Orange wine is a bit of a misnomer because it isn’t referring to a wine made with oranges nor is it a Mimosa cocktail (a blend of 1 part orange juice to 2 parts sparkling wine.) Orange wine is something entirely different.


What is Orange Wine?

 They are white wines made by leaving the grape skins and seeds in contact with the juice, creating a deep orange-hued wine.

To make an orange wine you take white grapes, mash them up and put them in a vessel (often in large cement or ceramic vessels). Then, they are typically left alone from 4 days to sometimes over a year with the skins and seeds still attached. Orange winemaking is typically a very natural making process that uses little to no additives sometimes, not even yeast. Orange wines taste different than regular white wines and have sour taste and nuttiness from oxidation.

 “Make sure you’re sitting down
when you taste your first orange wine.”


Let’s thank Simon Woolf over at Decanter who found out that the term Orange Wine was coined by British wine importer David Harvey at Raeburn Fine Wine . He used it to describe this non-interventionist style of white winemaking. You may also hear the term “Ramato” which means “auburn” in Italian and typically refers to Italian Pinot Grigio made in an orange wine style.

On the palate, they’re big, dry, and even have tannin like a red wine with a sourness in their taste similar to fruit beer. Often they’re so intense that you might want to make sure you’re sitting down when you taste your first orange wine.


TIP: The deep color of orange wine comes from lignin in grapeseeds.


Where Do Orange Wines Come From?


The process of making orange wines is very old, but the reinvigoration of this ancient process has only come about in the last 20 odd years. Many modern-day orange winemakers look as far back as 5000 years in Caucasus (modern-day Georgia–not the state) where wines were fermented in large subterranean vessels called Qvevri (“Kev-ree”) that were originally closed with stones and sealed with beeswax.Orange wines are still very rare, but many countries have growing interest in this natural winemaking style.


Just over the border from Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy is the region of Goriška Brda (“Gore-eesh-kah Barda”) in Slovenia which has a long history of orange winemaking. The wine is very well-integrated here and you’ll often see wines poured in standard glasses, like beer. There is another odd wine to be found here, called Motnik, which is made in a natural method in barrels that are disinfected by smoking herbs such as rosemary, bay leaves and sage.


Most orange winemaking can be found in northeastern Italy along the border of Slovenia in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Here you can find orange wines produced with indigenous grapes of the region including Sauvignon Vert (Friulano), Ribolla Gialla and Pinot Grigio. The orange wine process was popularized in Italy by winemaker Josko Gravner who first attempted an orange wine in 1997.


Georgia is most famous for their qvevri-aged wines. Qvevri (aka Kvevri) were the first vessels ever to be used for wine fermentation, with archaeological findings, supposedly dating back to 6000 BC. Qvevri are clay vessels lined with beeswax and completely buried under the ground where the temperature stays even throughout the year, allowing the wines to ferment in the natural coolness of the earth. The grape of choice from Georgia for natural qvevri wines is called Rkatsiteli (“Awr-kat-seh-telly”) which is known to produce wine with a deep red-orange hue.


In France, there is a region east of Burgundy that produces rich orange-hued wines. The Jura region (famous for Comté cheese) makes nutty-tart wines called Vin Jaune and Côtes du Jura which both use oxidative style of winemaking with a rare grape called Savagnin (and sometimes Chardonnay). While these wines use a slightly different winemaking method (pressing off the skins), the wines have a similar taste to orange wines.


 Source - Wine Folly 


Photo: Courtesy of Sergio C. Bindel Jr. / @surge_jr


Five years ago marked the entrance of “orange wine”—an obscure category that has stirred some very vocal proponents and riled some very vocal detractors—into the international wine scene. Though the style has been produced for quite some time, the “orange” description was purportedly coined in 2004 by a U.K.-based wine importer who encountered a bottle in winemaker Frank Cornelissen’s cellar in Sicily. It refers to certain white wines (yes, they’re made from white grapes) that fall somewhere on the color spectrum of fall foliage. Their flavors also have great autumnal appeal, since many can be downright and broodingly earthy. Orange wine has become somewhat of a derogatory term amongst sommeliers, and some restaurants have taken to listing them as amber, which is a more accurate description of color in many cases. “I prefer skin-fermented,” says Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier of NYC’s soon-to-reopen Rouge Tomate, referring to the method by which the wine is made: fermented on the skins, or “macerated,” the same way a red wine obtains its color and texture.

Think of the wine like tea, with maceration akin to steeping. The longer it macerates, the more character, depth of color, tannins, and bitterness is extracted. It’s the way whites were made in ancient times, before the advent of stainless steel tanks, pumps, and filtration systems. Some producers today are even producing orange wines in clay vessels called amphorae, which are dug into the ground to protect the wine from oxidation, light, and temperature fluctuations.

Sure, orange wines can be challenging for those not used to so much texture in their whites, and some may seem like hippie wines: made in strangely rustic ways, showing their bumps, bruises, and the signature of the winemakers who loved them. But the best examples prove that skin contact can amplify flavors where conventional white winemaking would distill them down to their essence. They’re great if you’re in a bind for something to pair with funkier fare—like sweetbreads, chicken liver mousse, or game birds—as well as with the autumnal bounty of your fall dinner table.

It’s a tradition that is still very much alive in Eastern Europe, like in Georgia, where Lepeltier recently traveled to study up on the technique, and has slowly but surely migrated west and even into the New World, with several prominent wineries in California now practicing skin-fermentation.


 Source: VOGUE 

Orange wines: it’s time to get in touch

It’s the new colour on the wine spectrum – white wine made as if it were a red. Simon Woolf debunks the myths behind this centuries-old style of vinification...

Orange wines are the most characterful, thrilling and food-friendly styles on our shelves today, with their deep hues, intense aromas and complex flavours. So say the converts. The counter charge is robust: orange is the emperor’s new clothes, beloved only of trendy sommeliers and hipsters who forgive their oxidised, faulty nature. The wines are unpalatable curiosities that no right-thinking wine consumer would ever choose to drink for pleasure. Who’s right?


Before answering that question, what exactly is an orange wine? The term is increasingly used for white wines where the grapes were left in contact with their skins for days, weeks or even months. Effectively, this is white wine made as if it were a red. The result differs not only in colour, but is also markedly more intense on the nose and palate, sometimes with significant tannins.


Orange wines: recommended producers


 The term ‘orange wine’ was coined in 2004 by David Harvey of UK wine importer Raeburn Fine Wines, while working in Frank Cornelissen’s cellar in Sicily’s Etna region. Harvey explains: ‘I didn’t set out to invent a word, I just used it naturally and it stuck.’ Some prefer the moniker ‘amber wines’, while others even question the need for a specific term. Saša Radikon, winemaker at his family’s estate in Friuli Collio, confirms, ‘The name may not be ideal, but this style needs its own category. If customers order a white wine and it turns out to be this surprising dark colour, they might not be so happy.’ He pushes the definition further: ‘For me, a proper orange wine must be fermented with wild yeasts and without temperature control, otherwise you’re muting the very characteristics you want to extract from the skins.’

Prejudice and misinformation seem to surround the genre. Critics sometimes mistakenly assume that the amber, orange or brown colour signals oxidation – or that the skin-contact process inevitably spoils the wine. Neither is true. The colour comes from the skins, not from oxidation, and although the winemaking style is often oxidative (open-top oak or plastic fermenters are popular), producers typically seal vessels after fermentation to ensure the wines stay fresh.

Confusion with that other slippery category ‘natural wines’ is also rife. It’s true that many producers of orange wines are keen on minimal intervention and low sulphur, but this isn’t a prerequisite for the style, Radikon’s comments notwithstanding.


Long and rich history

The assertion that this is a fleeting fad or fashion is also misconceived. In Friuli and neighbouring Slovenian Brda, maceration of white grapes is as old as the Collio hills. There’s a very practical basis: macerated white wines generally have increased longevity, due to the antioxidants in the tannins which act as a preservative. In 1844, Matija Vertovec, a priest from the nearby Vipava valley, listed the benefits in his manual Vinoreja za Slovence (Winemaking for Slovenians). He recommends skin macerations ‘from 24 hours to 30 days’, noting ‘it improves the flavour and durability of the wine, and ensures it will ferment to dryness’. Nevertheless, this venerable method was largely forgotten as wineries industrialised in the 1970s – stainless steel tanks and cultured yeasts were the new religion and fresh, neutral water-white Pinot Grigio the holy grail.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s: Stanislao ‘Stanko’ Radikon (father of Saša) and Josko Gravner, two established producers from the village of Oslavia, were searching for a more ‘back-to-basics’ methodology. Radikon felt that his Ribolla Gialla, a thick skinned but not very aromatic white variety, had more to give. The revelation came in 1995 – lengthy skin contact, just like Stanko’s grandfather had used, was the way to unlock its power. Saša Radikon reflects on how much potential was lost through not using this technique: ‘For years, it’s as if we were just making rosé from the grapes of Château Pétrus.’

Gravner sought inspiration further afield; Georgian winemakers have been making wine in qvevris (conical-shaped clay amphorae, buried in the ground) for at least 5,000 years. Typically, qvevri whites spend six months on their skins, a long tradition largely unknown in the west while the Iron Curtain prevailed. Gravner visited in 2000, and was so inspired with this ‘womb for wine’ that he switched entirely to qvevris in 2001, despite the risks of securing them. Ambushes at gunpoint were a significant risk for anyone trying to get valuable goods out of the country.

Collio winemaker Nicola Manferrari, famous for Borgo del Tiglio’s pure, varietal wines, is less enamoured about the style’s rebirth. ‘Making wine like this is just a waste of Friuli’s terroir – it could be made anywhere,’ he says. ‘It obscures everything – terroir, variety. It’s a primitive method, a backlash.’ Manferrari represents one side of a polarised divide in the region.

Grape variety and terroir are important, as some varieties react better to skin maceration than others. It’s not an accident that the orange wine revival began in Oslavia; Ribolla Gialla, with its thick, flavoursome skins is perfectly suited to the microclimate in the surrounding hills. There is no reason why terroir should be obscured by using skin maceration for white grapes any more than it would for reds.

Producers worldwide have begun to experiment with the style, sometimes with good results, but there are still no real specialists outside Italy, Slovenia and Georgia. The technique can be tricky to pull off without considerable winemaking skill and experience. Very few producers in the New World have been brave enough to try.


Approachable and food-friendly

Are these wines a mere curiosity, joining esoterica like vin jaune or Marsala? Emma Dawson, a wine buyer for UK retailer Marks & Spencer, doesn’t think so, as she describes one of two examples sold by M&S, the Tbilvino Qveris, a Rkatsiteli from Kakheti in Georgia: ‘The style is very approachable. While there is the hallmark texture and light oxidative influence, it’s well balanced with a fresh, fruity core.’

Lighter styles with less skin contact, like Cosimo Maria Masini’s Daphne or Skerk’s Ograde, share this approachability. These wines have subtle phenolics, without the full-on tannins found in more extreme orange wines like Radikon, Gravner or Dario Princic’s Ribolla Giallas. Georgian qvevri wines also tend to be seriously structured. The best producers achieve balance and elegance, but with poor winemaking or unripe tannins the result can be a clumsy mess, akin to chewing cold tea leaves.

The combination of freshness with tannin makes for superbly versatile food wines, as former sommelier and now writer/broadcaster Levi Dalton discovered while working at top New York Italian restaurant Convivio in 2009. He explains: ‘Orange wines were my get-out-of-jail-free card. We had a chef who would switch from fish to meat and back again on a tasting menu and orange wines paired effortlessly with every course.’

Dalton also contends that ‘the more you treat these wines like Barolos, the happier you will be’. The comparison makes sense; the best examples are true fine wines, with depth, longevity and complexity. They demand time in both cellar and glass – Gravner and Radikon release their signature wines at seven years old. High pricing reflects low volumes and yields; producers must be obsessive about fruit quality, as any mould or other defects will be amplified by the skin contact.


Just like great Barolo, truly great orange wines, like the ones recommended here, have tension, lift and power. In a world full of blandness and uniformity, they are less the emperor’s new clothes, more the adventurer’s new playground.

Natural wine enthusiast Simon Woolf is an awarded writer who publishes

Written by Simon Woolf