The Tao of orange, so it is written in the most learned annals of wine wisdom, is to forever roam the paths less travelled – to be a specialist niche, an insider tip for those who know. Many are the wine professionals (and of great repute) who damn with faint praise: “well it’s an interesting style, but of course it’ll never be commercially viable”. And so on.
For one bright shiny moment towards the end of December 2017, life looked different. An orange wine – by name, by nature, by creed – appeared on the shelves of Austrian supermarket chain Hofer – better known across Europe as Aldi. Sceptics may have debated whether it was the real thing. Instead of pontificating, I just went and bought two bottles.
Hofer’s “Orange Sauvignon Blanc 2017” is part of their “Zurück zum urpsrung” range of organic products – “Back to the origin”, to translate. It’s bottled as a table wine, so there’s no information about the region of production. But it was made by Familie Waldherr, who it transpires are organic farmers with 12 hectares of vines in Neudörfl – a flat and rather modest part of central Burgenland.
Hans Waldherr made this wine in time honoured fashion – no temperature control during the spontaneous fermentation, four weeks of skin contact. Ageing (if one can call it that) was in stainless steel, and the wine was bottled unfiltered, but (I think) with a dash of SO2. Grapes came from the Nonnenwald vineyard, and a total of 5,610 bottles were made in 2017.
Uncorking this baby, the first point to note is that it’s incredibly aromatic – less the classic Sauvignon Blanc tang, more floral and gewürz-like with passion fruit and green plum (zwetschge). And despite the Tao of orange dictating that such wines should be released and drunk after a few years of maturation, Waldherr’s SB is defiantly approachable. There’s a subtle caress of tannins, nice depth of flavour and a citrussy kick.
I’m glad to have that second bottle, mind. Another year’s ageing might just increase the possibility of transcendence.
Hofer has 480 branches across Austria, so assuming they bought the entire production, that’s an average of 11 bottles per store. There were about a dozen still available at the Deutschlandsberg branch where I bought my stash on 23rd December, so it probably wasn’t flying off the shelves. Nonetheless, if Hofer feels it is worthwhile dipping a toe into the amber coloured pool of natural and orange libation, the wine world is clearly evolving in ever stranger and more beautiful ways than some of its pundits might previously have imagined.
The Tao of orange may shy away from the mainstream, and steadfastly resist mass-production – but it surely has no qualms against enlarging the fanbase. And with Waldherr’s orange priced at a measly €9.99, the fiscal barriers to enlightenment have seldom been so low.
Weingut Waldherr is still offering its Orange 2016 for sale online – at an even cheaper €9.50. My guess is Hofer’s stock of the 2017 won’t last much longer.