Orange wine has a growing love-hate relationship among sommelier circles. It’s been claimed as the hipster of the wine world, and received both praise and flack for being faddish. And yet, you’ve probably never heard of it.
To start, orange wine is not fermented orange juice, and it’s not a strange blend of red and white wine. It’s simply white wine that is produced with extended skin contact in the way red wine would be made (most whites are immediately separated from their skins after being pressed). Hence, they’re also referred to as skin-contact wines. Although making white wine in this way is not a common practice today, it is a technique that has been employed for thousands of years with ancient roots that even trace back to the Caucasus (modern-day Georgia).
Aside from their fun color, fans of the orange wine style love the combination of flavors - citrus zest, nuttiness, bitter herbs - that you just don’t get in other wines. Orange wines also have the best-of-both worlds characteristic of bearing more tannins and grippy texture like you find in red wine, coupled with the lightness, minerality, and mouthwatering acidity that is reminiscent of drinking a white wine. This combination of textures also makes them great for pairing with food and have since become very popular among restaurant chefs. They’ve got enough substance for red meat and the freshness required for fish so they can be very versatile.
Image via @bsmithly
While these orange wines were once the exclusive domain of the Italian and Slovenian winemakers who popularized the style, recently, American winemakers (particularly in California) have begun experimenting with them too as almost any white grape variety can be used to make them. Orange wines might take a bit of getting used to – they often have a funky nose and cider-like zing. But if you're curious, try a glass and keep an open mind. You may just find your new favorite flavor.