In the most basic sense orange wines are white wines that have been made like red wines – ie they have skin contact. When winemakers produce red wines they will keep the grape skins in contact with the juice, after pressing, to gain colour and flavour from the skins. This process will last anywhere from 3-24 days and the resulting wines will be full in colour and flavour. White wines do not go through this process. However, orange wines do.
The process of ‘orange’ wines is the oldest winemaking process in the book. With some of the oldest grapes known to man being white it only makes sense that they were aged on their skins for a period of time before filtering and bottling – though the ancient Greeks and Romans would drink straight from the large terracotta vessels. It is only in the last few hundred years that winemakers have made ‘white’ wines without skin-contact thanks to the creation and usage of preservatives. Generally speaking white wines will oxidise without preservatives, such as sulphites, which help to keep them refreshing and bright in colour. Wines, like red wines, will not have to have as many, if any, preservatives added to them as the skin contact will give the wines natural preservatives. Thus ‘orange’ wines are a naturally-preserved white wine.
Orange wines hail from Georgia and date back to 6,000BC. As a rule of thumb, orange wines are made throughout eastern Europe in the countries of Slovenia, Croatia and Georgia. There is a smattering of winemakers across Italy that produce orange wines too – a country leading the modern-orange wine movement. Thanks to the growth of interest in orange wines there are producers dotted across, USA, Australia and New Zealand – one of the most prominent is Channing Daughters of New York State.
So, what do they actually taste like?
The grape variety used will impart specific flavours unique to the respective grape but as a whole orange wines will have flavours of: hazelnuts, brazil nuts, sourdough, dried citrus rind, honey and bruised/cooked apples and peaches. Thanks to the skin contact they are full-bodied and dry as they now have tannins – the amount of tannin will depend on how long they spent in contact with skins.
How best to enjoy orange wines?
As they are a cross between a red wine and a white wine, it is best to serve these very lightly chilled. If you chill it down to the extent you would a normal white wine the tannins shall taste bitter and you won’t be able to get half the aromatic flavours. They are fine to drink at room temperature, though a slight chill is best.
Foods to enjoy with orange wines?
We have found that orange wines are best suited to foods with bold flavours – such as curries and spiced dishes such as soups, stews or pies. They will pair well with most vegetables and meats – practically anything from fish to beef.