Expecting orange wine: different enough?

Posted By Chris Kaplonski on Feb 16, 2016

I’ve written about orange wine before (See here). This is about a different aspect of it – orange wine and expectations. Over the course of doing various wine tastings, I’ve noticed something that intrigues me. Not only does orange wine not follow ‘the rules’ in how it is made, it also doesn’t really follow them in terms of how people react to it. By this, I mean that, as a general rule, people tend to prefer what they know. So you’d expect people to not particularly care for orange wine when they first come across it. I’ll admit that for me, it is a taste that I’m still working on fully acquiring. I don’t dislike it. It just challenges my expectations. A good thing, to be sure, but nonetheless a challenge, with what that implies.

But this post isn’t about me. Rather, it is about how orange wine breaks the rules yet again. Many of the people who come to my wine tastings – often students of various sorts – claim to not know much about wine. What wine they drink tends to be what students can afford – not bad, but nothing exceptional. Bog standard wine, in other words. So you could reasonably expect them to not particularly care for orange wine. (Research, for which I’ll have to look up the reference, suggests that the less people know (or claim to know) about wine, the more they like simpler, straightforward wines. Orange wine is neither.) But intriguingly, this isn’t the case. The majority of my research subjects actually like orange wine. I’ve had a couple complain to me about how hard it is to find – so it doesn’t seem to be them simply being polite. Besides, people, often enough, are quite happy to object to wines I serve at tastings.

So, what’s going on? I admit I don’t know, but have two working hypotheses. Okay, more like ideas. One is the confounding influence of the setting. People know I’m research wine, and looking at low-intervention wines, and what-not. So perhaps they are coming with a more open mind, expecting I’d serve them decent, if different, wines. I can’t rule this out.

The other possibility (and, of course, it could be a combination, or other factors I haven’t considered yet) is that orange wine gets a positive reception because it is different enough. By this I mean perhaps people are willing to consider orange wine since it isn’t clearly a version of either white or red. It’s sort of white, but not really. If you are used to drinking white wine that you get in pubs, or the cheaper shelves of the supermarket, perhaps there is enough difference between that and orange wine that it effectively becomes its own category, and is judged on its own merits. If this idea is correct – I’ll need to think about it, and how best to test it – it raises an interesting corollary. It suggests that in this case, knowing too much, in effect, is a negative.

I’ll end by bringing in insects. A friend of mine who works on insects as food says that when they doing food fairs and similar, they have the most success with getting children to try insects, and then the adults follow. It’s the same sort of pattern: children are less conditioned to think of insects as Not Food, and so are more willing to try them. At any rate, whatever the reason, it’s an interesting observation I want to think more about.

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