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A Master Sommelier’s guide to pairing with orange wines

Turns out wine’s fourth colour is a great pairing option

At this point orange wine seems pretty firmly planted in the zeitgeist for oenophiles and natural wine hipsters. These wines — made by fermenting white grapes on their skins to extract flavour, tannin, and colour — have captured the imaginations of the curious and iconoclastic. But for an ordinary drinker, the eternal question remains, ‘is this going to go with my chicken?’

To find out, we caught up with Pascaline Lepeltier, someone who ought to know. Pascaline is a Master Sommelier, co-author of The Dirty Guide to Wine, and managing partner of Racines NY. Racines— the U.S. arm of the legendary Parisian wine bar— is a temple for natural wine lovers, and boasts a huge list featuring orange wines from around the world.

“To start, I don’t like calling them orange wines,” says Pascaline when I unwittingly drop the term. “I prefer skin-macerated white. It’s a more accurate description of what makes the wines distinct.”

Pascaline Lepeltier (Photo by Mike Rush: courtesy Racines NY)

For Pascaline, skin-macerated whites are a fantastic way to find curious food pairings. “They’re the most versatile wines in the world,” she says, “because of their typically high acid, low alcohol, and subtle phenolic extraction.” Phenolic compounds are a complex array of naturally occurring chemicals that shape the texture and flavour of wine. Many are present only on the grape skins, giving orange wines a wider array of flavours than their white cousins.

“They’re fantastic for vegetal flavours,” says Pascaline, “especially bitter vegetables like asparagus, artichokes, and kale.” but they can hold up to heavier foods as well. Fish, white meat, even some red meats. “They can cut through the heavy flavour and fat in a lamb or goat dish, a situation that normally calls for a very tannic red wine that can be so heavy.”

“They’re also especially good with bitter and sour foods,” she says “which are normally so hard to find pairings for.”

When Pascaline picks a new skin-macerated white wine for a pairing she thinks of the grape varietal first. Then she asks how much time it spent on the skins, and whether the stems were included in the ferment, that will determine how much tannin and phenolic extraction the wine will have. Those two factors, plus the degree of oxygen exposure during winemaking, should give a sense of the wine’s structure. Whether it is closer to a fresh light white or more dense, astringent, and forceful. If you’re shopping at a decent wine store, that information should be available.

For someone new to skin-macerated wine pairings, Pascaline has two suggestions.

The first is a late-spring arugula salad with walnut or hazelnut oil. Something with plenty of bitterness and richness. She recommends the Nosiola from Elisabetta Foradori. “Her wines are super clean,” says Pascaline “they’re a great introduction to this style.” ($73.99 from Kits wine cellar)

The second is a mixed grill, featuring grilled vegetables like yellow pepper, corn, and fatty pork. Pascaline suggests the Jakot from Radikon in Friuli. “It’s got structure for food, but light enough to replace your beer at the barbecue.” ($108.99 for 1.0L from Kits wine cellar)

Don’t be daunted by wine’s fourth colour.

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