Orange wine: what is it and how is it made?
What is orange wine?
Orange wine is made by soaking and fermenting the juice of white grapes on the skins, pips and stems. The soaking, or maceration, turns the wine orange in color. A variety of hues can occur in orange wine, which is influenced by the grape variety, the degree of ripeness of the grapes and the duration of skin contact. So the big difference between white and orange wine is in the maceration; where orange wine is soaked and fermented on skins, pips and stems, in white wine these parts of the grape are generally discarded.
Where did orange wine originally come from?
Although orange wine seems to be a trend of recent years, orange wine is in fact ancient. Paintings from the periods after the Middle Ages confirm this with wines that look much more orange than white wines of today. The origin of orange wine is in Georgia, where people in the Kakheti region began fermenting Rkatsiteli grapes in clay pots/barrels, also called qvevri, some 5,000 years ago. In this production process, fermentation of the grapes often takes place underground, where the temperature generally remains constant.
Where is orange wine made?
Because of its growing popularity, orange wine is now made almost in all Old and New World countries. Yet the hotbeds remain mainly Slovenia, Collio (Italy, Friuli Venezia Giulia) and Georgia: the places where orange wine was made well before its growing popularity since the turn of the last century. Incidentally, not all winemakers can legally make orange wine, as the category is missing from official, legal designations (appellation bodies, e.g.).
What does orange wine taste like?
The taste of orange wine is unusual compared to white and red wine. For example, the taste of orange wine is often defined as rich and complex, with notes of honey, nuts, spices and citrus. The richness and complexity does depend on a number of factors, including the grape variety, the impact of climate and soil on the vineyards, and the duration of skin contact. For example, when orange wine has been in contact with the skins, pips and stems for a longer period of time, it will result in more intense colors and richer, more complex flavor profiles. In this case, the wine is often firmer than regular white wine; partly because of the intensity of the tannins, it is reminiscent of the texture of red wine.
In the wine world, the criticism is often made that many orange wines taste the same. Here we do not so much agree! While maceration definitely impacts the flavor profile and texture, orange wines can also very strongly express the terroir and grapes! However, we do recommend letting orange wines breathe a little longer to make the wines more vibrant. Also, when paired with food, the tannins tend to soften; so orange wines are definitely recommended to pair with food. Think Asian dishes, such as curry & sushi, for example!
The different flavor profiles of orange wines in a row:
- Ripe versus less ripe, depending on the duration of the skin contact, among other things;
- There are both dry and sweet orange wines, depending in part on the grape variety and the duration of maceration;
- Tones of citrus, fair apple, orange peel, juniper, nuts and/or dried apricot are common.
Is orange wine always natural wine?
No, orange wine is not always natural wine. Natural wine is a specific type of wine made with organically or biodynamically grown grapes.The fermentation of natural wines takes place using wild, native yeasts & without chemical additives, which affect the taste or appearance. Orange wine can be either natural wine or regular wine, depending on how it is made. Some orange wine producers make the wine according to natural wine rules, using maceration with natural yeasts and no temperature control. Other orange wine producers opt for unnatural yesterday and/or conventionally grown grapes. So orange wine is not necessarily natural wine.