Pairing off orange wine


21 March 2019 We're republishing this useful and revelatory guide free in our Throwback Thursday series. 

8 March 2019 Tam shares her experience of finding food matches for an amber nectar. 

Last weekend we opened a bottle of Vine Revival’s 150-year-old Muscat, vinified as an orange wine. We sat outside in spring sunshine on our rickety garden pub table with moss growing in the fissures where the wood has rotted away, and took a breather from shovelling piles of horse manure from driveway to compost heap (oh the glamorous life we lead), and I poured two glasses of this cloudy amber wine. It was every bit as beautiful as when I first tasted it.

We had it with lunch – salads and home-hot-smoked salmon – and it didn’t miss a beat, despite fresh lemon juice, charred salmon skin, lots of fresh herbs, raw garlic, sweet beetroot. And it got me thinking about orange (or amber) wine and food.

We get into such a rut: white wines with seafood and fish, salads and chicken; red wines with red meat and mushrooms; pink wines with swimming pools and canapés. More often than we realise, we’re matching colour of wine with colour of food (red wine: red/brown food, white wine: white/green food, pink wine: pink/orange food). Or we’re matching weight of wine with weight of food. Or we’re contrasting acidity to fat, salty to sweet. Or, if you believe the cynics, we can drink anything with everything and it’s all good.

(I’d counsel you to drink Pinot Grigio with chocolate dessert, as I have watched people do, and tell me – honestly – if you really think that this last maxim is true.)

So I got on a roll and dug out everything in my pantry that hates wine (or hates certain categories of wine). I got out things that normally kill wine – almost any wine – even when they’re mixed with other stuff, but most certainly when they’re eaten unadulterated. I chose food that I know only sherry can manage, and food that even sweet wines struggle to manage. I lined them all up on a large tray and anyone who’d caught me would have thought I was in the middle of the weirdest binge known to gentle folk. My mother would have hoped I was pregnant (I am 45 and she still lives in hope). And I tasted them, one after another, with the orange Itata Muscat made from 150-year-old vines.

It surpassed even my expectations. I knew, from past experience, that orange wine is stunning with Indian curry, particularly curry blends rich in turmeric, cardamom and/or cinnamon. Think Kashmir, Madras and Kerala curries. I also knew, from past experience, that it goes beautifully with roast chicken, Moroccan tagines, and anything savoury with orange or apricot fruitiness, cardamom, cinnamon, or saffron-spiced bases.

What I wanted to know was, what else?

My tray consisted of the following ingredients in alphabetical order, and the verdict, tasted with the Vine Revival Muscat, is next to each ingredient. I’ve not come up with a remotely scientific-sounding ratings scale. It’s impetuous, heartfelt, and could be criticised. But in order, from worst to best, here it goes:

Holds, just
Very good
Really good

If I put exclamation marks, it's because I wasn’t expecting the orange wine (or any wine) to cope.

Almonds, raw unsalted – really good

Almonds, salted Marcona – amazingly good

Artichokes – good

Caperberries – really good!!

Cheese, strong – amazing

Chicken with pomegranate – amazingly good

Chickpeas, chana masala – amazingly good

Chocolate, 47% dark sea salt – very good

Chocolate, 90% dark– very good

Citrus peel, sweet mixed – good, in the way that no dry wine could ever be

Garlic, raw – good

Garlic, cooked – really good

Ginger, fresh – very good!

Ginger marinade – good

Grilled aubergines and walnut paste – really good

Hot sauce – very good!

Kimchi – really good!

Mustard – amazingly good

Olives, anchovy-stuffed – really good!

Olives, green nocellara – really good

Peppadews (sweet and hot) – holds, just

Peppery salad leaves – amazingly good

Pilchards in tomato sauce – really good

Radish, pickled (sakura zuke) – really good

Smoked oysters – good

Tahini – amazing

Walnuts, raw unsalted – amazing

Wasabi peas – really good!

Fiona Beckett, food and wine matching guru, has found that orange wine goes beautifully with grilled octopus, lamb chops and grilled aubergine. I have a funny feeling that it would be brilliant with beef and pork. I’m going to try that out.

Orange/amber wine is a way to jolt us out of the rut, because it simply transcends the rules. It goes with pickled food (nothing else does). It is comfortable with garlic (few wines are). It can bed down as sexily with sweet as it does with savoury. It can be 12% or less and still waltz with seriously rich, spicy, fruity, dairy flavours. It is as happy with tannin-loving proteins as it is with acid-loving veg. It can swing-step sweet food, and drum-march dry food. It can carry oak and spice, or not, and match with spice, or not. It can take heat without breaking into a sweat. It can take green (pungent) herbs without turning green. And the best orange wines have the acidity for fat, the fruit for intensity, the tannins for protein, the sweetness for salt, and the savour for savouriness.

If ever there is anything that can make the vegan and carnivore clink glasses in a moment of truce, it’s an orange wine.

If you want to search out some orange wines to put my recommendations to the test, here are some favourites of Team JR:

Abraham, Upupa Orange Gewurztraminer, Mitterberg, Italy

Captains of Trade, From Sundays Skins, Orange, Australia

CCGP, Blood Orange, Ballard Canyon California, USA

Cullen, Amber, Margaret River, Australia (sweet)

Bojador, Vinho de Talha, Alentejo, Portugal

De Martino, Viejas Tinajas Muscat, Itata, Chile

Gravner, Ribolla Gialla, Venezia Giulia, Italy

Hummel, Bernstein, Villány, Hungary

Karamolegos, Mystirio Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece

Keber, Rebula, Brda, Slovenia

Orgo (Teleda in the US), Rkatsiteli, Kakheti, Georgia

Rossidi, Nikolaevo Vineyard Orange Gewurztraminer, Bulgaria

Marjan Simčič, Opoka Medana Jama Ribolla, Brda, Slovenia

Slobodné, Deviner, Malokarpatská, Slovakia

Tetramythos, Roditis Orange Natur, Patras, Greece

Turner Pageot, Les Choix Marsanne, Languedoc, France

Le Verzure, Biancoaugusto, Toscana, Italy

Villa Papiano, Terra!, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Vine Revival, Tierra del Itata Muscat, Itata, Chile

Zidarich, Vitovska, Venezia Giulia, Italy