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Add orange to wine vintages

Trendy new orange wine Monday June 4 2012.  | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

Trendy new orange wine, Monday, June 4, 2012. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: January 23, 2013 3:13PM

Orange wines — or “freaky whites” — hit my radar at Sixteen in Trump Tower last winter.

I noticed a whole section on Telegraph’s wine list devoted to orange vintages early this spring. On a more recent visit, I was amazed that fully one-third of the hipsters hanging at the bar were sipping from glasses that gave off a seemingly incandescent orange glow.

Clearly, orange wine is trending.

Made not from citrus fruit but rather white grapes, crushed and left in contact with their skins for up to several months, orange wines are sometimes intentionally oxidized; oxygen is allowed to interact with the grape juice to create what might otherwise be considered an “off-flavor.” The result is an unpredictable blend, without white wine’s sweetness yet with something like red wine’s tannic intensity.

Orange wine is similar to the “yellow wine” of France’s Jura region, which also is intentionally oxidized for a sherry-like flavor.

Hard to pin down, orange wine is highly variable; Telegraph’s Jeremy Quinn observes that many “regard the orange category as freakish.” A common descriptor for orange wine is “gripping” because its astringent tannins grab and squeeze the taste buds. In many orange wines, I’ve also detected a sour, barnyard funk characteristic of some Belgian beers.

Clearly, these are some odd-ass vinos.

In mid-May, Barbara Glunz of Glunz House of Wines (1206 N. Wells) offered a tasting of a few orange wines. On hand was sommelier Alpana “Check, Please!” Singh.

“Orange wines could be a hard sell because you’d need to educate customers about what they are,” said Singh, Taking the perspective of a restaurateur (her restaurant, The Boarding House, opens later this summer). Right now too few people have sipped — or even heard of — orange wine.

Singh felt orange wines would complement Indian food because “you need strong spice with this wine.” The orange wine we sampled worked well with a rosemary-flecked sausage Glunz served.

“Orange wine pairs like a red,” Singh said. You cannot serve it as you would a white: it’s way too strong, too assertive, too odd.

Glunz carries a few orange wines. Though they aren’t cheap (around $45 a bottle at the low end), they do intrigue.

Recently, a friend spotted orange wines at Tasting Room. We anticipate seeing more of them.

David Hammond is an Oak Park writer and contributor to WBEZ (91.5 FM) and LTHFo E-mail

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