Orange Wine Is Basically a Party Trick in a Glass

Lindsey Lanquist
Orange Wine Is Basically a Party Trick in a Glass
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It’s long been accepted that wine comes in three basic colors: yellow-ish, pink, and red. Except it doesn’t. It comes in four basic colors: yellow-ish, pink, red, and orange. Yes, orange wine is very much A Thing. I’ve had it. I love it. And I thoroughly enjoy the fact that every time I order it at a restaurant, someone approaches to ask what the hell it is I’m drinking. Intrigue follows—as does a long and interesting chat. Want a beverage that doubles as a conversation starter? Orange wine fully understands you.

Orange wine is really just white wine made the red wine way.

Many consider orange wine to be a misnomer—after all, it isn’t made from oranges. It’s made entirely from grapes, just like every other wine you know and love. It’s the winemaking process that leaves it with its signature orange color—not the addition of any orange fruits.

To put it simply, orange wines are white wines made the red wine way. The key difference between white wines and red wines isn’t necessarily the grapes that comprise them, but the way those grapes are fermented. As a rule, white wines are fermented without a ton of skin contact; that’s to say, the grape juice is fermented without the grape skins in it. Red wines, on the other hand, are fermented with skin contact. The interaction with the grape skins leaves the wines feeling more tannic and larger-bodied. If you’ve ever remarked that red wines tend to be more intense than white wines, it’s largely due to the amount of skin contact each of the wines has gotten.

As you may already know, everyone’s favorite summer drink, rosé, is red wine made the white wine way. Winemakers use red wine varietals (so, the kinds of grapes that make up red wines) and put them through a white winemaking process. There tends to be a very brief skin contact period—usually lasting somewhere between 6 and 48 hours—which leaves the wine with its now-iconic pink color. This process imbues rosé with some of the things people love about red wine—namely, how dry (not super-sweet) it is—while keeping it light, approachable, and easily chilled.

Orange wine is the opposite. With orange wine, you’re taking white wine varietals and subjecting them to the red winemaking process—lots of skin contact. Not only does this leave the wine much darker in color than your average white, but it also lends the wine some of the tannic, larger-bodied notes people appreciate in their reds.

Like your average white, orange wine is served chilled. And it’s a great pinch-hitter at restaurants. If you’ve ordered lamb (better with red wine), duck (better with red wine), and seafood (better with white wine), an orange wine can usually bridge the gap and play well with all three. Its intensity helps it hold its own against some of the richest, most flavorful foods on your plate. But the subtler varieties that comprise it keep it from overwhelming the lighter dishes.

If rosé is a less intense version of red wine, orange wine is a more intense version of white wine. Consider the last time you visited the wine store on a seriously hot day. Red felt too heavy. White felt too sweet. Rosé felt too bland. Orange—orange was the thing you were looking for.

The orange winemaking process originated millennia ago, but it’s currently experiencing a renaissance.

What’s funny about orange wine is that it’s not really new at all—and yet, most of us haven’t heard of it. What gives?

Some sources date the orange winemaking process back to 5,000 years ago, where it was reportedly popular in Georgia (as in Eurasia’s Georgia, not the USA’s Georgia). After that, orange wine fell off the map for a while, cropping back up in Italy in 1997. Since then, it’s become semi-popular (largely among indie winemakers) in a range of countries—Slovenia, France, South Africa, Austria, the U.S., and of course, Georgia and Italy.

According to Newsweek, orange wine first caught the attention of the New York wine scene about 10 years ago. But a quick Google search reveals it’s really just begun to enter the mainstream. In 2016, Bloomberg declared that orange wine had “officially arrived.” Two years later, Bon Appetit claimed orange wine “needed to go away.” Earlier this year, Newsweek asserted that “orange wine is taking over,” and Man Repeller called orange wine “the official beverage of our times.”

Perhaps all of these things are true. Perhaps none of them are. The point is this: Orange wine is clearly experiencing a renaissance. And while it’s still somewhat hard to find, wine shops are increasingly offering orange wines, and restaurants are increasingly listing “skin-contact wines” (a more precise way of saying “orange wines”) on their menus.

You know how there are lots of different white wines? There are lots of different orange wines, too.

Intrigued? Count yourself among the many. The next step is, of course, to give orange wine a try.

But remember: Orange wine describes the method of winemaking, not the grapes used to make the wine. If you don’t love the first orange you try, don’t write off the genre entirely. Instead, take note of the varietal and avoid it in the future. (You can also look up the bottle online, check out the tasting notes, and use those to guide your future purchases. Did you like what you drank? Look for wines that offer similar flavors. Did you hate it? Stay away from those flavors in the future.)

Saying you don’t like orange wines is akin to saying you don’t like red wines or white wines. It could be true, but there’s so much variety within the genre that you have to try a bunch to know for sure. The bad news? You have some serious work ahead of you. The good news? That work is just trying a ton of different wines to figure out what you do and don’t like. All kinds of delicious, exciting wines await you. And all you have to do is drink them.

STYLECASTER | Orange Wine Is Basically a Party Trick in a Glass

Approachable: Patricia Green Cellars’ Muscat Ottonel Marie is one of the most approachable oranges around. While Marie still boasts the bolder notes you’d expect from a skin contact wine, it’s not overly funky—making it a great place to start.

STYLECASTER | Orange Wine Is Basically a Party Trick in a Glass

Bolder: Azienda Agricola’s COS Pithos Bianco is bolder than the first wine on this list (Patricia Green Cellars’ Marie) but more approachable than the third and fourth wines on this list (Bianco Catagno’s Vino Gazzetta and Cacique Maravilla’s Vino Naranja). In other words, it makes an excellent next step. If you know you like skin contact wines, and want to try something larger-bodied (but not too large-bodied), try this Pithos Bianco out, and see how you feel.

 

STYLECASTER | Orange Wine Is Basically a Party Trick in a Glass

Boldest (And funky! And acidic! And nutty!): Bianco Castagno’s Vino Gazzetta is funky, acidic, and nutty all at once—making it an excellent bottle for anyone who knows they like orange. It’s great for wine nights and dinners out, alike (though it’s a little hard to find online).

STYLECASTER | Orange Wine Is Basically a Party Trick in a Glass

Boldest (And funky! And acidic!): Easily the funkiest wine on this list, Cacique Maravilla’s Vino Naranja is an absolute delight. Where the Vino Gazzetta is nutty and creamy, the Vino Naranja is all funky acidity. Both are worth testing, if you’re ready to go all in on orange.

 

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