The future's orange

06 November, 2018

The cult 1980s British film withnail & I has many quotable lines.

Alas, in some cases, all-too quotable. Men of a certain generation and self-confidence are still wont to try the patience of waiters by imitating the film’s eponymous, dipsomaniac main character when ordering in restaurants: “We want the finest wines known to humanity. And we want them here and we want them now!” A gambit to which no waiter, at least not in the past 30 years, has responded: “How witty and original you are.”

For me the film’s most quotable line sums up the mood of frazzled cynicism in the rackety, post-Summer of Love late-1960s London that the film does so well to evoke. It’s given to the saucer-eyed drug dealer, Danny, played with a mixture of dopey charm and paranoid menace by British actor Ralph Brown. “They’re selling hippie wigs in Woolworths, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over.”

It’s a line that comes into my head whenever I come across one of those moments when a previously underground phenomenon breaks out into the mainstream and the hipsters who were on board before the bandwagon started to roll cry: “Sell-out.”

For Danny, it was the commercialisation of the “stick it to the man” hippie dream that prompted the outburst. For your tiresome friend with the impeccable vinyl-only record collection, it’s when a tune from their favourite indie band pops up in an Apple ad.

But it happens in wine, too, and this summer you could well imagine a certain sector of the wine community having their own Danny-in-Withnail moment. The cause – an affordable (£5.99 in the UK) wine made for Aldi by Romanian winery Cramele Recas. Which sounds exactly like the sort of thing you’d find on offer at the German discounter.

Until you learn that it’s both a natural wine – proudly made with natural yeasts and without added SO2 – and, perhaps even more surprisingly, an orange wine, made from Chardonnay and a little Sauvignon Blanc with extended skin contact.

This is precisely the sort of thing that both lovers of natural and orange wines and their many detractors said could never happen. Low-sulphur wines are supposed to be too risky for mainstream retailers to take on.

Aldi’s whole wine business model is based on reliability, stability, high volume and low prices. Natural/orange

wines, by contrast, tend to take a much more relaxed stance on the subject of vinous stability, and have hitherto been almost exclusively the work of small producers

who, by their very nature, can’t provide the volume – or economies of scale – to make wines at the sort of prices that Aldi demands.

That Cramele Recas has done such a good job will only infuriate the zealots on both sides of the natural wine debate. While it may lack the multi-layered flavour and textural complexity of the very best orange wines, it’s a delightfully different easy-drinker, with a bit more chew and a level

of pretty stone-fruit character that you just don’t get from most supermarket wines – red, white or rosé – at this sort of price.

In my view, both the winery and the retailer deserve credit for being adventurous enough to bring such a recherché style to a mass audience.

But I have a feeling that, somewhere in the natural wine bars of Shoreditch, Williamsburg or Belleville, someone will be crying into their small plates of Persian tapas as they lament: “They’re selling orange wines in Aldi, man, the greatest decade in the history of mankind is over.”

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