousands of years in Georgia, where they were made and aged in large clay pots called qvevri
Then there’s the flavour. A good amber wine manages to combine the freshness of a white wine with the depth of a red, with flavours of stone fruits, nuts and, often, a distinctive herbal edge.
There’s texture and a tannic grip to the wines, too (that teeth-coating character found in reds — or a stewed cup of tea), thanks to tannins from the skins being taken up by the juice when left together.
Producers of amber wines are usually relatively small, often working with organically grown grapes and using little or no added sulphur once the wines are made.
But, despite their small-scale credentials, these wines are making their way on to more shelves (real and virtual) and restaurant wine lists.
Which, given their food-friendly nature, is good news. With their russet colours, savoury flavours and bone-dry freshness, they’re a great match for cured meats, fish, poultry, game and roasted vegetables, to name just a few.
And when it comes to serving an amber wine, treat it as you would a red. Keep it at (cool) room temperature, unless it’s a particularly warm day — in which case, let it chill in the fridge for a short time before opening the bottle.
One more thing: these wines are rare and, consequently, not cheap.
But look carefully and you’ll find there are some reasonably priced ones alongside the splash-out-for-a-special-occasion bottles.
Here are six guaranteed to give you an amber glow . . .
POTS OF FLAVOUR
This Georgian amber beauty is made from Rkatsiteli, the traditional white grape used for many of Georgia’s amber wines
Tbilvino Qvevris 2015, £8, Marks & Spencer
Hats off to M&S for searching out this Georgian amber beauty — and at such a good price! It’s made from Rkatsiteli, the traditional white grape used for many of Georgia’s amber wines.
The wine is fermented in the traditional qvevri pots, buried in the ground and left to age for a few months. There’s a nutty, floral edge to it, along with flavours of quince and stone fruit. A great place to start your amber wine adventures.
DRINK WITH ZEST
Made in Spain’s Castilla region from the Tempranillo Blanco grape, it is pale amber, with nutty, herbal aromas and dried orange rind flavours
20,000 Leguas Amber 2017, £8.99, order from vinceremos.co.uk
I Love everything about this wine, from the look-at-me label to what’s inside the bottle. Made in Spain’s Castilla region from the Tempranillo Blanco grape, it is pale amber, with nutty, herbal aromas and dried orange rind flavours. So savoury, it’ll soon have you reaching for a chunk of Manchego cheese.
Baglio Bianco Catarratto 2016, £14.40, lescaves.co.uk
Natural wine retailer Les Caves de Pyrene has a great range of ‘skin-contact’ wines, including this one, made exclusively for them by Cantine Rallo in Sicily
Natural wine retailer Les Caves de Pyrene has a great range of ‘skin-contact’ wines, including this one, made exclusively for them by Cantine Rallo in Sicily.
The juice and skins are left to soak for around a week, giving a rich amber colour. With plenty of structure and spice, it’s one of buyer and natural wine expert Doug Wregg’s favourite amber quaffers.
WINE TO WEEP OVER!
Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli 2016, £17.95, slurp.co.uk
Though relatively new, this wine follows traditional amber wine-making methods, including fermentation in qvevri pots
ThIS Georgian winery is relatively new, founded in 2007. But it follows traditional amber wine-making methods, including fermentation in qvevri pots.
This unfiltered wine is loaded with amber flavours and would, according to a local expression, make a pheasant cry it’s so good. It does go well with game (don’t tell the pheasant).
THE TASTE INVADER
Eschenhof Holzer Invader Orange 2016, £18, redsquirrel.com
Made from the Muller-Thurgau grape, Austrian Arnold Holzer pressed the grapes and left the wine with the skins for a few weeks
Yes, those are Space Invaders on the label. No, I don’t know why, either. Whatever — the wine inside is a brilliant taste invader. Made from the Muller-Thurgau grape, Austrian Arnold Holzer pressed the grapes and left the wine with the skins for a few weeks. The result is amazing, with nectarine and plenty of texture.
BORN TO BE WILD
Meinklang’s Graupert Pinot Gris 2017, £18.50, Vintage Roots
The name ‘graupert’ means wild, referring to the wild vines the grapes come from in Austria’s Burgenland region. Made by fermenting the wine on its skins in concrete, egg-shaped vats, it’s one of Simon J. Woolf’s top picks. He describes it as ‘attractively wild’, packed with fruit and luxuriant in texture. Sounds bonkers, tastes divine.
The name ‘graupert’ means wild, referring to the wild vines the grapes come from in Austria’s Burgenland region
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