Why are you hearing so much about orange wine?
Because sustainability, organics, biodiversity—buzzwords in the food world—are extending into your wine glass. Soon you’ll be hearing guests at restaurants asking the sommelier how the grapes were grown, in addition to asking the waiter whether the chicken is organic.
“Natural” wine, as it’s commonly known, refers to a subset of wines produced with minimal intervention from the maker.
Within that category is orange wine, a style gaining traction alongside natural wine, largely because much of it is made in a manner consistent with natural winemaking techniques.
Those techniques usually include using organic grapes, producing wine biodynamically (in accordance with moon cycles, among other rules), or adding nothing to the grapes in the production process: only using naturally occurring sulfites and sugars, for example.
It isn’t that all orange wines are sustainably produced, but most orange wines tend to be natural because the process is more hands-off. Orange-wine producers are very interested in terroir and the true, authentic flavors of the grape. The whole grape.
What is Orange Wine?
No, it isn’t wine made with oranges. And no, there’s no such thing as orange grapes.
“In a nutshell, it’s white wine made like red wine,” explains Doreen Winkler, a New York–based sommelier who specializes in orange wines. “It’s white wine on the skins.”
When red-wine grapes are fermented—the first step in making wine—they are left with the skins on. In contrast, white-wine grapes are pressed first, removing the skins and stems and leaving only the juice. When orange wine is made, white-wine grapes are fermented with the skin on.
For this reason, some winemakers, sommeliers, and wine professionals prefer to call orange wine “skin-contact” wine. It’s more accurate, they argue, in regards to how it’s produced and also what the finished product looks like. Indeed, most orange wines take on an orange tint or hue because of the presence of grape skins, but the depth and intensity of color has much to do with how long the wine is fermented with the skins. This also dictates the taste and texture. Winkler adds that it “works out differently” depending on what grapes are used, too.
In general, an orange wine tends to be more full-bodied than a white wine, with some tannins present.
“It depends on the grape and where it’s from, but mostly I get an amazing nose full of nuts, flowers, and deep aromatics” with an orange wine, explains Winkler. “The mouthfeel is extremely soft and medium-to rich-bodied. The taste is very appealing.”
How to Drink It
Orange wine can, like all wines, be drunk on its own or with food.
“On the palate, they [orange wines] are dry and big, and even have tannin like a red wine,” says Leo Au, the chef sommelier (aka the head sommelier) at the Upper House in Hong Kong. “I like to pair orange wine with spicy food like curry dishes and kimchi,” he says.
Winkler, who recently created an all-natural wine list for an Indian restaurant in New York, and created the all-natural wine program for the Michelin-starred restaurant Aska when it opened in New York in 2013, suggests pairing orange wine with pork chops with grilled peaches, barbecued meats and vegetables, and washed-rind cheeses.
Bottles to Try
Cantina Giardino Metodo
Donkey and Goat Ramato
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Meinklang Foam, Pinot Gris
Burgenland, Austria, 2017
“Wein der Stille” 2015 No.8,
Damijan Ribolla Gialla
Gorizia, Italy, 2014