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What Is Orange Wine?

Orange is the new black, but it’s also the new pink it turns out. At least in the world of wine anyway. For the past year or so, the wine geeks and hipsters alike have been predicting that orange wine is about to burst out onto the scene and make people completely forget about their search for the perfect rosé. There’s been only one hitch to this prediction. Selling people on orange wine is hard. It’s funky and a weird color, and your average wine fan is probably more than a little worried it involves actual oranges somewhere in the fermentation process. So, what actually is orange wine, and does it deserve the fuss it’s getting?

Via GeorgiaToday.ge

To cover the most pressing issue first, rest assured that orange wine does not contain oranges. It is a tannic white wine that is made in a somewhat similar manner to rosé. That means that the white grapes are pressed and then the juices are left in contact with the skins, seeds, and stems for at least a portion of the fermentation in order to get some of their pigment and tannins. Unlike rosé, which only allows the juice to briefly come in contact with the must, it’s actually better to leave the juice with the white grape must for a longer period of time in order to get as much color and tannins as possible. Some winemakers actually prefer to refer to the wine as “off-white”,“skin-fermented”, or “macerated wines” instead of "orange" as a way to avoid the confusion that the term orange wine leads to.

This skin fermentation leaves you with an incredibly versatile white wine. It tastes wonderful served chilled like your typical white, but because of it’s tannic nature, it has the ability to pair well with red meats. It also has a naturally high acidity which makes it an excellent complement for fatty or salty dishes. To me personally, orange wines have a flavor profile that reflects this “not quite a red but not quite a white” state, with a little bit of that barnyardy brett (short for brettanomyces - a type of yeast that can form in wine giving red wine a nice aged flavor) flavor typically associated with reds but also citrusy and even the occasional floral notes you’d see in a normal white. The combination of earthy, citrusy, and herbal gives it a bit of a resemblance to cocktail bitters without actually being bitter.

white wine fermenting on skins

Via ArrowheadWine

The skin fermenting of white grapes is a surprisingly old practice in spite of the fact that we’re really only just seeing it enter popularity now. It was practiced for hundreds of years in Slovenia and the Friuli Venezia region of Italy. However, no country has quite as strong an association with orange winemaking as Georgia. The Georgian’s refer to it as “amber wine” and have been producing it for several thousand years. Traditionally they macerated the grapes in large clay amphorae called kveri. After pouring the grape juice and must into the kveri, the pots would be buried in the ground for as long as six months. The traditional Georgian production methods for orange wine lend themselves particularly well to making natural or organic wines. They primarily use natural yeasts from the vineyard, and tend to require little additional sulfite for shelf stability. Much like natural wines, as a rule orange wine is not filtered and has a slightly cloudy appearance. Possibly the popularity of natural wines is part of the reason for the boom in orange wine production.

Orange wine can still be a little hard to find outside of restaurants depending on where you live but it is well worth the search effort. It’s funky and almost smoky but somehow it still manages to be refreshing. The fact that it can pair with far more foods than your average white makes it a great choice for dinner parties. Plus who doesn’t love surprising their friends with weird wines?  

And now...check out a few wineries who offer Orange Wine:

2013 Wind Gap Windsor Oaks Pinot Gris

                     Wind Gap Windsor Oaks Pinot Gris

photo credit: Wind Gap Wines

This wine is a cloudy, brilliant orange color from being fermented on its deeply colored grape skins.  After fermentation is complete, they seal the tank and let the skins and juice macerate for an additional 3 months. The result? Bright musky lychee and spice aromas, textured and light to medium bodied with fresh bright acid exotic white fruit flavors along with darker red notes, a bite of tannin keeps it tight.

Find out more about this wine here.

2013 Shinn Estate Vineyards Haven

photo credit: Shinn Estate Vineyards

This beautiful white is crafted from estate grown hand harvested Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Both varietals are destemmed and co-macerated for 3 days on skins.  The fruit spends extended time on the skins before being fermented by indigenous yeast in new French oak barrels. Lees are stirred in the barrel once a week for 5 months before bottling. Rich and complex, Haven exudes hints of dried apricot and green fig aromas.

Find out more about this wine here.

2016 Skeptic Dark White Wine, California

2016 Skeptic Dark White Wine

photo credit: Foundry Wines

This Napa Valley white blend will turn any skeptic into a believer. The Skeptic eschews tradition by letting white grape skins steep in their juices long enough to create both a beautiful golden color and a game-changing profile of bright flavors and deep complexity never found among the white wines of the sheeple.

Find out more about this wine here

2010 Red Hook Winery ‘Vipolze’ SK Reserve

2010 Red Hook Winery 'Vipolze' SK Reserve

photo credit: EatSomethingSexy.com

Vipolze is a unique Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay blend made by Abe Schoener. Intentionally unfiltered, it’s cloudy resembling the color of burnt butter. The nose is full of minerality and fragrant sandalwood with hints of clove and hazelnuts. There is a freshness to the palate with notes of tangerine and floral mixed with raw minerality. Overall, this wine has a great balance, freshness, and complexity.

Find out more about this wine here





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