The Orange wine region is defined as the area above 600m in the local government areas of Orange, Cabonne and Blayney and can be usefully described as a circle around Orange. The Orange region is ideal for grape growing and winemaking because of the combination of geology, soils, climate and temperature. Together these factors combine to produce grapes and wine of distinct flavour and colour. The climate perhaps plays the biggest part in giving Orange some distinct natural advantages - the cool temperatures during the growing season coupled with dry autumn conditions are ideal for grape growing.
Mount Canobolas, an important geological feature also plays its part, not only giving the district its rich basalt soils but also, because of its altitude, giving greater reliability to the rainfall. The climate and soils also influence the selection of varieties for planting. The region is planted to 60% red wine varieties and 40% white wine varieties - which says something about the region but also says something about the national palate in the 21st century.
Of the red varieties in the Orange region, Shiraz (27%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (14%) are the most widely planted with Merlot (12%) and Pinot Noir (5%) also featuring in many vineyard plantings. The early planting of Shiraz in the region was limited but expanded rapidly during the 1990s as the region proved itself a quality Shiraz region. The best sites for Pinot Noir are likely to be at the cooler, higher altitude sites. There are also small areas of other, newer varieties – Sangiovese, Barbera, Tempranillo and Zinfandel. As the region matures vignerons are focussing on refining variety selection with the advantage of decades of experience. This and clonal selection are likely to see some shifts in sub-regional specialisation over time.
In the whites, Chardonnay (15%), Sauvignon Blanc (11%), Pinot Gris (6%) and Riesling (3%) are the main varieties, examples of which have won national and international recognition. Plantings of Pinot Gris are expanding but it comes off a low base so may never challenge Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as the most widely planted white variety in the region. There are small areas of Viognier, Semillon, Marsanne, Arneis, Verduzzo and Gewurztraminer, all of which have made fine wines.
Arneis an Italian white variety originating from Piedmont, Italy, is new to the Orange region and is well suited to its cool climate vineyards. It has flavours of ripe pear, stone fruits, white flowers and a hint of almonds producing a very food friendly wine.
The Orange Region produces Chardonnay wines of exceptional finesse expressing flavours of peach, apricot, lemon, lime and passionfruit. Chardonnay has been one of Orange’s most successful white wines and performs well at all elevations.
The Orange Region is well suited to this variety where it makes very aromatic white wines with a diversity of flavours that include tropical fruits, passionfruit, gooseberry, herbs and flint.
Orange Region Rieslings are produced in the classic white Riesling style and have a great capacity to age. They are very aromatic with the dominant aromas being floral and spicy. Younger wines have flavours of lime, lemon, passionfruit, peach and apple. Older wines develop rich toasty honeyed flavours.
Pinot Gris from Orange produces white wines with flavours of pear, honey, honeysuckle, citrus and apple. Some wines will be made in the fuller Gris style and others in the lighter Grigio style.
In the Orange Region this white variety is used to make a white wine or sometimes co-fermented in amounts of about 5% with Shiraz to make a red wine. The flavours of Viognier include apricot, peach, musk and citrus.
This variety is a musk flavoured selection of the old French variety Savagnin. A non-musk selection called Savagnin Blanc is also grown in the Orange Region. Gewurztraminer can produce very full bodied white wines that are highly perfumed and express flavours of pepper, spice, lychees, musk, rose water, orange blossom and honeysuckle.
Sangiovese is responsible for the red wines of Chianti in Tuscany. In the Orange Region it is highly suited to the warmer lower elevations. It can be used to make more savoury wine styles or richer styles. The flavor spectrum will vary from bitter cherries, violets, tomato and herbs, to black cherry, plums and mulberries. It is a very food friendly variety.
This variety is all about elegance, structure and age-worthiness. In the Orange Region it makes red wines with a capacity to develop great complexity following bottle ageing. The body of these wines will vary from fuller to lighter depending upon the elevation, but the flavours expressed are fairly consistent and include violets, cedar wood, red berries, cherries, black currant (cassis), blackberry and plum
The Orange Region does Merlot well, producing fruit with that extra bit of ‘lift’. The flavours in these red wines include red berries, dried herbs, black currant, mulberry, plum, game and anise.
From a wine perspective this has been one of Orange’s best performing red varieties and works well at both lower and higher elevations. The flavours expressed include cherry, red berries, spices, plums, liquorice and pepper.
This variety is well suited to the higher elevations of the Orange Region. The red wines produced are typically lighter in colour and body then those of Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon but can be equally as intense in terms of flavor and texture. The flavours of Pinot Noir include raspberry, plum, cherry, violets and strawberries.
This Spanish red variety has been very successful in the cool, elevated, continental climates of Northern Spain and hence is a natural choice for the Orange Region. It makes a somewhat lighter bodied, soft and savoury red wine which expresses fruitiness in youth and more mellow complexity with bottle age. The flavor spectrum includes strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blackberries, mulberries and plums.
This variety is a more recent introduction to the Orange Region, it is capable of making richer, softer medium bodied red wines at lower elevations and excellent rosé wines at mid level elevations. The flavours of Grenache include strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blackberry, pepper and spice.
Orange can when it chooses emulate the Cabernet Franc rosés of the Loire and the Grenache rosés of the Rhone and Provençe, alternatively it can make its own rosé styles from Pinot Noir, Shiraz and other red varieties.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes grown at the higher elevations of the Orange Region can produce outstanding base wine from which sparkling wine styles can be produced. These wines have crisp, vibrant and aromatic flavours which develop greater complexity with bottle age. Orange is extremely well suited to the production of sparkling wines.