Everyone talks about orange wine, but what is it?
Orange wines have been around for a very long time, but have only been on everyone's lips for a few years. Some call them "amber wines", others "mash-fermented white wines", others "orange wines" but all mean wine made from white grapes, where during fermentation the mash is left in the juice for a certain period of time. This develops a wine that is light yellow to amber in color.
Where does orange wine come from?
The first orange wine was probably made in the Caucasus Mountains, in present-day Georgia, about 8000 years ago. Since scientists are still not sure where wine comes from and how long it has been around, it is possible that orange wine preceded white wine (why you will understand as you read on). In Georgia, which some also assume to be the country of origin of wine overall, orange wines are made in quevris, large clay amphorae buried in the ground. This method has also probably been used for 4000 - 5000 years. Orange wine has also been available in Slovenia and north-eastern Italy, near the Slovenian border, for several centuries. In the last few decades, winemakers all over the world have started producing orange wines again, especially in Alsace, the Czech Republic, parts of Spain and Italy.
How is orange wine made?
There are red and white grapes, but...
In order to explain what orange wine is and how it is made, we first need to explain how red wine and white wine are made. The juice of white and red grapes is mostly white. Red wine does not get its color and tannins from the juice, but from the mash, the mixture of everything that is not juice when pressed: skin and seeds. The pigments and tannins are released during fermentation with the mash and go into the wine. This simply means that when making white wine, winegrowers press the white grapes directly after the harvest, and this juice then ferments alone in a tank. To produce red wine, the red grapes are first lightly crushed so that this mixture of juice and mash ferments together and colorants and tannins are released from the mash and transferred to the juice. This process is called maceration. Then these grapes are also pressed, separating the mash from the now red juice. The process for making rosé is the same as for red wine. During the fermentation of rosé, the mash is left with the juice for much less time than with red wine, usually only 12-24 hours. For red wine, the wine sometimes macerates for up to 20 days, but 4-7 is more common.
White wine made from red grapes
You can sometimes see French wines labeled "Blanc de Noir" meaning "white out of black" - meaning a white wine made from red wine grapes. For example, white champagne is often made from Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) and Pinot Meunier, both red grapes. As described above, these grapes are then pressed directly after the harvest without being macerated. Champagne made exclusively from Chardonnay, the only permitted white grape, is called "Blanc de Blancs" - white out of white. There are also other "Blanc de Noirs", for example in Alsace, where there are some white wines made from Pinot Noir. So there is white wine made from red grapes, there is no red wine made from white grapes, but...
When white grapes macerate
When making white wine, the mash is not left in the juice during fermentation. If you do this, orange wine is produced. This means color and tannins are released from the mash and go into the juice. That's why orange wine is darker than white wine, because the skin of white grapes gives off color, just like red grapes. However, there is a big difference in the amount of time the mash is left on top of the juice before it is removed and the juice continues to ferment on its own. Many winegrowers in Germany and France leave the juice on the mash for 5-14 days when making orange wine, in Georgia 6 months is not unusual. This also affects the taste and consistency.
How does orange wine taste?
This question can be answered just as little as the question of what red wine or white wine tastes like. The grape used, the terroir, the weather and the vintage have a major impact on the taste of the wine. But if you press the same grapes, from the same plot, by the same winemaker once directly and process them into white wine, and once macerate them and process them into orange wine, the following differences arise:
- Orange wines tend to be stronger than white wines because they contain tannins. Their mouthfeel is often somewhat more similar to red wines than white wines
- They are often a bit more complex as the wine contains flavors from the mash and not just the juice
- Orange wines often have slightly less noticeable acidity, as the tannins balance the acidity more, making acidity a little less noticeable.
Is orange wine natural wine?
Some magazines, publications and shops lump natural wine and orange wine (often together with pet nat ) in the same category. Anyone who has read this article will probably already suspect that this is wrong. Orange wine, just like red wine, rosé and white wine, can also be produced conventionally, i.e. without organic cultivation and with filtration, fining and other interventions.
Nevertheless, this confusion is quite understandable. There is no question that the proportion of natural wine vintners who produce orange wine is much higher than that of conventional vintners. Why this is so cannot be clearly demonstrated. We believe that natural wine vintners are just used to taking different paths in winemaking . They must come up with creative ways to deal with difficult vintages, such as those that bring rising and falling acidity and sugar levels. A certain curiosity about new things is a requirement there. The way to an almost forgotten way of making wine is not far.
Taste orange wine
If you want to taste orange wine, we do not recommend starting directly with Georgian Quevri wines with a maceration period of 6 months. With a short maceration, the drinker will not necessarily notice that it is an orange wine, but may rather suspect a stronger white wine behind it. If this tastes good, you can slowly feel your way towards stronger orange wines. Incidentally, we think that orange wines can be excellent accompaniments to food, especially to dishes that are often served with red wine. For those who want to try orange wine, we have put together an orange wine tasting box where you can try everything from easy to difficult. If you prefer to choose for yourself, you are welcome to look around in our orange wine range.