Choosing the right bottle of wine for a friend (or even yourself) can feel tricky, even when the choice was limited to just red and white. Rosé made the decision even more complicated, and now there’s another color joining the rainbow at your favorite tapas bar: Orange wine. What is this stuff, and should you bother passing up your go-to rosé to try it?
What is orange wine?
Orange wine may seem like it just cropped up overnight and casually sat itself down on your menu, but, like most wine practices, it’s been around for thousands of years. It made a resurgence in popularity as Georgia and other regions (Slovenia, Croatia, and parts of Italy) began to restore their traditional wine–making practices. Calling it “orange” is a little misleading, though—it refers to the hue, and is about as much made from oranges as rosé is made from roses. (That is to say, it’s not.) The more appropriate term is “skin contact white wine,” which is much more representative of how it’s made.
Between tannins, vintages, and terroir, the world of wine can seem like a vocabulary quiz for some of us. But when it comes to how wines get their color, it’s relatively simple. Some wines are made by allowing the juice of the crushed grapes to hang out (ferment) with the skins that once encapsulated them, and some are not. (There’s plenty more nuance depending on the winemaker, of course, but for our purposes, let’s just focus there.) All of the color is held in the skins of grapes, not in the flesh, so it’s during this time that wine will pick up color.
Red wines are made with red grapes and macerate with their skins anywhere from a few days to several months depending on the wine being produced, picking up all those beautiful reds that we love so much that we decided to use them to describe indoor paint (the living room isn’t red, it’s “merlot”). White wines are made with grapes that have their skins whisked away before fermentation. Surprisingly, though, white wines aren’t only made from white grapes. Red grapes that have their skins removed before fermentation will also produce white wine, as is the case with a number of Champagnes. You guessed it—this is not skin contact wine.
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How is orange wine different than red and white wines?
Skin contact white wine is made in the red wine fashion, but with white grapes. Crushing the white grapes and letting them stew and ferment with their skins lets the carotenoids (yep, that’s in orange carrots, too) and other extractives in the skin impart their color for a wine ranging anywhere from clear honeysuckle to foggy orange-red, something akin to a late sunset. The skins impart the complex tannins and body of red wines, but the white grape juice gives it the bright fruitiness you’ve come to love from white wines (for more notes on the flavor of skin contact white wine, read Pull the Cork’s post here).
What does orange wine taste like?
Understanding the name but still not sure if you’d like it? Think about what you like about wine already. If you love red wine because of its oakiness, bold aroma and complex finish, well, there’s a skin contact white out there for you. Maybe the easy fruitiness of white wines with light tannins is more your style—sounds like you might like the 2020 Sun Goddess Pinot Grigio Ramato that Food and Wine have on their list (also, it’s Mary J ‘s. wine, and that’s reason enough to grab a glass). The body and intensity of aroma has been described as similar to, or in between, rosé and red wine, and the flavors are reflective of more potent stone fruits and florals that you’d get notes of in white wines. It’s more like eating peach pie versus smelling flowers on the breeze.
Skin contact white wines are wide-ranging, and you’ll likely find one that matches up with your favorite aspects of either red or white wine, so give it a try. Plus you can always gift a bottle to a friend and grab a sip. If you don’t like it, it’s fine. It wasn’t really for you, anyway. After all, using friends as wine-test subjects is why they’re there. Cheers, to friends.
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