Everything sounds better in French, that’s just a fact. I mean if you had to choose between “Orange Wine” and “Vins de macération”, it’s really not a contest, now is it? One’s direct yet tells you nothing about the wine in question. The other, while a bit long-winded, tells you not the color but the process. And that would be why we prefer to keep many original wine terms in French. (Or at least, in this writer’s opinion.)
If you’ve been on Instagram at all this week, you’ve probably noticed that orange wine is everywhere, and I mean everywhere! That’s due almost entirely to the efforts of my good friend and fellow wine influencer, Amanda Goodwin, the founder of Orange Wine Day – and now – Orange Wine Week. Vins de macération is a continuously evolving, exciting category of wine, but it isn’t quite new. While we can’t technically thank the French for its invention (shoutout to the Republic of Georgia), we can thank the French for its renaissance.
The modern revival of French natural winemaking can be traced back to the 70s (oh, those hippies), when a few producers in the Loire Valley started going back to organic and biodynamic farming methods, which evolved into the low intervention winemaking we know and love for dozens of producers in the region today. But the Loire isn’t alone in its quest – winemakers from all over France (notably Alsace, Languedoc, and Beaujolais) have embraced more natural methods en masse, which led France to be the first Old World country to this year create a legal definition for natural wine.
So it’s unsurprising that France makes quite a few orange wines, and perhaps even less so that I’ve managed to find a few great ones on this side of the Atlantic! I’ve picked four excellent French wines in time for National Orange Wine Week below – check them out!
1) “Matin Fou”, by Christian Lindenlaub (Alsace, $32 from MYSA)
The most apt description of a wine I’ve drunk this year, directly translated as “Crazy Morning” – doesn’t that describe basically every day of 2020 so far? This wine stands up to the name: it’s bizarre in a good way. It both smells and tastes at first glance more like a traditional French cider or even a sour beer than a wine. Funky and cloudy, it was full of overripe pear and lemon notes. Oddly high in alcohol (14.5%!!), but balanced with acidity so you don’t really notice. Certainly not a wine I’m crazy about, but interesting nonetheless.
2) “On est pas bien là?” by Le Petit Domaine (Languedoc, $33, MYSA)
If there’s one thing I know about French natural wine, it’s that the winemakers just love throwing in some fun slang and contractions. “On est pas bien là?” is one such use of language, translating to “Are we not good here?” It’s one of my favorite linguistic trends in the wine world, and if it gets more people to try to speak French, I’m here for it!
This was another pretty funky one, straw gold in color with a tiny bit of effervescence. There’s a little bit of sweet and sour going on here, which was certainly not something I’d experienced in a wine before! On the nose and palate, bruised apple dominates with a bit of pear on the finish. Low alcohol, great lightweight sipper.
3) “Je t’ai dans la peau”, by Laurent Lebled (Loire, $28 from Wine Therapy)
The real home of French natural winemaking as we know it is Loire. Directly translated as “I had you in the skin(s)”, I was honestly a bit let down by this wine. Low alcohol (11%) and low acidity meant it came off kind of “meh” for me. A bit of apple aromas with some yeast-like undertones, but nothing too exciting, especially from the region so well known for French vins de macération! Oh well. You can’t win them all.
4) “Luna & Gaia”, by Domaine Henri Milan (Provence, $41, Wine Therapy)
Meaning “Moon & Earth”, this wine was my favorite of the group! It was all sour cherry, grapefruit peel, and beautifully tart – but not too acidic. Leave it to Provence! All that rosé maceration experience clearly translates to making orange wines as well. I would definitely buy this wine agin and could see it pairing really well with a variety of desserts.
TL;DR: These wines absolutely allowed me to step outside my comfort zone, which is something I’ve been missing from the wine world. In non-pandemic days, we’d all be sipping our way through new regions and winemaking techniques once (or more!) a week. Down to try some orange wine yourself, or learn more about the category? There are events all week – sign up here and make sure you’re following Orange Wine Time on Instagram for the latest!