Orange Wines - Skin Contact White Wines

Orange wine is, in it's simplest explanation, rose wine made from white grapes. The process is relatively similar, with some differences in timeframe. But it's these differences that make it a distinctive wine style. 

HISTORY OF ORANGE WINE

While it's an ancient winemaking technique, it grew out of style until the last 20 years or so, where it has become reinvigorated by various winemakers all around the world chasing natural winemaking techniques.

Orange wine making started as far back as 5000 years ago in Caucasus, or modern-day Georgia. Wines were fermented in large buried clay vessels called Qvevri, that were originally covered with stones & sealed through the use of beeswax when the wine has finished fermenting.

 Difference between Qvevri & Amphora?

Qvevri is larger & buried underground to help maintain a consistent temperature, while Amphora are smaller & are standing above ground. Additionally, Qvevri is made from coarser clay & has a higher porosity than Amphora, while allows for a higher rate of micro-oxygenation.

This results in wines from Qvevri being more earthy than Amphora, which tend to be more mineral.

 

However, this is not what made orange wines, well, orange. What makes them orange is the technique used when fermenting the wine.

FERMENTATION & TASTE PROFILE

Orange wine is basically a type of white wine with skin maceration during the fermentation process. By nature, orange wine production is natural, as this process uses little to no additives, sometimes not even yeast. While any white grape can be used to make orange wines, there are some grapes that tend to respond better to it, especially more aromatic grapes with stone fruit or citrus notes.

During fermentation, white grapes are crushed & the skins & seeds are left in the juice as the wine ferments. This contact with the skins & seeds is what creates the deep orange-hued wine, with the color & taste intensity imparted depending on how long the skin & seed contact was left in before being filtered out. It can be left anywhere between a few days up to about a year, usually in either clay or ceramic vessels.

The result of this is a wine that is robust & bold, with honeyed aromas of jackfruit, bruised apples, hazelnut, & dried orange rind. Big, dry, with the tannin of a red wine, as well as the sourness of a dry cider, these wines pair best with stronger tasting foods. This sour & nuttiness comes in part from the clay or ceramic vessels used, as it allows oxidation to happen. 

The result is a wine that is distinctly more structured than your typical natural wines, due to the tannin level as well as fresh flavor and acidity that comes from the way the white wine grapes are fermented. It's nose often has a punchy herbaceous and even fruity character.

One thing to note about orange wine is that due to the heavy influence of skins & seeds, a lot of orange wine will have a pretty consistent profile - there is less of a difference between terroir & grapes used, and rather, the biggest difference is extent of skin contact, as well as oxidation. The less these two factors influence the wine, the more taste notes would be dominated by grape varietal & terroir. This is actually the reason why orange wines are usually not included as part of blind tastings or certification programs.

POPULAR REGIONS

Typically, orange wines are considered a regional specialty in places such as Georgia, Friuli, Sicily & Slovenia. While still relatively rare, there are a growing number of other regions that have picked up this style, especially those where there is a growing trend in natural wines. 

ITALY

A winemaker in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Josko Gravner, actually has a huge inflluence in today's popularity of orange wine. He first attempted making orange wine in 1997 after visiting Georgia & bringing back with him ancient Qvevri winemaking techniques. The success of his wines sparked a reinvigoration of orange wines across the globe.

With much influence from Slovenia across the border, orange wines in Italy are produced with indigenous grapes in the region, such as Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Pinot Grigio. Today, winemakers from Sicily, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna are popular for their production of orange wine in Italy. These winemakers push the boundaries of this old age technique, promoting an emphasis on history, tradition, and hyper-locality.

GEORGIA

Most famous for it's Qvevri-aged wines, which were the first ever vessels used for wine fermentation dating back to 6000 BC. Typically made with Rkatsiteli grapes, which produces a deep reddish orange hue when made with orange winemaking techniques. There are a variety of indeginous grapes that are used as well, other than Rkatsiteli, such as Qisi & Krakhuna. 

The wines are typically dry & many have aromas of tea & stone fruits.

SLOVENIA

The region of Goriška Brda has a long history of orange wine making, and are usually made in a well integrated style. Something interesting about Slovenian culture is that wine is often poured in standard glasses, instead of wine glasses. 

Motnik is a variant of orange wine, where the barrels are disinfected by smoking herbs like rosemary, bay leaves, and sage, giving the wines a smoky note.

AUSTRALIA

Many experimental winemakers in Australia have started taking up orange wines as a winemaking style. It's usually called "amber wines" as Orange is actually an up & coming wine region in Australia. Varieties used in Australia are typically more aromatic grape varietals like Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Viognier

Note that the wines vary in flavors & color due to the wide variety of grapes used, as well as skin contact period.

OTHER REGIONS

There are a variety of other regions that have taken up orange wine making.

New York in the United States is the most known for an orange wine made from Rkatsiteli. Swartland winemakers in South Africa have a variety of old & less common grape varietals, which winemakers make orange wines with. 

Jura in France makes nutty wines called Vin Jaune and Côtes du Jura from Savagnin. While they use a slightly different method of pressing the skins, it has a similar taste as orange wines.

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