Grapevine: It’s a trap! Sounding an amber wine alert

December 5, 2019 BY

It is said that only about 10 per cent of the population has a genuine interest in wine, which means for most people the term orange/amber wine probably means very little and is very likely just confusing.

Nevertheless, it has been a growing trend for a few years now and thus you’re likely to bump in to one at a restaurant or on a store shelf.

Amber wines, simply put, are the Rose equivalent of whites. Where Rose wines can be thought of as red grapes processed in a manner similar to how white wines typically are, Amber wines are white grapes processed in a manner more common for red grapes. By leaving the juice of white grapes in contact with their skins, the skins macerate and begin to leach various compounds – some for flavour and some of which are tannins that contribute the drying/ astringent sensation in red wines.

The technique goes back to the beginning of wine in Georgia, where some of the earliest evidence of wine production is found. While it never slowed down or died out, it rarely found favour in other major wine producing countries – for example the colour, the tannins and some flavours would have lost points for the wine in many wine competitions, maybe even ruling them out as faulty.

On the back of the movement towards wines of less or little ‘intervention’ in the process from harvest to bottling, these wines began to find favour again particularly among sommeliers for their food friendliness and unique flavour profiles. Much like Whole bunches a few years ago, or copious amounts of new oak a decade ago, it was taken pretty close to its extreme. Several months of leaving the juice in contact with its skins certainly works in some circumstances, but when a trend is in full swing, there is always a portion of producers who are blindly following the herd without considering their own context.

The producers making wines with very long skin-contact times, and aggressive oxidative handling will likely garner a lot of the attention because they are going outside the norm, but it’s probably not the best place for you to start with the wines. Easing your way in with wines that may see some modest skin-contact is a better way to get a taste for the wines and from there you can take yourself as far down the rabbit hole as you desire.

Over the course of this year, at least from the wines we have seen, it seems that a more measured approach has taken over on average; the technique was driven to its extreme and now we are finding where the real balance lies somewhere in the middle.

Konpira Maru have developed a cult following since launching in 2014. They can certainly reach deep into wild territory with their wines, sourcing fruit from many unheralded regions across the country, but you can also find some delicious wines that toe a gentler line.

Their Admiral Ackbar Semillon, sourced from Kilmore, has evolved from almost no skin-contact to heavier skin influence and then back to somewhere in the middle for this release. It sees 2 weeks on skins which allows for some of the textural influences to come through in the wine while retaining bright, fresh fruit character to shine. As you would expect with Semillon, it is driven by tree and citrus fruits – lemon curd, juice and some rind, baked apple along with some subtle spice. It’s light on its feet and made for easy summer drinking with a faint pull of chalky tannin to finish.