Orange wine has grown enormously in popularity over the past decade. Though make no mistake—this style of vinification is anything but new. In fact, it’s one of the oldest ways in which wine has historically been made, dating back thousands of years. However, despite its longstanding global presence, there’s still quite a bit of confusion surrounding these tannic, tangy and complex wines.
What Is Orange Wine?
Orange wine is white wine that’s vinified like a red wine, meaning that the juice comes from white grape varieties that are macerated with their skins, rather than directly pressed, prior to vinification. This maceration process that includes the grapes’ skins is the source of another term for this style of wine: skin-contact wine.
Where Does Orange Wine Come From?
Orange winemaking originated in Georgia thousands of years ago. It remains popular there and has also spread to regions including Alsace (France), northern Italy and Slovenia, although most wine-producing regions around the globe now produce some skin-contact wines.
How Is Orange Wine Made?
Simply put, orange wine is white wine made using red-wine vinification techniques. Ordinarily, white wine grapes are directly pressed after harvest, meaning that juice is extracted from the grapes without any form of skin maceration. On the contrary, red wines are usually crushed and their juice is macerated, or allowed to sit, along with the grapes’ skins, seeds and stems for a period of time prior to pressing. This process adds pigment, flavor and tannins to the juice, or must.
Even though orange wines are made from white grapes, the winemaking process is similar to that for red grapes. Instead of being immediately pressed, the grapes spend time macerating with their skins, stems and seeds prior to pressing.
What Does Orange Wine Taste Like?
The flavor profiles of orange wine are highly dependent on a winemaker’s vinification decisions, specifically the length of time they choose to leave the juice on the skins, as well as the vessels in which it ferments and ages. Grape variety also plays a key role in an orange wine’s flavor profile.
Because of their skin-macerated nature, orange wines are basically white wines with some red wine characteristics, which is to say that their skin-macerated nature generally gives them fuller bodies than nonmacerated white wines, as well as a greater presence of tannins. Orange wines are generally palate-coating, grippy and marked by flavors of mandarin, citrus rind, bruised fruits, sour beer and/or bitter herbs, depending on the vinification techniques and grape varieties used.
Which Foods Should I Pair with Orange Wine?
Due to their fruit-forwardness, acid and tannic presence, orange wines are extremely food-friendly. These wines come to life when served alongside classic Mediterranean-inspired mezze, including eggplant dips, humms, tahini, lamb skewers and more. For simpler yet equally delicious pairings, cured meat boards, cheeses and “fall flavors” (think squash, mushrooms or roasted poultry) will do the trick equally well.