What is orange wine really?

The world of wine is no more immune to shifting fads and trends than any other aspect of the food industry. Consider the vogue for white zinfandel in the '70s giving way to chardonnay in the '80s, merlot in the '90s, pinot noir in the '00s, and coming back around to another pink wine — rosé — in more recent years. One type of wine that is definitely trending now is one that many people love, others can't stand, but few seem to fully understand — orange wine.

To anyone with a misspent youth, that name may seem a trifle off-putting, conjuring up shameful memories of awful flavored fortified wines like MD 20-20 or Boone's Farm (or even pruno, if your youth was truly, seriously misspent). The orange wine everyone's buzzing about these days, however, isn't made with any type of orange fruit or flavoring, just grapes. The "orange" in its name refers to its color, and the process by which it achieves this color also lends the wine its unique flavor.

​How orange wine is made

Orange wine is what is known as a 'skin-contact' wine, meaning a white wine that is made in the style of red wine — that is, fermented with the skins left on the grapes. A winery will typically remove the skins from grapes used to make white wines before the fermentation process begins, but with an orange wine the skins and seeds are left in the fermenting juice for anywhere from a few hours to a few months, sometimes even over a year. Depending on the amount of time the skins remain in the juice, the color can range from yellow to bright orange to amber. In fact, the Italian term "ramato," which means "auburn," is applied to a pinot grigio made as a skin-contact orange wine.  

​ What does orange wine taste like?

The longer the skins remain in the wine, the stronger its taste will be as well, adding the tannin notes you find in red wine to the acidity of the white wine. Often they can be quite tart — similar to a sour fruit beer. If you're new to orange wines, it may be best to start with a lighter skin-contact wine so the taste will not overpower you.

If you're actually a little disappointed that orange wine is not made from orange though, that's ok, we won't let the wine geeks know.