What is Orange Wine?

Aug 29, 2022Mary Domange
What is Orange Wine?

Orange wine is making a comeback - but it's not without its controversy. Love it or hate it, Orange wine has a place not only in the history of winemaking, but also in showcasing the talent of the grower. It's important therefore to understand how the wine is made, and what differentiates it from other wines.

How is Orange wine made?

Orange wine does not contain oranges, although this is a question we have been asked. It is made from 100% grapes and only takes its name from its colour.

The usual way to make white wine is to press the juice and to discard the skins and pips before fermenting the wine. Orange wine is made by leaving the juice of white grapes with its skins and pips before fermenting – which is what gives it its distinctive colour and taste. The length of time that the skins and pips are left to ferment with the juice depends on the winemaker but varies from just a few days, to several months in some cases. It is fashionable now to refer to this as 'skin contact' wine. Not all 'skin contact' wine is orange, but all Orange wine is made using skin contact. Rosé wine is, of course, made by leaving the white grape juice in contact with its red skins - only touching the liquid long enough to provide a pretty pink colour.

Orange wine is made from prolonged skin contact and will produce an array of flavours, aromas and textures to the finished wine.

Grape skins contain natural sulphurs and yeasts, so wines made in this way need very little else to help them ferment, so have attracted the attention of the 'natural' wine movement. This is a topic for a whole other blog, but suffice to say that this is where the division in opinions arise. 

What is the controversy surrounding Orange Wine?

Making wine in this way is neither new nor any more or less natural than making any other wine. The results, however, vary tremendously, as does the perception of the drinker. Fervent fans ignore any perceived imperfections in pursuit of a truly authentic product, but many wine lovers consider that the woody flavours of tannins make it simply faulty.

Orange Wine is not by definition either an organic wine or biodynamic wine - these things depend on the vineyard and winemaker.

What are the origins of Orange Wine?

Orange Wine is not a new concept - but one of the oldest methods of wine making and has comparable wines across the wine making world. (Think of the Vin Jaune in the Jura for example) or the ancient Georgian wine that was aged in clay vessels known as Qvevri. These containers were lined with beeswax and buried underground preserving them for centuries – or until they were discovered by archaeologists who believe they date as far back as 6000BC. There are many examples of wines that have always been made in this way - notably from Georgia, Slovenia and the Fruili region of Italy. But it is only in recent years that young winemakers from a wider global context have experimented with the method using a range of grape varieties suited to their particular winery.

Orange wine has a reputation for being sweeter than a dry white wine, however this again is not always the case. Tradition and grape variety dictates the finished product alongside the local market. In Italy, for example, there is more demand for wines that we would consider to be demi-sec - half dry - rather than the fully dry wines the UK market tends to prefer. Residual sugar in a wine is what's left when fermentation is stopped - and this can be fermented right down to the last gram, if the grape variety contains enough fruit flavour to hold the wine without the need for sweetness.

What colour is Orange wine?

Orange wines are not so much orange as a sort of deep amber, that varies according to the grape variety and length of time it is left to macerate in the skins. 

What does Orange wine taste like?

As it is essentially made in the same way as red wine, (although using white grapes) it also contains the tannins and nutty notes that you might associate with these, rather than the lighter textures and aromas found in white wines. 

A good orange wine should have lots of honey on the nose and a suggestion of it on the palate (not sweetness), plenty of nuttiness and fresh fruit flavours that vary according to the grape variety. 

Orange Wine from La Cave des Vignerons Landais

We've wanted to add an Orange Wine to our list for some time, but it took us a while to find one that not only met all of our criteria for provenance, personality and price - but also one that we love to drink.

Our brand-new Orange Wine is made by the innovative crew at La Cave des Vignerons Landais. This vineyard is fully HVE agri-confiance certified – meaning that no chemicals are used at the vineyard and that the vineyard is committed to sustainable agriculture and protecting and preserving the delicate ecosystem in the vineyard and beyond. 

Made from 100% Gros Manseng in South West France, the grapes make a distinctive and deliciously dry wine, with plenty of freshness and a good mineral finish alongside really punchy aromas of fresh apples and ripe tangerine.

The grapes are left to macerate with skins, pips and juice for 14 days which gives it not only its deep peachy amber colour, but also its body and fruit aromas.

What should you eat with Orange Wine?

Orange Wine is an absolute winner with all Asian foods - particularly Japanese and Korean and is one of the best matches we've found for Kimchi. We love it as an aperitif with some salty olives, or with grilled fish. Good too with goats cheese or a hard strong cheese such as Comté or Beaufort.

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