What is Orange Wine?
“Orange wine” is the term given to white grapes that have had prolonged contact with their skins and seeds. Usually when we drink white wine, we are only drinking the clear juice that has been pressed from white grapes. However, orange wine is made like red wine, where the clear juice is mixed with its skins (for days, weeks or months) to create an orangish hue and complex flavors. It is sometimes referred to as “natural wine” because it is common for winemakers to ferment the grape juice only using the natural yeast on the grapes or in the winery, as opposed to adding specialized yeast.
The first evidence of orange wine was traced to the country of Georgia, nearly 5,000-6,000 years ago. It was known to be fermented in large Kvevri vessels lined with beeswax and buried under ground to stay cool, like the vessel pictured on the label below. Italian and Slovenian orange wine is commonly made using the Pinot Grigio/Gris grapes. Around the world, it can also be made from Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Marsanne, Rousanne, Muscat, Chenin Blanc, or a blend of any of the aforementioned varieties.
Orange wines will have a base flavor profile from their grape variety, whether it be Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, etc. However, orange wine will have additional flavors, textures, and complexity derived from the prolonged contact with grape skins, seeds and tannin. These wines are medium-full bodied and quite robust, with added flavors of mandarin, honey, nuts, bruised fruits and sometimes petroleum. Some produce tangy or beer flavors as well.
If orange wine has been around for thousands of years, why is it suddenly so popular? There’s no real reason, except that there is always some sort of wine fad happening. In the 80s, White Zinfandel was all the rage. In the 90s, Merlot stood in the limelight. In the 2000s, rosé took center stage. And now, it’s orange wine’s time to shine in all its glory!
But truthfully, I think more than anything, wine-drinkers find the concept fascinating and are just super curious about tasting white wine made like red wine. However all trends eventually come to an end and this one is certainly has an acquired taste.
Like many red wines, orange wine is bold and pairs well with-highly flavored and savory foods. It is often enjoyed alongside grilled fish and octopus, lamb chops, and roasted poultry dishes. It compliments an array of cuisines including Ethiopian stews, Moroccan dishes and curry-based entrees. It partners well with spicy food, roasted vegetables, mushrooms, cured meats, cheeses and olives.
Grab a bottle if you’re curious!
Follow me for more wine education and tips!