Orange Wine: What Is It and What Does It Taste Like?

Orange Wine: What Is It and What Does It Taste Like?

You may not have seen orange wine at your local wine store, but you may have seen it lurking on the wine menus of on-trend restaurants or being pushed your way by an eager sommelier.

Orange wine used to be exceptionally common. And while it has yet to burst into the mainstream, orange wine has built an impressive cult following in the last couple of decades. 

With a color ranging from a glorious tangerine hue to a more subdued golden quality, orange wine is beautifully photogenic. You may have spotted it artfully posed on Instagram.

But what gives orange wine its extraordinary color? What does it taste like? And what do you pair it with? In this article, we answer all of your questions about this unusual wine.

What Is Orange Wine?

While the lovely amber hue may suggest otherwise, orange wine is not made from oranges, nor is it artificially colored, nor is it a type of wine cocktail. Orange wine is all natural! It’s made by leaving the skins on white grapes during fermentation.

While orange wine may be new to you, it’s actually been kicking around for centuries. Wine academics suspect orange wine was first enjoyed in Georgia, Europe, way back in 6000 B.C. (which is also thought to be the birthplace of wine as we know it). 

Over thousands of years, orange wine fell into obscurity. But a recent resurgence started around 20 years ago, and wine lovers everywhere rediscovered this unusual style of wine.

While Georgian, Slovenian, and Italian orange wines are the most well known, new world wine regions, such as Australia, South Africa, and New York in the United States are producing some really exciting orange wines.

We can thank British wine importer David A. Harvey for the name orange wine. The technical term for this wine style is skin-contact wine, due to how these gloriously golden wines are made.

How Is Orange Wine Made?

Just like red, white, sparkling, and rose wine, orange wine is made from pressing and fermenting grapes (if you would like to learn more about the winemaking process, we’ve written all about how wine is made). However, what is different with orange wine is the state the grape is in when it is processed. Let us explain.

To make white wines, winemakers remove the skins and pips from the grape before pressing them into a juice. This removes a lot of the naturally occurring tannins, but also dictates the color. Without grape skins, the grape juice will produce white wine.

This means that many of your favorite white wines are made from red or black grapes. Take Champagne for instance, this iconic white sparkling wine comes from a mix of Chardonnay grapes and Pinot Noir grapes.

Now, to make red wine, winemakers leave the grape skins on during production. This creates wines that are higher in tannins but are also deeply red in color. This is also how rosés are created, except winemakers leave the grape skins on for a much shorter amount of time, resulting in wines with a pretty pink color.

Orange wines, or skin-contact wines, are created using white grapes with their skins on. This means that, while the crushed grapes are fermenting, they take on a more tannic quality from their skins and pips, but also a deeper color. Most skin-contact wines are more of a golden yellow than an actual orange, but some result in bright amber wine.

Some people like to think of orange wine as a more “natural wine” as leaving on the grape skins means the winemaker is interfering with the wine less. However, this is not true. Biodynamic wines are a little more complex than that.

What Does Orange Wine Taste Like?

pouring orange wine into a wine glass

Because orange wine is made from a range of different white grapes, it's difficult to pinpoint the exact flavor profile of orange wines, as each variety will taste different from the last. However, due to the presence of grape skins in its production, orange wine is much higher in tannins than white wines. This results in wines which are complex and interesting.

Generally, orange wines are described as being robust and full-bodied with a great depth of flavor like a red wine and the refreshing qualities of a white wine.

Common tasting notes include: 

  • Bruised fruit
  • Jackfruit
  • Savory flavors like hazelnut
  • Fruit beer
  • Apricot

Some orange wines are also known to be so intense in flavor they can only be enjoyed in very small quantities.

Notable Orange Wines To Try

Orange wines are very popular in Italy, so it will be no surprise that some of the most available orange wines are made from traditional Italian wine grapes. Friuli in Northern Italy is especially famous for these amber wines.

Orange Pinot Grigio is a popular choice, which is really worth a try. This style of Pinot Grigio (or Pinot Gris, depending on where you are) is known for honeysuckle, stone fruit, and citrus tasting notes. The wine producer Radikon is known for their delicious orange Pinot Grigio.

Orange Sauvignon Blanc is also one to look out for. Known for its tasting notes of apricot, saffron, and orange peel, this variety is best when it's dry.

Orange Riesling is a polarising wine. While some may love its complex sour flavors, others will find the tart, beer-like experience a little strange from a wine.

How To Serve Orange Wine

Rather than giving you blanket serving advice for all orange wine, look at the wine varietal you’re drinking. This should help you decide how to serve your wine.

While most white wines are best enjoyed cool, but not too cold, some fuller-bodied wines can be enjoyed at a slightly higher temperature. On the other side of the coin, dessert orange wines and sparkling orange wines are best served chilled.

Check out more tips about whether or not to refrigerate your wine.

Pairing Food With Orange Wine

While grape varieties will play a large part in how you pair your orange wine, generally these lovely amber wines are a little harder to pair than white wines. This is due to their complex flavors and their nutty qualities.

Match the boldness of your orange wine with an equally bold food. For example orange wine is a popular sidekick for Asian dishes, such as traditional Japanese and Korean dishes. Try it with fermented kimchi, soy beans, and wasabi.

Make Contact With Skin-Contact Wine

wine by the window

By no means a new phenomenon, orange wines (or skin-contact wines) have been around for a long time. Luckily for wine drinkers everywhere they have experienced a revival, meaning you may be fortunate enough to try one of these unusual wines.

Made from white wine grapes with their skins left on, orange wines are complex and higher in tannins, but they maintain that refreshing quality we love in white wine. Because of this, orange wines are a great accompaniment to vibrant Asian-inspired dishes.

Remember, there are many different varieties of orange wine, so if you don’t fall in love with an orange Sauvignon Blanc right away, you may still love an orange Pinot Grigio. Either way, if you are eager to try something new, an orange wine may be just what you’re looking for.