When asked for the different types of wine they know, most people name reds, whites, and rosés. And that’s perfectly reasonable as the vast majority of bottles belong into one of these categories. But actually, there is another type that only a few wine lovers know about: orange wine.

What Is Orange Wine?

Orange wine is a white wine that undergoes a red wine production process. It’s made from white grapes but typically has many characteristics of red wine. These include a higher level of tannins, a fuller body, and a more complex flavor profile.

What Is Orange Wine Made From?

The claim that orange wine is made from oranges is a common misconception. Actually, orange wine is made from white grapes. Vintners can use any white varietal to produce it.

How Is Orange Wine Made?

Although white grapes are the base ingredient for orange wine, its production includes steps typical for making red wine. The most important one is the fermentation and maceration process.

During the maceration, the wine gets its color. And no matter what type of wine it is, the grape solids play a crucial role. Solids include the grape skins, stems, and seeds. They contain chemical compounds that cause the wine to turn red.

When making red wine, vintners allow these solids to stay inside the wine to color it. It’s different for white wine: Before starting the fermentation, winemakers separate the grape solids from the wine. Thus, white wine typically has a pale yellowish color.

Unlike white wine producers, vintners who make orange wines don’t separate the grape solids from their wines. So the solids’ chemical compounds can do their job and color the wine. Typically, this maceration process takes several weeks or even months for orange wine.

Depending on the precise duration, the wine ends up somewhere between light orange and dark amber. Because of this process, wine experts put orange wine in the category of “skin-contact wine”.

Some orange wines mature in oak barrels after the fermentation for a couple of months to a few years.

More Details on Oaking: WHAT IS OAKED WINE AND HOW DOES IT TASTE?

The Qvevri Method

A unique way to produce orange wine is the Qvevri Method. It was developed in Georgia, a small country in Eastern Europe. As Georgians have been making wine for almost 8000 years, many people consider it the birthplace of wine. Today, some of the world’s best orange wines come from Georgia.

A Qvevri is a large, egg-shaped vessel made from clay. It has a capacity of 100 to 3,500 liters. Winemakers bury these vessels in the ground, so only the opening is visible.

The Georgian production method of orange wine is special in some aspects:

  • After crushing the grapes, the whole winemaking process, including fermentation and aging, takes place in the Qvevris.
  • The fermentation happens without any intervention, and vintners use only naturally occurring yeast.
  • The grapes’ solids stay inside the wine for several months to impart color to the wine.
Qvevri Amphora for Making Orange Wine

Qvevri for Making Orange Wine
Source: Bauer Karl / CC BY 3.0 AT

While the Georgians also use the Qvevri Method to make red and white wines, their orange styles are the country’s most famous wines.

How Does Orange Wine Taste?

It’s hard to define a universal flavor profile for orange wines. Based on the grape variety that vintners use, the wines’ flavors can differ significantly from each other. Some of them have aromas of dried flowers or herbs; others feature stone fruit flavors like apricots, nectarines, or peaches. You might also sense nuts and honey. In some cases, orange wines have sour notes that remind you of fruity draft beers.

Despite the varying flavor profiles, many orange wines share some characteristics. Most of them are dry and often similarly acidic as white wines. On the other hand, they tend to be higher in tannins and fuller-bodied, just like red wines. The longer the maceration lasts, the bolder and more tannic they are.

Few orange wines are sweet, just like a dessert wine. In particular, wines made from the Orange Muscato variety tend to belong to this category. They combine sweet and spicy flavors of citrus and stone fruits with a full body and subtle acidity.

How Is Orange Wine Different from Rosé Wine?

In terms of grapes and production processes, orange wine is quite the opposite of rosé wine.
Rosé wine is made from red grapes, but vintners limit their maceration time consequently. Thus, the grapes can only give a bit of color to the wine. The results are wines that are pale salmon-colored to bright pink.

Orange wines are made from white grapes, but they undergo extensive maceration. Therefore, their colors are more saturated.

Besides their colors, there are other differences between rosé and orange wines. On average, orange wines have fuller bodies, more complex bouquets, and higher tannin levels. In contrast, rosés are light, low in tannins, and offer rather subtle flavors.

Are Orange Wines Natural Wines?

No, not necessarily. Unfortunately, there is no official definition of natural wines. But most of them are unfiltered, free of additives such as sulfites, and made from organic or biodynamic grapes. Many but not all orange wines have the same characteristics. So the blanket claim that orange wines are natural isn’t correct.

How to Serve Orange Wine?

Orange wines are great with food, so it’s perfectly fine to serve them with the main course of your dinner. But you can also enjoy them on their own on a warm summer day. In any case, the right serving temperature and the proper glass is essential.

What Is the Right Serving Temperature for Orange Wine?

Orange wine is best when it’s slightly cooler than red wine but warmer than white wine. Serve it at a temperature between 50 and 55°F (10-13°C). That’s just right to allow the wine to showcase its complexity but not too cold to mask its delicious flavors.

What Is the Right Glass for Orange Wine?

Orange wines are significantly bolder and more complex than white wines. Standard white wine glasses don’t allow enough oxygen into the bowl because they’re too small. So they can’t support the wine to release its aromas and rise to its full potential.

A Chardonnay glass has a larger bowl, and thus it’s a more appropriate vessel for orange wine. For very complex orange wines, you might even use a Sauvignon Blanc glass, which is even bigger.

If you own neither of these two glasses, go for a standard red wine glass.

More Details on Wine Glasses: WINE GLASSES EXPLAINED – THE GLASSWARE GUIDE

Should You Decant Orange Wine?

Yes, orange wines can benefit from decanting, but it’s important not to overdo it. For most styles, 15 minutes are absolutely sufficient to help them release their aromas. If your wine is very tannic, you can extend the decanting to 30 minutes.

How to Store Orange Wine?

Just like other wines, orange wine needs a dark, cool storage place. Protect it from sunlight, sudden temperature changes, and vibrations, and it will be fine.

Can Orange Wine Be Aged?

Yes, some of them have aging potential. Especially those that underwent an aging period in oak barrels can improve over time. However, the differences you might sense after extended storing are rather marginal. So you might want to enjoy your orange wine rather sooner than later.

Can Orange Wine Go Bad?

Yes. Exposure to sunlight, heat, or vibrations can cause it to go off. If it smells like vinegar, you shouldn’t drink it anymore.

How Long Does Orange Wine Last When Open?

After you open a bottle of orange wine, it lasts for about one week. You have to store it properly, though: Reseal the bottle and put it into the refrigerator.

Orange Wine Food Pairing

Because of their tannins and their medium to full bodies, orange wines pair surprisingly well even with savorier foods. Maybe not as fatty as a ribeye steak, but they can definitely stand roasts, all types of fish, savory sauces, stews, and cheese and meat plates.

To find the perfect pairing for your wine, consider the aromas you sense in it. For instance, flavors of dried fruits pair well with grilled game or poultry, and herbal notes are great with salty cheeses.

Orange wines made from aromatic varietals like Gewürztraminer, Riesling, or Moscato tend to be dry but feature sweet smells. This interesting combination is an excellent match for spicy food. Think of curry dishes, Korean kimchi, and meals from Indonesia or Thailand.

Orange Wines Shopping Tips

Finding orange wines might be a bit challenging for several reasons. First of all, they’re still rare, and only a few wineries produce them. And second, there is no consistent naming convention so that orange names can have various names. If you find one of the following terms on the bottle label, that’s a good hint for an orange wine:

  • Orange
  • Skin Contact
  • Skin Fermented
  • Amber Wine
  • Amber Natural Wine

Vintners all around the world produce orange wines. But certainly, some are better than others. The following bottles are worth opening.

Domaine Tatsis Roditis 2014: This biodynamic wine from Macedonia is the right choice for every wine lover who is into experimenting. It’s made from 100% Roditis grapes, a varietal that’s widespread in Eastern Europe. Aromas of peach, honey, and spices might trick you into expecting a sweet wine. But actually, it’s bone-dry with smooth tannins and a long finish.

Unico Zelo – Esoterico Orange Wine 2019: This Australian wine is a blend of multiple varietals, including Gewürztraminer, Fiano, and Zibibbo. Its producers don’t use any additives, fining, or filtration methods, making the wine organic and vegan-friendly. It offers an outstanding balance of crisp acidity, firm tannins, and tropical aromas.

Quady Essensia Orange Muscat 2017: As mentioned before, some orange wines belong to the dessert wine category. And this wine from California is a great example. It’s deliciously sweet with aromas of apricot, pear, and (indeed) oranges.

More orange wines to look for:

  • Gotsa Rkatsiteli Mtsvane (Georgia)
  • Field Recordings Skins 2019 (California, US)
  • Ancre Gill Orange Wine (Wales)

Final Words

Although not made from oranges, orange wines are delicious and very interesting beverages. If you haven’t tried them before, you definitely should. And by buying orange wines, you can also support vintners who produce their wines sustainably without chemical additives.