First things first – no, orange wine isn’t made from oranges.
In fact, orange wine has absolutely NOTHING to do with oranges, except they share the same colour, kind of.
Orange wine is a type of white wine, but one that has been made like red wine.
Are you following?
Orange wine is essentially white wine that has turned orange because the grape juice has been allowed to stay in contact with the grape skins (macerate), from as little as a few days to as much as a year (and that is extreme even by red wine standards).
Orange wine is a wonderfully complex mix of flavours – it can taste like red wine because of the way it has been made, with the tannins, body and texture and depth of red wine. But because the base of the wine is white wine grapes, it also has the fruitiness and aromas associated with white wine. Plus it has a unique colour that varies from light yellow to deep ale-like amber (the orange colour is understood to come from compounds in the skin such as carotenoids – also found in carrots – and flavonoid type phenols.)
Orange wine isn’t rose
Also, orange wine isn’t rose (although they’re made the kind of the same way).
Rose is made by allowing the skins of red grapes to ever so slightly stain the grape juice; orange wine is made by allowing the skins of white wine grapes to ever so slightly stain the white grape juice.
And whilst in white winemaking it is wholly undesirable to allow the grape skins to remain in contact with the grape juice, this is where orange wine sets itself apart from the crowd because going against the grain is very much what is required to make this exceptional tipple.
Orange wine is natural wine
Orange wine is one of the oldest types of wine in the world. Yes, it is only just becoming fashionable in the wine world now, but it has been around for over 8,000 years.
Orange wine is known as low intervention wine because of the way in which it is made – the white grapes are vinified similar to red wine grapes, and that is about as much intervention as the wine gets.
Georgia is one of the biggest and oldest orange winemaking players in the world, having been making orange wine longer than anyone else. In Georgia, they call it Amber Wine, to avoid any confusion with citrus fruits.
The Georgian way of making orange wine is to squash the grapes and put the resulting juice, skin, pips, stems and everything else that happens to be in the mix, into an egg-shaped clay jar (qvevri) that is lined with beeswax paper, and then sealed and buried in the earth, preferably in the cellar of someone’s home, to allow the mixture to ferment for as long as necessary.
There is no addition of yeast in natural orange wine – the fermentation process relies on wild fermentation, the naturally occurring yeasts on the skins of the grapes must do the work of turning the grape juice into wine. There is also no addition of sulphates, nor are the wines fined or filtered, meaning don’t be surprised if your orange wine is cloudy.
Food pairings for orange wine
Don’t be fooled into thinking orange wine is a light drinker, it is anything but – it packs a punch that can, on occasion, be slightly sour. So whilst we tend to drink white wine and natural rose wine chilled with salads and lighter foods, the best way to drink orange wine is at cellar temperature and with meatier choices. Because it is a meaty wine, dressed up in a skimpy summer dress.
And just as natural white and red wines are full of unexpected surprises that make them such an incredible drinking experience, so too does orange wine always mix things up.
We wrote about our experiences with orange wine and food pairing last summer, and after some trial and error, it was concluded that the search needed to continue. But put your fork down, because we have finally found the answer – orange wine pairs perfectly with strong flavours.
Think you can’t drink wine with curry? You can now.
Wondering what wine to serve with a Moroccan Lamb Tagine full of spices and deep flavours? Pair it with orange wine.
Mature cheddar for lunch?
Garlic chicken for supper?
The stronger the food flavour, the better it works with handling this natural wine.
So, isn’t it time you tried orange wine?
The thing we particularly love about orange wine is its ability to divide opinion. It is a surprising experience if you aren’t prepared for it because it is nothing like you will have tasted before. Orange wine is a complex mix of all the best bits of white and red wine, and it is unashamedly unique.
Orange you glad you tried it? (Sorry).