What is Orange Wine?
You’ve likely seen “orange wine” on restaurant lists at some point over the past couple of years. This isn’t some wacky wine made with citrus, but is rather a type of wine that’s come to be known as orange because of its rich amber colour. They are also known as skin contact wines.
Orange wines are essentially white wines that have been made leaving the grape skins and seeds in with the liquid during maceration, rather than extracting the skins from the juices immediately, which is how conventional white wine is made. The skins impart an orange colour on the wine, thus the name.
This same skin contact always occurs in red wine fermentation, giving red wine its dark colour; the skins are left on for a shorter period during rosé production, giving it the wine its signature light red or pink hue.
Here is a further breakdown of orange wines:
- Along with colour, tannins also come from grape skins. This is why red wines are often tannic, and white wines aren’t. In orange wine (you may have guessed), tannins become present, along with more complex aromas and flavours. Some argue that this process provides a truer, fuller expression of the grapes and terroir, resulting in a wine with more structure and flavour.
- Orange wine was first made thousands of years ago Georgia, where the wine was left to ferment for weeks or even years in big clay vats. The technique was then picked up again a few hundred years ago by the Italians and Slovenians.
- Because of its more holistic production, the fact the little to no additives are used, and that this was a traditional method once used, these wines have become increasingly popular with the trend of natural, organic and biodynamic wines.
- While there are many benefits to the natural movement, this should also come with a warning – because orange wines macerate for so long in their skins (longer than red wines), the wine can turn out oxidised – in other words, no good!
- There is also much variability in orange wine making because of this long fermentation period and minimalist intervention – this means there are really no hard points of reference for what to expect in a bottle, and rubbish wines can make the cut on a list or in a bottle shop under the pretext of this trend.
Orange wine has nothing to do with oranges – leaving white wine grapes to macerate with their skins gives this wine its rich, amber colour
While I probably sound wary of these wines, I will say there are of course some really fun and delicious orange wines out there. As always, it’s worth trying a few to see what you think for yourself – whether you love or hate them, there is no shame!
If you are giving orange wines a try, it’s worth noting that unlike white wines, orange wines shouldn’t be served cold. A slight chill is okay, but as chilling wine makes tannins more pronounced, this would make the already oddly-placed tannins in orange wine too overbearing!
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