What is Orange Wine? (Hint: It's not made from oranges)

What is Orange Wine? (Hint: It's not made from oranges)

A bottle of orange wine with a dried slice of orange hanging from it

Not made from Oranges. It may be better described as "Amber Wine" "Golden Wine" or "Skin-Contact Wine." In the simplest of terms, it is a white wine, made from white-fleshed grapes, that is left in contact with the skin for days, weeks, or months. This leaves the wine with an increase in tannins and color. The end result being a white more similar to a red and an overall more complex wine.

Are you new to wine? That’s not a problem! Read our guide on How to Drink Wine Properly.

The New York Post called it "The New Rose." Is that true?

Rose is produced in three basic fashions: Skin Contact, Saignee (from the French word "to bleed") and blending. Blending is the combination of red and white wine, banned in many places. The Saignee method is widely used and consists mainly of "bleeding the pink color from a red wine before fermentation. However, one of the most broadly used methods is skin contact.

Orange wine is created the same way, right?

Yes and no. Rose is in essence the opposite process of an Orange Wine. Yes it is also a skin contact wine. But while an orange wine is produced through longer exposure to the skins of white fleshed grapes, Rose is created in the exact opposite way. Very short exposure to black skins of the grape (maybe three days) and then the skins are discarded before the fermentation process.

wine being poured into a pot or sliced oranges

So if they're not the same, what's the difference? 

Due to the difference in complexities in body, you pair them differently. Both can be paired well with a good salty cheese, but while Rose is perfect for a nice summer appetizer, an Orange wine is heartier. Pair with a meatier fish, a pork dish, or even a steak. Its perfect to put in a decanter for the entire table to pour from.

Want to pair some orange wine with some fish? Here are some Wine & Fish Pairings you must try!

Much like the Spice Girls and Parachute Pants, Is Orange wine just a quick but soon to die trend? 

Interestingly enough, Orange wine has been around for centuries. Many give credit for its appearance on the scene to Josko Gravner, who first started producing it in the 90's.

Tired of the technicalities, he took a card from the ancient Georgians, ordered himself a Qvevri (a giant earthen pot, don't worry I don't know how to pronounce it either) and started to make his wines the old fashioned way. The result was earthier wine, or "amber" wine as Gravner refers to them.

Learn how to Open a Wine Bottle like a Pro!

Where can I find it?

While wine shops are seemingly of no use here, you can find the hotspots. For example, L'Apicio in NYC has an orange wine by the glass (the perfect opportunity to taste test). Brooklyn's The Four Horsemen carries two by the glass and eight by the bottle. That seemed too good to pass up, so along with two tasting buddies I made my way to the hipster capital of the world.

Let me first say, I highly recommend the Four Horsemen. Cool atmosphere, extremely knowledgeable staff (ask for Billy, the man knows his wine) and a diverse menu. We tried three wines: IGP Terre Siciliane Grecanico Dorato Sikele 2013, Lazio Ruscum Trebbiano Tuscano, Grechetto, Malvasia Coenobium 2013, and Emilia Bianco Ageno Malvasia di Candia, Ortugo La Stoppa 2010. Here's what we found.

Orange Wines are as diverse in taste as they are in color. Coenobium's was mild and welcoming, slightly fruit forward, with a strong nose. Sikele's was highly tannic with deep honey notes and was on the sweeter side. The Ageno was intense! We all had different tasting experiences with this wine, but the summation was a strong musty nose with lots of notes of ginger and spice.

I found them all unique and interesting, and while I wasn't in love with the intensity of the Ageno, one of my buddies sure was.

Orange wine is a fantastic way to try something new and adventurous in your wine tasting experience. Test the waters and experience it for yourself. You may discover a new passion! Either way it's new, it's different, it will impress your friends, and you can shame your local wine shop owner for knowing less than you.

Josko Gravner

Gravner is a legendary winemaker, one of the most esteemed in the world. When he brought orange wine back into fashion in the 90’s, people took notice. He prefers to call these amber wines due to the unique color. By leaving the skins on white grapes for longer, the result is a wine with enhanced body, aroma, tannins, and even a hint of something wild underneath it all. 

Another of Gravner’s trademarks is his organic wine production based on biodiversity and moon cycles, with bottling always taking place under a waning moon. This is how our ancestors made wine and he is determined to continue this rich tradition. Gravner does not filter his wines, change temperature, use chemicals, or add yeast. Needless to say, they are not for the faint of heart!

Read about the different Types of Wine Grapes here!

Tasting Notes

The flavor notes vary as orange wine is a blend rather than a single varietal. It can be comprised of riesling, pinot grigio, chenin blanc, albarino, and vermentino. This is what you call a flavor bomb. Orange wines tend to be complex with the robust profile of a red but refreshing like whites. You might pick up on traces of jackfruit, apricots, and even hazelnut when trying orange wines. Just be aware that some have such an intense flavor they are best enjoyed in small quantities. And there is no better time to enjoy this unique beverage on October 6, which is National Orange Wine Day!

What Do the Experts Say?

Patrick Cournot, a partner and sommelier at Ruffian in New York’s East Village, calls orange wine “trendy and mischievous”. They can be acidic and definitely wake up your palate, take on a smoorther and more mellow profile, or even lean towards smoky with very bold tannins. Despite these varying flavor profiles, orange wine is best consumed at 55-degrees F, 50 if you want them to be more refreshing. Cournot explains a good rule of thumb is to drink them slightly warmer than a white wine and a touch cooler than you would a red. 

Due to their myriad of flavors, orange wine makes for some spectacular food pairings! Team them up with bold foods like curries, traditional Japanese cuisine, and exotic Moroccan dishes. Asian foods go exceptionally well with orange wines as do salty cheeses that are famous for overpowering more traditional white varietals. For vegans, the wine is a delight with hearty vegetables like winter squash, mushrooms, and eggplant. For those who prefer bitter profiles like artichokes and kale, orange wines are a striking complement

friends toasting each other with wine

The major producers of these wines are Slovenia, Australia, South Africa, Austria, the United States, France, Spain, and, of course, Italy. Orange wine truly is unique as it boasts a taste unlike any other. Once obscure, it is now easily sourced and there are bottles for every budget. You can find this natural wonder anywhere from discount grocers to the toniest of specialty wine shops. If you are purchasing an orange wine as a unique gift, be sure to pick one up for yourself as it brings out the oenophile in all of us.

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