If you’ve ever browsed a wine list in a bar, you’ve seen the usual colours like white, red and rosé… But what about orange? This unique wine is growing in popularity, growing from an ancient wine of the Caucasus, to an established wine of Italy, to a trendy addition to New York wine bars. But what is it exactly? In celebration of National Orange Wine Day, we delve into everything you need to know about this unique drop, including where to taste the best orange wines around the world.
What is orange wine?
It’s not made with oranges, nor does it have anything to do with a Mimosa. So what is orange wine?
Also known as skin-contact white wine, orange wine is a type of white wine made by leaving the grape skins and seeds in contact with the juice. The skins and juice ferment for days, months or years at a time to create a deep amber-hued wine. This natural process uses very few additives, and because of this unique process, orange wines have quite a distinct taste.
This contrasts with the usual method of white winemaking, where vintners crush the grapes and quickly move the juice off the skins and into the fermentation vessel.
Where does orange wine come from?
While modern-day orange wine-making has had something of a reawakening over the past 20 years, the wine itself is ancient. It’s origins date back over five thousand years to modern-day Georgia, a beautiful country in the Caucasus region.
In fact, historians believe Georgia is the birthplace of wine. Researchers discovered the world’s oldest evidence of winemaking here, with winemaking pottery fragments that date back 8,000 years.
In this wine-loving region, they fermented the grapes inside a Qvevri (pronounced “Kev-ree”), a large clay vessel originally closed using stones or sealed with beeswax. The Qvevri was buried underground where the temperature stayed consistent in the cool earth and was left to ferment for months or years.
Some traditional winemakers in Georgia still use these vessels today and this ancient method has even been designated as UNESCO-listed heritage.
How has orange wine grown in popularity?
Orange wine-making spread across Eastern Europe over the years and was popularised by Slovenian and Italian winemakers who imported Qvevris from Georgia and embraced these traditional winemaking methods.
The modern-day resurgence over the last two decades was led by winemakers in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy and the Goriška Brda region of Slovenia. You can also find production in Slovakia, Austria, Croatia, Germany, France, and even as far as Australia, New Zealand, the United States and South Africa. Although still quite rare, these amber-hued wines are becoming much more popular.
The term “orange wine” was only coined recently in 2004 by a British wine importer, David A. Harvey, to reference the amber hue of the wines. This comes from the traditional Georgian name, “karvisperi ghvino”, which translates to “amber wine”.
What does orange wine taste like?
Orange wines are famed for their bold taste and nutty tartness, similar to red wines. Yet they also have mild honeyed flavours of stone fruit like peaches, hazelnuts and brazil nuts, and strong tea, all without the sweetness of white wines.
Different varieties change the flavour and some wines have the aromas of apple, juniper, dried citrus rind, and sourdough. Overall, these special wines offer up an incredibly unique taste, and it will probably be unlike any wine you’ve ever had before.
What is the right temperature to drink orange wine?
Like all wines, the flavour of orange wine is more subtle when chilled, and stronger when warmer. To get the best out of your orange drop, taste it when it’s around 13°C (55°F) – slightly warmer than white warm and slightly cooler than red. It’s a hot day, you can also drink it at around 10°C (50°F), for a lovely refreshing effect.
What food do you pair with orange wine?
These wines have a wonderful tannin-like texture that pairs perfectly with the bolder food flavours that would usually overpower white wines. Orange wines pair well with a wide range of meats, from beef to fish, and strong spice or nut flavours. They also go well with all kinds of cuisines, including the curry dishes of Africa, the fermented bean dishes of South Korea and Japan, and the rich stews of the Caucasus and the Balkans.
Where can you taste the best orange wines?
You can’t go to Georgia without trying their famous Qvevri-aged wines. One of the top grapes for making Qvevri wines in Georgia is Rkatsiteli, famed for producing wine with that deep amber colour.
When you visit Georgia with Trafalgar, we’ll introduce you to local Georgian winemakers and visit their traditional wine cellar, as they share fascinating stories and the ancient secrets of Georgian wine production. You’ll also get to sample the local wines made using the traditional method, for a truly special Georgian experience.
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Most orange wine-making today is found in northeastern Italy, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia on the border of Slovenia. Renowned winemaker Josko Gravner popularised the method in Italy, creating the first orange wine here in 1997. Vintners use the native grapes of the region, including Pinot Grigio, Ribolla Gialla and Sauvignon Vert (Friulano), to produce the wines.
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Hop just over the border from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy to the Goriška Brda region in Slovenia, and you’ll find a similarly long history of orange wine production. Be sure to try the variety called Motnik here. It’s uniquely made in barrels that are first disinfected by smoking herbs like sage, rosemary and bay leaves, which gives the wine a distinct taste.
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Winemakers in the United States have started to experiment with the orange wine method, especially in California. They even grow the Georgian Rkatsiteli grape variety in New York. You’ll find quite a few great bars in the Big Apple serving up the best of this country’s amber-hued wines.
Forward-thinking vintners in Australia are beginning to produce some fantastic orange wines, mainly with the Sauvignon Blanc grape variety. We suggest heading to the gorgeous Adelaide Hills, or the vineyards of Victoria for some top-notch wines.
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Winemakers produced New Zealand’s first orange wine in 2010. It’s taken off ever since, with vintners from North Canterbury, Central Otago, Marlborough and Nelson leading the charge. The wines are mostly made using the classic Kiwi aromatic varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.
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Head east of Burgundy and you’ll find the Jura region that’s famous for Comté cheese… and now its rich orange wines. The region uses a rare grape called Savagnin and also Chardonnay, and has a unique wine-making method to produce their amber-hued wines.
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Although orange wine is still quite rare in this great wine-making country, you can sample it in the Swartland region in the Western Cape, where progressive winemakers are taking advantage of well-established vineyards.
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Have you ever tasted this unique wine? Let us know your favourite orange wine brands in the comments below!