The sheer physical diversity of the Orange Wine Region and its cool grape growing climate means that an abundance of grapes varieties can be successfully grown. Shiraz (245 hectares), chardonnay (211 ha) and cabernet sauvignon (186 ha) make up more than half of the 1142 hectares under vine, a figure that mirrors the national viticultural mix and consumer demand. Merlot and sauvignon blanc form a viti-duet with 120+ hectares of each while pinot noir and pinot gris bay at their heels. There’s a mere hatful of the more exotic varieties though plantings of prosecco, nebbiolo and tempranillo are on the rise.
The Orange winegrowers have worked hard to ensure the grape varieties they plant suit their individual site. Those vineyards at lower elevations to the west towards Cargo and Molong tend to favour traditional red varieties with shiraz, merlot and cabernet sauvignon to the fore. Sites on the slopes of Mount Canobolas with a more northerly aspect are perfect for chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris and riesling while those of the ridge running north from Mount Canobolas offer a more flexible terroir. The vineyards to the east of Orange (in the Blayney Shire) are cooler and grow excellent chardonnay and pinot noir for sparkling wine while nearby vineyards on the headwaters of the Belubula River favour Italian and Spanish grapes such as sangiovese, barbera and tempranillo. Orange isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ region, exploring its vinous diversity is all part of the fun.
The cool high-altitude vineyards of Orange are ideal for growing flavoursome, acid-etched chardonnay and pinot noir grapes for high quality sparkling wines which have become a signature of the Region. Prosecco is a refreshing newcomer that’s rapidly settled in.
The Alsace trio of riesling, gewürztraminer and pinot gris all perform well in Orange’s cooler sites. Riesling is especially notable while pinot gris made in both the lush French mode and the lithe Italianate style and labelled ‘pinot grigio’.
Orange produces stunning chardonnays. That said, there’s as much diversity of style as there are viticultural sites - with the fresh apple and grapefruit styles from the higher vineyards and white stonefruit and melon flavours from grapes grown at lower altitudes.
Exotic white varieties
Viognier suits Orange’s cool climate - both as a stand-alone white wine or as a blending component with shiraz. Italian grapes like arneis, vermentino and verduzzo add spice to the white wine offering with a pioneering plot of the Austrian hero, grüner veltliner showing promise.
Rosé is highly fashionable with the Orange winegrowers leaping on the pink bandwagon. Pinot noir, sangiovese, tempranillo are the base-grapes with most rosés made in the uber-pale, subtle, crisp dry style.
Pinot noir’s capricious nature has been tamed by the best Orange winegrowers with delicate, highly perfumed styles now joining the traditional richer, dark-fruited and more complex wines.
Shiraz performs well across the Orange Wine Region with, yet again, a diverse choice of styles – from slinky, spicy styles to warm-blooded examples. Orange is generally too cool for other Rhone varieties such as grenache and mourvèdre, though there is potential in the warmer environs such as sun-drenched sites at 600 metres near Molong.
The cabernet family do well in the warmer season and/or sunnier sites. While cabernet sauvignon predominates, its stablemates cabernet franc and merlot are making a solid claim. Malbec also excels, especially at higher elevations.
The national trend to Italian varieties is echoed in the Orange G.I. with early plantings of sangiovese and barbera now joined by nebbiolo, aglianico and montepulciano. All offer a savoury, fine framed and food-friendly alternative to the historic French varieties.
Spanish food is popular so it’s no surprise to see Spain’s iconic grape tempranillo is planted in the Orange Wine Region. Tempranillo has its home in Rioja on the high plateau of northern Spain. Orange is similarly high and shares an equally continental climate so its no wonder that tempranillo is faring well.