Orange Wine: Everything You Need To Know And Probably Didn't

No, it's not made from oranges.
Moncherie via Getty Images

From wine shops to restaurant menus, orange wine is everywhere these days. This style of wine is really fun to taste due to its wide range of flavor profiles, but there’s one slight problem ― a lot of people don’t have a clue what orange wine actually is.

First, let’s clarify an important misunderstanding that comes up all the time, according to wine professionals: Orange wine is absolutely not made from oranges. Like most red wine, white wine and even rosé, orange wine is made by fermenting grape juice.

Here’s everything you need to know about orange wine.

What is orange wine and how is it made?

Remember, despite the name, orange wine is not made with oranges.

“Orange wine, in its simplest form, is a white wine that is made like a red wine,” says Matt Tunstall, co-owner and beverage director at Stems & Skins, a natural wine bar in North Charleston, South Carolina.

This means that white grapes are pressed and remain in contact with their skins while the juice is fermented. Wine made this way is often referred to as skin-contact wine.

The method is different from making white wine, in which the skins are removed prior to fermentation. With orange wine, skin contact brings out the orange-ish colors that the wine is known for. It can also draw out tannins, which are naturally occurring compounds that can taste bitter or astringent and may leave your mouth feeling dry.

“While the general definition of orange wine is having some skin contact, the way in which it is done varies greatly,” says Holly Berrigan, founder of MYSA Natural Wine.

What does orange wine taste like?

Orange wine can taste really different from one kind to the next. “You can’t blanket all orange wines with similar tasting notes, but you can see, smell and taste the difference between orange wine and white wines produced without the introduction of the skins,” Tunstall says.

Some orange wines taste somewhat like a white wine, while others have an intense, nutty and oxidative flavour, similar in style to sherry, Berrigan says.

“Typically, you will find them somewhere in between, where you’ll experience either a little bit of tannin (drying in the sides of your mouth), or phenolic bitterness (astringency in the mouth) as well as new fruits and flavours you might have missed without the skin contact,” she explains.

Notes of orange are pretty common, and can range from a light tangerine to a deep blood orange, Berrigan says. One reason for the huge range in flavour of different orange wines is that there’s a lot of variation in how they’re made – sometimes winemakers allow skin contact for just a few hours, but it can also happen for months.

And in turn, this means orange wine can be produced in various shades and depths of colour, as seen here:

Is orange wine new on the wine scene?

You may have only come across orange wine in recent years, but this style of wine is nothing new. In fact, it’s been around for thousands of years and originated in the country of Georgia.

“The first wines ever made would have been red wines and orange wines,” Berrigan says. “White wines are actually the new kids on the block in overall wine history, only coming on the scene 4,000 years ago vs. 8,000 years ago for red and orange.”

If you want to try orange wine but aren’t sure where to start or what to select, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Ask for help

Don’t be shy about asking a sommelier or store clerk about the wines they have available. This will help you get an idea of the wine’s flavour and texture before buying, Tunstall says. And if you’re at a restaurant or bar, definitely ask for a taste before ordering a glass.

Start simple

Julie Buckner Lane, managing partner at Bar & Garden Dallas, a shop that specialises in natural and organic wine, recommends starting out with some of the more aromatic varietals, like sauvignon blanc, riesling and muscat.

“The aromatics help to soften some of the more bitter and tannic qualities sometimes found in orange/amber wines,” she says.

She also suggests trying natural wine alongside food. “Food is the great equaliser when trying new styles of wines as it can bring balance,” she says.

Think about what you like in the wines you know

“If you are a white wine drinker that’s not that into red or tannin, you should start with something light and easy without too much skin contact or ageing,” Berrigan says. “If you’re a bold red drinker who is not into white wine, you might be happier initially with a wine with more time on the skins.”