Why is Orange wine so special?
The Orange wine region is unique in that it is the only wine region in the world that is defined by altitude. Wine from vineyards above an attitude of 600 metres and with a footprint surrounding the City of Orange, Cabonne and Blayney shires, make up the Orange wine region. Vineyards below 600 metres in the area are classified under the GI (Geographic Indicator) Central Ranges.
The Orange wine region is dominated by the now extinct volcano Mount Canabolas (peak 1395 metres). The mountain, an important geological feature, also gives the region its rich basalt soils and because of the high altitude, a greater reliable annual rainfall.
This high altitude affects the growing conditions for the vineyards in the Orange region because the weather pattern gives Orange warm, but not hot, summer days, cool nights and frosty, very cold winters. Autumns are normally dry, which allow for a long ripening period for the wines before harvesting. All these conditions classify Orange as a cool-climate wine growing region.
Wines from the Orange area are considered to have more European-style characteristics, the white wines are crisp, aromatic and expressive, while the red wines from Orange are more subtle, lighter-bodied with softer tannins. All wines grown from the area have natural high acidity and light, herbal complexity.
In the Orange region, Shiraz (27%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (14%) are the most widely planted with Merlot (12%) while Pinot Noir (5%) plantings are continuously expanded in many vineyard plantings. There are also small areas of other, newer varieties – Sangiovese, Barbera, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.
In the whites, Chardonnay (15%), Sauvignon Blanc (11%), Pinot Gris (6%) and Riesling (3%) are the main varieties. Plantings of Pinot Gris are currently expanding but may never challenge Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as the most widely planted white variety in the region. There are small amounts of Viognier, Semillon, Marsanne, Arneis, and Gewurztraminer, all of which have made fine wines.