Your Not Liking Orange Wine Sounds Like a “You” Problem

Miguel de Leon
4 min readSep 8, 2019

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Use better words to describe this color, Troy. You earned a degree in journalism for fuck’s sake.

Troy, Troy, Troy: this sounds like a case of what we youngs say is “yucking someone’s yum.” It’s a bad, selfish take. The overarching pleasure of wine is the delight in sharing it and enjoying it, but also understanding that its very existence and each experience thus attached is valid.

But let’s also ponder why you had to write a two-star Yelp review about orange wine: “Each bottle of wine on offer was a natural wine… One of these, from Friuli, glowed tropically in my candlelit glass. The list explained orange wine as a white wine that is made like a red… An intense whirligig of tannins metallically attacked my mouth and, on the finish, there was an astringent sizzle, with undertones of acid reflux. … I found this to be a test of stamina.” And worse, “(i)t tastes like an assault on pleasure.”

Did you mention anything after that first taste was offered that this was not the wine you liked? You are under no obligation to power through it — in fact we’d rather find you a wine that you would enjoy much, much more — but I do commend your brazen curiosity that without much experience with orange wine you would endure through gritted teeth a glass that would have been transcendent for the right person.

You’re right in assuming that orange wine has always been on the fringes in terms of the modern consciousness of wine and restaurants, but just because you think orange wine as a category is bad sounds like a crass generalization. Yes, Josko Gravner has been proselytizing orange wine, but as a vessel for terroir and as an expression of his point of view (there is not one word about amphorae, botrytis, or even simpler, Friuli and Gravner). It doesn’t take a “wine geek” to be curious about these wines, but it does render more questions: why this kind of winemaking is becoming more and more resurgent and prevalent, how skin-macerated wines are responding to climate change, how co-ferments are blurring the spectrum of color as a delineating feature in wine, how texture as a whole is mischaracterized in wine tastings as “body” or “mouthfeel” or “minerality.” We haven’t even broached the subject of how the wine interacted with your food, and the considerations we make for that. Restaurants are hesitant to put wines that won’t move on their wine lists and to put these kinds of examples on a by-the-glass program is daring enough. The ones that make sense and give complete experiences, no matter how transformative they may or may not be, bet that these wines are doing something with their cuisine that should be somewhat enlightening, and not in this geeky, talk-it-out way, but in a more physically engaging, delicious way.

It seems childish to reduce orange wine to looks, also; comparing it to urine is a biased take. Maybe something more graceful and respectful to the people making it, or even as you point out, something similar in terms of craftsmanship: kombucha, tea, cold brew, whiskey; or even something more lyrical, like sunsets. Even if we wanted to go mean, we can: watered-down Fanta, a dead Old Fashioned. But never stoop to urine, Troy; orange wine at least smells better than that. And there is no pain involved in wine; despite the academics and the criticism and the marketing hullabaloo, wine is for consumption because it is a Good Thing™.

Part of the problem is making it a catch-all category (trust me, wine professionals also experience this conundrum), but make it a point to ask, please, why those wines are there on the list. Orange wine runs a much wider spectrum, and even calling it “orange” seems to do it a disservice as skin-contact and oxidation and lees contact and vessel choice are all factors in what makes “orange” orange. But you don’t talk about that, you talk about its sensual pleasure, its gastronomic rather than its epicurean sensibility. You eschew the thousands of years of history that cultures have spent with orange wine (when, reliably, it was known as “white wine”), you eschew the hard work that vintners do to produce these unique, niche products, you eschew the discerning palates of many wine critics who also think that despite the challenges of it as a category it has much to offer.

But do your work as a consumer. A good wine program will always allow you to taste something by the glass; a good wine consumer will always say whether or not that wine is to their taste. It’s not my job to monitor your palate; it is your responsibility after we pour you a taste to tell me if that is not what you want. It is no more a burden to uncork another bottle if it means your wine experience will be a good one, if not a great one.

SERIOUSLY.

If you’re not enjoying your wine, Troy, choose better wine for you. The person on the other end of that wine list put in the work. Now put in yours.

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Miguel de Leon

restaurant operator, wine director, sommelier. cal 05, nyc since 07. MNL -> LAX -> SFO -> NYC. //\\//\\ ig @migueld1 tw @migueld // he/him