Representing a niche style that has gained in popularity as of late, orange wines have become the new darlings of sommeliers across the country, especially when it comes to wine tasting Los Angeles. In fact, these wines have a fascinating history dating back to 6,000 BC and have enjoyed a modern renaissance beginning in the 1990’s through the efforts of visionary winemakers like Radikon and Movia. But what exactly are orange wines? How are they made and how are they best enjoyed? Discover our foray into the world of these skin-contact white beauties!
We are all familiar with the two most common styles of wine: white and red. Lying somewhere between those two are two more styles: rosé (our favorite summer sipper) and the lesser-known orange wine. The former is produced by shortening the “maceration” time of red grapes, or the time the grape skin spends in contact with the must. The latter is produced by lengthening the maceration time of white grapes. A more correct name for orange wines is actually “extended skin-contact white wines.”
Usually, white grapes are crushed shortly after arriving to the winery and then left to ferment without the skins, leading to a pale yellow color in the glass. In the case of orange wines, the juice and the grapes remain in contact, allowing elements like color, tannins and anthocyanins to seep out of the skins and into the juice. This “enrichment” of the juice results in a white wine with a darker hue, ranging from orange to amber, along with a bigger body on the palate.
The tannins and anthocyanins extracted from the grape skins also serve as natural preservatives. This means that orange wines can last longer without sulfur treatment, which explains why many orange wines are also natural wines. Winemakers specialized in orange wines generally choose natural viticultural and winemaking methods across the board. These include a biodynamic or organic approach in the vineyard, spontaneous fermentations using indigenous yeasts, and bottling without fining or filtration. In some cases, orange wines are made in the oxidative style, with some oxygen seeping into the liquid during the fermentation process.
Skin-contact white wines have ancient origins. This style dates back to 6,000 BC in the Caucasus (now the country of Georgia). Even to this day, Georgian winemakers continue producing orange wines using large earthenware vessels known as qvevri to ferment their wines. Traditionally, these qvevri were buried deep underground to keep the contents cool during the fermentation process. Outside of Georgia, the extended skin-contact method of producing white wine has also remained the norm in some remote areas of Slovenia and northeastern Italy.
In the 1990’s, orange wines experienced a renaissance in popularity, when they were rediscovered by visionary winemakers with a more natural approach. Leading this movement were Stanko Radikon and Joško Gravner in Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia appellation, near the Slovenian boarder. Today, orange wines are produced in several regions of Italy and Greece, as well as around the world. While these wines definitely remain a niche style, more and more winemakers are experimenting with them in places like California, Australia and South Africa.
Now that we know what orange wines are, how they are made and by whom, we can get to the most important part: how they smell and taste in the glass. As with any classic white wine, the aromas of the wine will depend on a number of factors, including the grape variety, terroir of origin and vintage of the fruit. Nevertheless, the most common ways to describe the aromas of orange wines include bruised apples, bruised pears, jackfruit, honeyed apricot and dried citrus peel. When produced in an oxidative style, these wines can also reveal nutty aromas and toffee on the nose.
On the palate, orange wines are usually quite voluptuous and full-bodied, showing a higher degree of tannins than standard white wines. Nevertheless, they also maintain a fresh acidity that is typical in white wines.
The ideal serving temperature of an orange wine will depend on the grape variety and style. While lighter-bodied orange wines can be served chilled, just like any standard white wine, fuller bodied orange wines should be served at room temperature to fully enjoy their myriad of aromas. We recommend serving orange wines in a glass with a larger bowl, like the Riedel “Montrachet” glass, which will emphasize the rich texture of these wines when it comes to wine tasting Los Angeles.
As for food pairings, it will once again be important to first consider grape variety when choosing the right dish. Generally, orange wines tend to be quite robust in style, which will allow them to pair with boldly flavored or spicy dishes. Some of our favorite food pairings with orange wines include Moroccan lamb tagine, slow-cooked Ethiopian goat tibs or smoky baba ghanoush. You could also go with your favorite Asian dishes, like Sichuan noodles or Korean kimchi, which you can find almost anywhere when wine tasting Los Angeles.
We hope you have enjoyed this adventure into the fascinating world of orange wines and that you have learned a thing or two about this weird and wonderful style! We recommend that every wine lover try a skin-contact white wine at least once in their life. Who knows, it might even become your favorite!
Founded in 1983, Millesima is a family-owned fine wine merchant headquartered in Bordeaux, France. Millesima’s USA branch was born in 2006 and includes a retail store in New York City as well as user-friendly e-commerce platform, featuring a vast selection of highly sought-after fine wines from around the world.