Why Orange Wine is the Perfect Addition to Your Wine Collection

Orange wine, despite its ancient roots and modern allure, still provides plenty of confusion for wine lovers across the world. Unlike the classic red, rosé and white wines we all know and love, it’s a wine style that needs an explanation before even the most adventurous of wine lovers will add a bottle or two to their basket. Once you do, however, you’ll surely agree with us that orange wines present a compelling addition to any wine collection.

Over the course of this article, we’ll take a look at what exactly is an orange wine and the centuries-old techniques that produce them. We’ll also explore the rich variety of flavours that make them such an intriguing wine style, that embraces a journey through tradition and innovation, where each bottle encapsulates the skill and passion of its makers.

What is an Orange Wine?

If you’ve been keeping track of the trends in the wine industry for the past decade or so, you’d be forgiven for thinking that orange wine is a recent invention, designed for trendy city hipsters to open uber-cool watering holes. In truth, however, orange wines have been around for centuries. Millenia in fact.

Orange wine may well be the most ancient way of making wine. According to Caroline Gilby MW, the special qvevri, or ceramic amphorae, used in Georgia to make their “amber wine” have been found dating back over 8,000 years. It’s reckoned it was only as recently as the 1950s that it fell out of fashion and lost out to the clear, fruity whites we’re used to seeing on our shelves. Today, orange wine represents a revival of these historical techniques, often associated with natural and minimal intervention winemaking practices.

So how is it made? Firstly, it’s important to note that the colour in a wine, be it a red or a rosé, comes from colour pigments in grape skins. With red grapes (for reds and rosés), it macerates and sometimes even ferments the grape juice (that becomes wine) on the grape skins drawing out the colour, tannins, and other flavours. The longer the time, the more colour, tannin and flavour are drawn out.

With white grapes, used for white wines, the whole idea is to avoid drawing any colour out of the skins, so winemakers remove the skins from the juice very quickly. But what happens if winemakers leave white grape skins in with white grape juice to macerate or even ferment? A certain amount of colour, tannin, and non-white-wine-esque flavours will be extracted from the skins, and a little bit of colour from oxidation too, all leading to a darkening in the colour of the juice, leaving an unmistakably amber or orange hue. Hence orange wine.

Read Orange Wine – what’s in that amber pour? for further explanation on orange wines.  

skin contact wines

Orange Wine in the Natural Wine World

Orange wine holds a revered place in the world of minimal intervention winemaking, often referred to as natural wine. If you speak to a minimal intervention winemaker, the ethos is all about the authenticity of the grapes and vineyard they grew in.

Orange wines are usually made from juice that spontaneously ferments with naturally occurring yeasts. The grape skins, seeds, and stems are invariably intact, and producers eschew the use of additives and modern winemaking techniques. The wines are then usually bottled both unfined and unfiltered, straight from the tank, giving an almost “warts and all” quality to the wine in the bottle. This is why you can only use top-quality grapes to make good orange wines because there’s nowhere to hide.

This ancient method, often practised in amphorae or clay vessels, results in wines rich in texture and complex in flavour. They are also hugely expressive of their terroir, another pillar of the natural wine movement. The vineyards that produce the grapes are invariably farmed in sustainable, organic or biodynamic methods, reflecting a return to traditional practices. Orange wine enthusiasts appreciate its raw, unfiltered nature, and the wine’s deep connection to the land from whence it came.

Making orange wine

What Does Orange Wine Taste Like?

With these winemaking methods comes a wine like no other. Madeline Puckette of the brilliant Wine Folly puts it simply: “Make sure you’re sitting down the first time you try your first orange wine.”

Good quality orange wines deliver a memorable drinking experience of deep, rich, and complex flavours. Typically, these wines show robust aromas of dried fruits, nuts, and exotic spices, layered with hints of citrus zest and floral notes. On the palate, flavours will range from tangy orange peel and apricot to savoury herbal undertones, iced tea, butterscotch, and a distinctive nuttiness akin to almonds or hazelnuts.

When it comes to the mouthfeel, there is usually a slight grip from tannins extracted during extended skin contact, giving it a fuller body and the care and attention given to the grapes throughout the process usually result in a long, satisfying finish.

It’s this robust mouthfeel that means orange wines pair well with a wide array of foods which have gained the category great popularity among sommeliers and adventurous wine enthusiasts seeking out new tastes and experiences in their wine collections. Previously difficult pairing options such as mushrooms, curries, and pickles all work beautifully. The world is your umami-filled oyster.

Which Orange Wines Are Worth Collecting?

wine collection

As with every wine style, there are orange wines and there are good orange wines. It’s always best to concentrate on those crafted with meticulous attention to traditional methods and exceptional terroir.

Seek out producers known for their commitment to natural winemaking, sustainable practices, and minimal intervention. This includes the likes of the fabulous Pratsch in Weinviertel, Austria and New York’s Channing Daughters.

Opt for vintages that showcase complexity and ageing potential and look for areas of the world known for delicious orange wines such as Georgia, Slovenia, Spain, and Italy, such as this magnificent Gravner Ribolla 2014.

This Blog post is written by Mike Turner
Freelance wine writer, presenter and judge

Mike is a regular contributor for The Buyer magazine and is a certified educator and ambassador for Bordeaux, Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Barolo and Barbaresco, running trade and consumer events across the UK from his base in the East Midlands.

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