What is orange wine?

Michael Ellis
By Michael Ellis
about 2 months ago
3 min read

It’s likely you’ve come across orange wines by now. Most of the cool wine bars will feature a couple on their lists and retailers are finding more shelf space for them as we look for an alternative to whites or rosé. They’re equally loved and despised. Purists will say it’s a faulty abomination, while others are excited by the fact they challenge convention and expectations. We reckon the best way to find out if you like a style is to taste as much of it as you can, so before you head off into the rooftop wine bar wilderness, here’s some info to get you started. 

Why is it orange?

No, it’s not made of oranges, nor is it from Orange, though it could be. It’s called orange wine because it looks orange, or more accurately, amber. Confused yet?

The colour comes from extended skin contact – a winemaker will take white grapes and vinify them in a similar process to red wines (i.e leave the fermenting grapes to relax for a few days with the skins, seeds and sometimes the stems of the grapes in tact). Normally, in white wine making, the skins, seeds and stems are separated before fermentation begins. With orange wines, we’re looking for the added complexity that these parts of the grape add – texture, tannin and unique varietal aromatics. The longer the juice is left in contact with skins, the darker the colour.

What does it taste like?

This will depend on the grape variety. Aromatic varieties such as pinot gris, gewurztraminer and moscato giallo work well, so expect their varietal characteristics plus added depth, texture and complexity. It also depends on a few other factors such as the winemaker’s influence over variables which can be tweaked to create a particular style. For us drinkers it can be a lucky dip. While there are characteristics specific to each grape variety, variables such as time spent on skins for example, will change how the wine tastes and feels. 

What about food?

One of the byproducts of skin contact is the extraction of phenolic compounds, which translates to that drying, tannin-like texture you feel. This textural goodness means orange wine is great with food – especially bold flavours that would otherwise overpower a more delicate white wine style. The best part of food and wine matching is experimentation and orange wines give you plenty of scope to drink with a broad range of food and flavours. 

Is orange wine for everyone?

No. And that’s what we love about wine – it’s divisive and your taste and preference differ from someone else’s. We suggest getting out there and trying as much as you can so you can form your own opinion, and have fun doing it. These are wines made for drinking and sharing with food and friends.