What is an Orange Wine?
Air Date: Wednesday, September 20th 2023
Orange wine may sound like a tropical concoction, but it's far from it. Contrary to the name, orange wine is not made from oranges but rather from white grapes. In this blog post, we'll delve into what orange wine is, how it's made, its history, and why it's experiencing a resurgence in popularity. So, let's uncork the mysteries of this intriguing wine variety.
What is Orange Wine? How is it Made?
Orange wine is essentially a white wine made using a red winemaking technique. While white wine production involves pressing grapes to extract juice and separating it from the skins, orange wine production keeps the grape skins and seeds in contact with the juice during fermentation. This unique process imparts the characteristic orange color to the wine.
Now here's the thing, the color of orange wine primarily comes from lignin, a complex polymer found in grape seeds. AKA: the color comes from the seeds more than the skins of the grapes!
Of course, phenolic reactions in white grape skins do help to create the orange hue. Factors like temperature during fermentation also influence the wine's color, with warmer fermentations resulting in a deeper hue.
It's important to note that orange wine is distinct from rosé, as rosé is made from red or black grapes with minimal skin contact, while orange wine uses white grapes with extended skin contact. This means there essentially opposites. Orange wine is a white wine made using a red winemaking technique and rosé is a red wine made using a white winemaking technique!
Why Make Orange Wine?
Orange wine isn't a recent trend; it's a tradition dating back over 6,000 years (some may even say 8,000 years.) Its origins can be traced to Georgia, where ancient winemakers used clay pots called qvevri for fermentation. The inclusion of grape skins in the process was crucial for preserving the wine in the absence of refrigeration. (It was also preferred to hand peeling each and every grape used to make the wine.)
However, the practice fell out of popularity due to historical events, particularly the Russian occupation of Georgia in 1921. Luckily for us, orange wine made a resurgence in the early 1990s in Georgia, with countries like Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy following suit, reviving their vinicultural traditions. This revival was further popularized by Italian winemaker Josko Gravner in 1997.
Today, orange wine is appreciated for its cultural significance, textural complexity, and contribution to the natural wine movement, characterized by organic farming, native yeast, minimal additives, and often, an unfined and unfiltered appearance.
Different Styles of Orange Wine
Not all orange wines are the same. They vary based on factors such as:
Aromatic grapes like Muscat or Gewürztraminer yield perfume-y orange wines with nutty and dried fruit notes, while neutral grapes like Chardonnay contribute to textural and structural qualities.
Maceration and fermentation duration play a significant role in flavor and tannin development. Shorter maceration may produce a lighter wine, while extended skin contact can result in a rich, silky mouthfeel.
Winemakers use techniques like punch downs and pump overs to ensure skin contact during fermentation. The choice between these methods impacts the wine's elegance and overall character.
5 Popular Regions for Orange Wine
Logistics, Food Pairings, and Cost
I'd recommend serving orange wine slightly chilled at 50-55°F (take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before drinking it, or only chill for about an hour.) Consider using a decanter to help it open up.
Orange wines pair wonderfully with bold foods, including curry, Moroccan cuisine, Korean dishes with fermented kimchi, and traditional Japanese dishes. I'd recommend trying them with a delicious porcini mushroom stroganoff.
The cost of orange wine has become more accessible, with great examples available in the $20-$30 range. Keep in mind that not all bottles are labeled as "orange wine," so don't hesitate to ask for assistance at your local wine shop.
In conclusion, orange wine is a captivating and diverse category within the wine world, offering a rich history and a wide range of flavors and styles. Whether you're a seasoned wine enthusiast or a curious newcomer, exploring orange wine is a journey well worth taking. Cheers to discovering this ancient and vibrant wine tradition!