The darling "niche" style of sommeliers in trendy restaurants and wine bars across the country, "𝐨𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞 𝐰𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐬" have a truly remarkable story to tell. First fermented in buried earthenware...Read More
Orange Wines | Skin-Contact Whites of Unparalleled Intensity
Lying somewhere in between the realms of white wine and red wine are two alternative styles: rosé and orange. The former is created by shortening the time that red grapes spend macerating on their skins during fermentation, while the latter results from extending the time white grapes spend doing the same. Color compounds seeping out from the skins dye these wines a deep golden, amber or bright orange color, while the tannins extracted lend them a remarkable full-bodied mouthfeel and robust texture on the palate.
Although orange wines come in a wide array of grape varieties from many different terroirs around the world, they have in common a kind of special aromatic intensity. They pour forth notes of honeyed stone fruit, dried orange rind and toasted nuts, along with pleasant oxidative nuances of bruised fruit, especially bruised apple. These are big, bold white wines with plenty of body and acidity, which will hold their ground even with the most generously flavored dishes. We recommend them with spicy curry, lamb tagine, smoked eggplant or a slow-cooked goat stew.
What is orange wine and how is it made ?
Just like their red, white and rosé counterparts, orange wines (also called “amber wines”) are named after the color they take on in the glass, which can range anywhere from a deep straw yellow or gold to dark amber or bright orange. Perhaps a more technically correct name for these wines is “skin-contact wines,” referring to their production process.
These wines are made from white grapes of various varieties (certainly not from oranges) in a way similar to how red wine is produced. While white grapes destined for white wine are typically crushed right after arriving to the winery and then left to ferment without the grape skins, orange wines are made by leaving the skins in during the fermentation process for anywhere between a few hours to several months.
While the juice and skins remain in contact, certain elements (including color, anthocyanins and tannins) begin to seep out of the skins into the juice, just as they do in the production of red wines from red grapes. This results in a white wine with a darker hue, bigger body and more tannin than usual. The compounds extracted from the skins also serve as natural preservatives, allowing these wines to last longer than natural white wines without skin contact.
The longer the contact between juice and skins, the more intense the profile of the resulting wine. In some cases, the wine is left to ferment on skins long enough for oxygen to seep in, which lends an oxidative style quite like a “vin jaune” from Jura. In this case, the wine takes on tell-tale “oxidative aromas,” such as bruised apple and nutty aromas.
The production process of these skin-contact wines is natural and typically does not involve the use of chemical additives, such as sulfites. Most orange wines therefore qualify as natural wines. Winemakers specializing in this style usually use only naturally-occurring native yeasts, choosing not to inoculate the must with commercial yeasts. These wines tend to be made from grapes grown organically or biodynamically.
The History of this Fascinating Style
Now that we know what they are and how they are made, we can take a look back at the history of these wines, including their ancient roots and their modern-day renaissance. This age-old wine style can be traced back as far as 6,000 BC in the Caucasus (modern-day Georgia). Here, winemakers have continued the ancient tradition of producing skin-contact wines using large earthenware fermentation vessels called qvevri. These clay vessels were once lined with beeswax (to prevent excessive oxidation) and buried underground to allow the wines to undergo fermentation in the naturally cool temperatures of the earth.
Eventually, technological advancements in winemaking resulted in a shift away from this ancient method, although it remained common in certain parts of Europe, including Slovenia. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that the skin-contact style was rediscovered by visionary winemakers like Joško Gravner and Stanko Radikon in northeastern Italy, near the Slovenian border. The winemakers of Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia appellation and Slovenia’s Goriška Brda have led the modern renaissance of orange wine, which is now produced in several New World regions as well. These wines have recently seen a surge of popularity, especially among wine drinkers seeking new, alternative “niche” styles.
The Regions Producing Skin-Contact Wines
Today orange wines have spread from their place of origin in Georgia around the world. In Italy, this style was first adapted in Friuli-Venezia Giulia by legendary producers such as Radikon and Josko Gravner. However, it has quickly spread around the county and is now produced by estates all over Italy, including Monastero Suore Cistercensi in Lazio, Paolo Bea in Umbria and COS in Sicily. These wines have remained popular in Slovenia, where iconic producers like Movia recreate the ancient style. Skin-contact wines have also gained new ground in Greece, where producers such as Troupis Winery create fine examples of this type of wine from local grape varieties.
Skin contact white wines are today produced in several New World winemaking countries, including Australia, South Africa and the United States. Within the USA, this style is particularly popular in New York state and in California, where Scholium Project, for example, produces a fantastic skin-contact wine from the Sauvignon Blanc grape variety.
The Aromas and Flavors of Skin-Contact Wines
Just as with any other broad color-based category of wine, it is impossible to generalize about the specific aromas and flavors of orange wines. In fact, these qualities will depend on the grape variety or grape varieties from which they are made, as well as the specific techniques used in their vinification (length of skin contact, especially). Nevertheless, most of these skin-contact wines do tend to share a full-bodied mouthfeel and robust texture on the palate. They offer a remarkable depth of flavor, while also maintaining the fresh acidity characteristic of white wines.
The most common descriptors used to describe these wines are bruised fruit (apple and pear), tropical fruit (jackfruit), honeyed stone fruit (notes of apricot), dried orange rind and hazelnuts.
Food Pairing with Skin-Contact Wines
When choosing the right food pairing for your skin-contact wine, it is important to consider the grape variety with which it is made, as the latter will lend its own varietal aromas to the wine. Generally, these wines are bold and robust in style, allowing them to pair with equally bold or spicy dishes. We recommend pairing skin-contact wines with spicy curry dishes, a smoky baba ghanoush of eggplant, Moroccan dishes like spicy lamb or mutton tagine, Ethiopian recipes for slow-cooked goat tibs, and intensely flavorful Asian dishes like Korean kimchi, Sichuan “dan dan” noodles or traditional Japanese dishes made with fermented soybeans.