What Is Orange Wine? Plus, Why It’s Trending
Back in 2014, when the popularity of rosé (and so-called “millennial pink”) was at its peak, bottles with cute pink labels and names like “Rosé All Day” and “Yes Way Rosé” saturated the market. Influencers would post pictures of themselves enjoying picnics on the beach with a glass of rosé in hand, purely for the aesthetic.
Today, people still take pics of wine for the gram, but now more of those glasses are filled with orange rather than pink wine. Although the drink is picking up traction on social media in the same way rosé has in the past, it’s for a slightly different reason, according to sommelier Paige Flori, who owns Boutique Wines, Spirits and Cider in Fishkill, NY.
Unlike rosé, the orange wine trend isn’t driven primarily by its pretty color, or because celebrities like Drew Barrymore released one (though Dua Lipa is a documented fan). While the orange hue does pique people’s interest, the appeal has more to do with the rise of the natural wine movement, as most orange wines fall under that umbrella. “Consumers have shown more interest in how the products they ingest are made, seeking simple, less processed options,” Flori explains. “The simplicity and straightforwardness of the orange wine process makes it easy to understand and the lack of additional sulfur makes it appealing.”
This combined with the fact that it’s a “new” category of wine, gets people excited to try it. But what is orange wine, exactly?
What Is Orange Wine? Does It Have Oranges in It?
Orange wine may be new to many, but it’s certainly not a recent innovation, nor is it made with oranges. Instead, Flori says, it’s the product of an ancient winemaking technique that dates back several thousand years to the country of Georgia.
Orange wine is made with white wine grapes; however, it’s produced like red wine, meaning the skin and seeds are left on longer during fermentation. The extended contact with the skins and seeds is all it takes for the wine to turn orange, increase in tannins, and develop in flavor. That’s why orange wine is often referred to as “skin contact” wine, too. (Rosé, by contrast, is made using red wine grapes, but in a similar fashion: it gets its color from time spent in contact with the grape skins.)
Clearly, the ancient Georgians were ahead of their time. Orange wines from Georgia are still a leader in their category, but now an increasing number of non-Georgian winemakers from larger wine-producing countries like France and the US are venturing outside of whites, reds, and rosés, which Flori pinpoints as “the other pivotal piece of the puzzle that contributes to the trend.”
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Are All Orange Wines Considered Natural Wines?
Although all ancient orange wines would’ve been considered natural, the same can’t be said for all modern ones. Natural wines, as you can probably guess, are wines made without artificial ingredients. But beyond containing no additional sulfites, which are often added to wine as a preservative, “natural” also refers to the grapes and the filtration. Natural wines are made with organic or biodynamic grapes and aren’t filtered prior to bottling. Basically, they’re produced according to the earliest winemaking practices. Given that the orange wine trend is a resurgence of an ancient wine style, most orange wines coincidentally are natural wines, too.
If your orange wine is natural, it’ll probably say so on the label, but it’s not always a given. In France, for example, wine has to meet certain criteria in order to be labeled as natural or “vin methode nature.” But in the US, the regulations only extend to whether or not the wine was produced at an organic or biodynamic vineyard — meaning, a wine can be marketed as “natural” even if it doesn’t meet any specific criteria.
Regardless of the official label, you’ll likely be able to see and taste if an orange wine is natural. Because it’s unfiltered, it’ll look more murky than clear, and since the filtration process removes yeast and microbes, it’ll also have a distinct flavor. Mandy Naglich, an expert taster with Advanced Cicerone status and the author of “How to Taste,” describes this flavor as “similar to tart cider, sour beer, and more funkiness like farmyard or bruised fruit.”
How to Partake in the Orange Wine Trend
Like any wine, you can taste test different brands until you find what you like, but it also helps to know what exactly to look for on the bottle. Naglich says the first step is to check whether it’s labeled as natural or Pétillant Naturel, which translates to “natural sparkling” in French. Both terms signal that the orange wine is natural, but Pétillant Naturel specifies that it was bottled prior to fermentation and doesn’t contain as much yeast or sugar.
Some orange wines are neither natural nor Pétillant Naturel. “If you find funky wines intimidating, stick to labels that just denote the wine as ‘orange’ or ‘skin contact,'” Naglich advises.
You may also see bottles of “destemmed” orange wine. Since the presence of the grape stem influences the taste of the wine, this variety of orange wine will have “fewer nutty, earthy, or leathery flavors,” Naglich says. Look for destemmed on the label if you want a wine with a stone fruit or citrusy flavor profile.
Ultimately, if you have no clue what you’ll end up liking, Flori name dropped these orange wine brands: Six Eighty Cellars Skin Fermented Riesling, Six Eighty Cellars Pinot Gris Ramato, Bizarra Extravaganza Orange, and Château de Cérons Coucher de Soleil. And in case you needed even more confirmation that orange wine has made it to the mainstream, apparently, even Trader Joe’s has an orange wine selection.
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The Best Way to Enjoy Orange Wine
You’ve probably heard that red wine goes well with steak or that white wine pairs nicely with fish, but what about orange wine? Naglich and Flori both agree that one of the best orange wine food pairings is grilled vegetables. “The char highlights some of the red wine characteristics of skin-contact wines, and the earthy sweetness of grilled root vegetables does an especially good job contrasting the juicy stone fruit qualities,” Naglich explains.
If you’re doing a charcuterie board, stick with creamy cheeses like triple cream brie to contrast the mouth-drying tannins. The same goes for desserts — Naglich recommends a creamy panna cotta.
For optimal enjoyment, make sure to also pay attention to how cold you serve your orange wine, because the ideal temperature varies by weight. “Lighter orange wines will do better at 45-50 degree temperatures,” Flori specifies. “Heavier-bodied orange wines would be better suited at 50-60 degrees.” To determine the weightiness of your orange wine, just look at the color. The darker the shade of orange, the more prolonged the skin contact was, and the heavier the wine will be. The opposite is true of light orange wines.
Of course, if food pairings and precise temperatures aren’t your style and you’re more of a casual wine drinker, there’s nothing wrong with just pouring yourself a glass next time you can’t decide between white or red. And if you still love your go-to rosé, don’t worry, you won’t have to give it up because orange wine has a niche of its own.
Image Source: Getty Images / Yana Iskayeva