Orange Wine, for whatever reason, has become the new on-trend, alcoholic drink of our uber health and wellness conscience society. Personally, I prefer to call it skin-fermented, since it is more technically correct. It has become part of this “natural” movement. The more we become conscience of wellness in general, the more we thoughtfully consume. Meaning, we seek products with minimal intervention, no chemicals, sustainable etc; and skin-fermented wines fit right into that ethos.
So what is it exactly?
The term orange wine refers to the color of the wine (obviously), which can include anything from auburn to salmon. David Harvey, of Raeburn Fine Wines in the UK, actually came up with this term in 2004 while working with Frank Cornelissen in his cellar in Etna, Sicily. Frank is one of those winemakers that you admire for his agricultural philosophy and his strict adherence to biodynamics. He has been one of the front runners of the natural wine movement.
While this may be a hot trend now, the history of orange wine goes back centuries from the bordering region between Italy and Slovenia, specifically Friuli and Brda. The orange color comes from the vinification process, or how the grapes are turned into wine – which is also where the term skin-fermented comes into play. It begins with white grapes (red grapes have too much pigmentation and thus would just make a red wine). The most common used grapes for this style of wine is Pinot Grigio, Ribolla Giala, Chardonnay and Savignan.
The grapes are macerated with their skins and seeds. Since both the skins and seeds have tannins (wood isn’t the only thing that provides tannin in wine), and tannins are naturally high in antioxidants, these wines were naturally preserved to last longer. So, back in the day, this was a practical method to make wines. The macerations last from 24-hours to 30 days, and the longer the maceration, the more color extraction and tannin you will see in the end product. Traditionally, these wines sit in cement or ceramic vats, called amphorae, in which the wine is in contact with oxygen. This creates oxidation in the wine turning the wines darker in color and adding the inherent nutty or cheesy aromas.
It is necessary to note that not all orange wines are created equal, and not all skin-fermented wines are orange. These can be fun wines to play around with and share with a group. They are also killer food pairing wines because of the tannin, acid and nuttiness, so feel free to try them with veggies, cheese, fish, and even pork. Below are a few producers that are rockin’ the orange wine scene right now!
Frank Cornelissen: Munjebel Bianco Classico, Etna Sicily, Italy
Josko Gravner: Ribolla, Collio Friuli, Italy
Dirty & Rowdy: Antle Vineyard Skin-Fermented Melon, Napa Valley, California
Scribe Winery: Skin-Fermented Chardonnay, Sonoma, California
Jean-Yves Peron: Côtillon des Dames, Jaquere/Altesse, Savoie, France