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“Orange wine is simply a wine that comes from white grapes fermented just like a red wine.”
Orange wine: a natural colour, the result of a simple process
How is Orange Wine made?
Orange wine (more technically called ‘skin contact wine’, a name which makes sense when you know how it’s made) is simply a wine that comes from white grapes fermented just like a red wine. That means that, unlike white wine which is made from the juice of grapes that are pressed quickly in order to be turned into wine, orange wine (and therefore also red wine) is made by leaving the grape juice to macerate with the skins, the seeds and sometimes the stalks..
Is the color of Orange Wine natural?
It’s in the skin, seeds and stalks that ‘polyphenols’ are found. The most well-known type of polyphenols are called ‘tannins’. They give the wine structure and character, but when they come into contact with saliva, they can also have an astringent taste ifthere are too many of them, if they are not well-controlled or are too young.
Less well known yet just as important, the ‘flavonoids’ (which are found on the skin of white grapes), and the anthocyanins (found on the skin of red grapes) are the polyphenols that are responsible for the wine’s colour. It’s due to these anthocyans and their pigments that a red wine has its colour. As for orange wine, the process of maceration with the grape skins gives it the unique and surprising colour behind its name (coined by an English wine importer in 2004).
How long is orange wine left to macerate?
Just like red wine, the time it is left to macerate can vary from a few days to several months. It all depends on the type of wine that the winegrower is looking for. The longer the juice is left in contact with the skin and other bits, the stronger, more colourful, more structured and aromatic the wine is. However the laws of nature are mischievous and complex. Many winemakers will tell you that if you leave the wine to macerate for long enough (generally several months), the skin, seeds and stalks will begin to reabsorb some of the tannins, and the wine will actually become lighter and more delicate.
“It’s possible then that orange wine was actually the first type of wine to be produced from white grapes…”
What is the Origin of Orange Wine?
Georgia: the birthplace of wine-growing
The first signs of the wine-making process are found in Caucasus in Georgia and date back over 8000 years. Researchers have found traces of tartaric, malic, succinic and citric acid in earthenware from the early neolithic era, all of which are the chemical signature of grapes and wine. The Georgians were therefore the first people to use wild grapevine to make wine.
Traditional methods of wine-making in Georgia
Traditionally, Georgian winemakers produce and store their red and white wine in terracotta amphoras (known as ‘Qvevri’), which they bury underground (to maintain them at a certain heat) in their ‘marani’ (Georgian winery), leaving the grape juice to macerate with the skins and stalks. It’s difficult to determine the date of this tradition since it precedes the invention of writing, but we know at least that it originated there. It’s possible then that orange wine was actually the first type of wine to be produced from white grapes.
Orange wine conquers the world
Over the centuries, Greece and Romania (two countries with wine-growing traditions that date back to antiquity), Slovenia and Italy would take inspiration from Georgian winemakers and adopt their technique of leaving white grapes to macerate for a long time. Then at the start of the 90s, as the natural wine movement was taking off, orange wine started to become well-known thanks to two Italian winemakers (Stanko Radikon et Joško Gravner). It’s popularity soon grew in Europe (France, Germany, Austria, Spain etc) and the new world (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc).
Where to Buy Orange Wine?
Buy in Town
To buy orange wine, you can go to your natural wine shop in town. He will necessarily have a few cuvées to offer you (otherwise he is not a serious wine merchant 😉!). Of course, we advise you not to go to a supermarket or a shop that is too mainstream. To find one, you can go to our menu: Buy Natural Wine. The good thing is that a wine merchant can advise you a bottle if you are a neophyte. We also !
Here is a small selection of our favorite online wine shops:
“Orange wine can be surprising, and it’s an exciting new experience for novices…”
Frequently Asked Questions about Orange Wine
How do skin contact wines taste?
👉 The flavour of orange wine can be surprising, and it’s an exciting new experience for novices. It’s fresh and subtle like a white wine (without necessarily being acidic), yet generous and indulgent and structured like a red wine (because of the tannins). Of course each orange wine is unique (depending on the variety of grape, the ‘terroir’, the time it is left to macerate etc.), but they tend to have complex aromas of candied fruit, nuts, and spices.
When to drink an Orange Wine?
👉 Since they are fresh without being heavy, orange wines are perfect for an aperitif with friends. Thanks to their structure and generosity, they are the perfect accompaniment for slightly fatty fish, white meat or even a dessert that is not too sweet.
What Temperature for Orange Wine?
👉 In general, orange wine is drunk at a slightly higher temperature than white wine, and cooler than red wine. If you choose a light skin contact wine, drink it around 12°. If it is to accompany a dish, choose a temperature of 14°.
How to find out more?
👉 If you want to know more about orange wine, we advise you to watch this documentary, which traces the whole history of skin contact wine (called Amber Wine in Georgia):