A Guide to Orange Wine

Posted by Holly Berrigan on

All the reasons you should love this style of wine!

An Ode to Orange Wine

Orange wine, you are my friend.
When I drink you I do not want it to end.
Your gorgeous color is so bright
Your fruit and florals do delight.
I am happy you are back on the scene
Especially when you are clean.
Rose, white and red is great.
But you I most appreciate.
Thank you for being orange.
Sadly, nothing rhymes with orange.
The End

Introduction

Now that you’ve been subjected to my wonderful poem, let’s talk about orange wine! There are some great resources and books out there on the subject, so we will keep this fairly broad and link to all of our favorite resources along the way. My hope is that whether you’re researching orange wine for the first time, or are cellaring an amazing collection that you can take something new and interesting away from this! I’ve broken down several sections on the history of orange wine, how it’s made, why it went out of style, why it’s back in style, all the reasons I love it personally, and some of my favorite bottles. So let’s jump in!


What is Orange Wine?

Orange wine, AKA Amber, skin-contact, macerated wine, is a white grape that has been macerated with its skins (the same way a red wine would be made) and takes on a range of colors from a darker white wine, to bright orange, to even potentially a rose color depending on the grape and maceration time.

There is a lot more to it than this, but that’s enough to get you moving ahead and we’ll link our favorite books, podcasts, and articles to get more specific at the end!

Where Does Orange Wine Come From?

Orange wine is one of the oldest winemaking styles in the world. Georgia (the country not the state) is the birthplace of wine as well as this style and has some of the best orange wines in the world. Starting around 6,000 BCE (we told you it was old!) Georgians were using pointy bottomed qvevri (clay amphorae) buried in the ground (for temperature control) to make wine in their home. 

Burried quervi's in Georgia

How is Orange Wine Made?

The way orange wine is made is very similar to the process of making a red wine or a rose, depending on how much extraction you want to get from the grapes! So let’s compare it in comparison to how white wine is made.

How White Wine is Typically Made: 

  1. Grapes are picked and potentially destemmed
  2. The grapes are pressed to extract their juice
  3. This juice is put in a vat (ceramic, clay, wood, concrete, etc) to ferment WITHOUT having ever spent time with their skins, seeds or stems.

How Orange Wine is Typically Made: 

  1. Grapes are picked and potentially destemmed
  2. The grapes are pressed to extract their juice
  3. This juice is put in a vat (ceramic, clay, wood, concrete, etc) to ferment WITH the skins, seeds, and potentially the stems extracting tannin and color from them.

At this point no matter what color wine it is, the winemaker decides whether or not to filter and fine the wine and then bottles it.

How is Orange Wine Made Graphic

Why Had I Not Heard of Orange Wine Before?

Although orange wine is one of the oldest kinds ever made, it is not something people are used to seeing and we still get queries from customers telling us that their white wine has gone bad! (Don’t worry, everyone has had this moment before you knew what orange wine was and that it’s ok that it has that color, my moment was at VinItaly).

To start a sentence with an entrance that might bore you (please stay with me!) Before the world wars there was still orange wine circulating and being made in homes by the most popular regions for it (Georgia, Italy, Slovenia, and others). After the world wars, mechanization took over a lot of winemaking along with chemicals and the demand turned to completely clear wines that had filtering and fining. It also became possible, thus popular, to create giant amounts of bulk wine and orange wine was not really fitting with that style so there was initially just red and white at the forefront. Then rose started becoming popular and now orange wine is having a comeback!

As a sad aside, Georgia also went under the rule of the Soviet Union and most of those homemade wine skills became illegal and they lost a lot of their native grapes and winemaking styles to the movement of creating large scale commercial wine. Will link a book that explores this below.

Why Is Orange Wine Associated with the Natural Wine Movement?

When orange wine was first coined it was actually used to describe not only the color but the non-interventionist style the winemakers were using to make it. Thus, orange wine and the natural wine movement have been intertwined for a long time! 

Today, most but not all of the people making orange wine follow natural practices. In fact, letting the white grapes have this skin contact is one of the ways you can naturally stabilize a wine instead of adding sulfur and other additives. 

As it becomes more “mainstream” it’s likely that the number of conventionally made orange wines will go up, but now you’re one of the cool kids that know its true roots (basement winemaking from 6000 BCE in Georgia) and can have that fun fact at your next party!

Where Can I Find Orange Wine?

It’s becoming increasingly easier to find orange wine across the US, but still about as easy as going to a Spanish supermarket and finding peanut butter. If you have a natural wine store/bar close to you (guides below for your city) I’d give them a 95%+ likelihood of having an orange wine for you to try. 

The other obvious (to us anyway) to find it is to get it online! We obviously have and love orange wines on our site along with other natural wine online retailers. Another great way to try it is to go to any of the natural wine and beer festivals that happen across the US and world! We have resources for that below as well.

Shop Orange Natural Wine Box

Orange Natural Wine Box

What are Your Favorite Orange Wines?

Nic and I have two very different preferences when it comes to orange wine, so I’ll speak to both to cover more ground! I love light orange wines that come from more delicate or aromatic varietals like Sylvaner, Riesling, Muscat, etc. Our Sylvaner Maceration from Alsace is heavenly and does not have the medicinal quality that some heavier orange wines have. 

Now for Nic’s side, there is nothing wrong with a more medicinal or heavy orange wine! In the right setting and food pairing, I love them too just not my absolute favorite! That’s one of the most fun things about orange wine, it can be anything from light and delicate to heavy and austere which is why I love to recommend it to people who say they hate white wine but love red. There is likely one out there for everyone!

One more fun note is that the craziest wine we have is also an orange wine called Flor de Mata. It’s made in an amphora in Alicante where the top of the amphora isn’t covered with anything except the flor from the wine (the same type you see in sherry). Thus, it has a wonderful oxidative quality alongside incredible freshness from the orange wine! 

Flor de la Mata

If you’re trying it for the first time, I’d recommend starting more simply with something like the Sylvaner or Catarratto, then moving into some of the more adventurous ones like Flor de Mata!

Conclusion

Orange wine is a wonderful part of the wine world that is still in its infancy as a wine category.  If you haven’t tried it yet, you absolutely should and if you already love it and want to see more of it near you, start having conversations with your local stores about your interest and tell them the importers that bring it in (in the resources below).  In the meantime, you can just order it online ;)

I hope you found this to be a useful and brief introduction to orange wine and if there is anything I missed, should add, messed up, or you have your own orange wine poem send an email to hello@mysa.wine we love to keep all our posts as updated as possible!

Orange Wine Resources

Books:

Blogs:

Podcasts:

Other Resources:

Shop Orange Wine

AN ODE TO ORANGE WINE

Natural Wine Wine Infographic Wine Tips

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