What is orange wine?

If you are offered to taste orange wine, what do you think you will see in your glass? A wine made from orange juice or other fruit that can give it this color? Well, this type of wine is made from grapes, and from white grapes. Vinified according to a very old method, originating from antiquity, this wine is back in fashion these last years. Let’s discover together the secrets of this wine with a very particular vinification.

The origins

Orange wine has been back in fashion since the 2000s with the revival of natural wines. However, it is a very old manufacturing process, dating back about 8,000 years and originating in the Caucasus, more precisely in Georgia. In this country, it is also called “amber wine“. At that time, in the region of Kakhetia, the population aged white wine in buried amphorae, called kvevris.

The name “orange wine” comes from David A. Harvey of Raeburn Fine Wines, a British wine importer, who started selling it in 2004. The name is, of course, taken from the final orange color of the wine made with this method.

The manufacture of orange wine

Orange wine, also called “white maceration”, is a wine made from white grapes, vinified in the same way as red wine. That is to say that the juice of the grapes is left in contact with the skin, the seeds and sometimes the stalks, during the maceration, instead of pressing it directly as it is usually the case for white wine.

Indeed, it is in the skin and the seeds that the tannins are found, responsible for the final color of the wine (whether for red wine or orange wine). This results in tannic white wines, which are more digestible and with a lower alcohol content than other white wines.

It is the polyphenols and anthocyanins, contained in the grape skin, that are responsible for the orange color. They are also the source of the wine’s aromas and the structure of the orange wine.

This winemaking technique, after being born in Georgia, spread to Slovenia and northern Italy. In the 90’s, two northern Italian winemakers working with natural wines reused this technique, which had been put aside until then. The wines produced are then called in Italian “ramato“, meaning “copper wine”, or “macerato“, “macerated”.

These wines are then made from grape varieties such as ribolla gialla and friulano, as well as pinot grigio. Through this Italian revival, the vinification of orange wine develops. It then crosses the borders to spread all over the world.

Many grape varieties are used to make these wines, the main ones being gewurztraminer, chardonnay and muscat.

This category of wine is sometimes considered a 4th category of wine color, although it is considered a white wine.

Orange wine in France and in the world

Today, there are still few winemakers offering this type of wine. But it is possible to find it in Croatia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, the United States, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and France.

In France, the production of orange wine is still quite low. However, winemakers in several regions are beginning to produce it. It can be found in Alsace, in the Loire, in Languedoc-Roussillon, in the Jura, in Savoie or in the Rhone Valley.

The characteristics

Orange wine gives, most of the time, quite structured wines, with aromas of candied fruits and spices. They are wines with character, and a wide and varied aromatic expression. These are wines with powerful flavors, persistent in the nose and mouth. They express themselves through floral aromas (lime blossom), citrus fruits, crushed apples, raisins, nuts, spices, teas, honey and mineral notes, herbaceous, roasted (coffee, toast) or oxidation.

The characteristics of the wine can vary considerably depending on the grape varieties used. The terroir, the partial or total destemming of the grapes, the duration of maceration, the type of aging, the voluntary oxidation and certain other factors (wine-making container, age of the wine, etc.) can also change the final result and the taste of the orange wine.

Orange wines are, most of the time, more digestible, aromatic and less acidic than the classic white wines. Being quite dry, the taste of alcohol is very low, but these wines remain quite fresh and complex.

How to taste orange wine

Orange wines are quite complex, sometimes difficult to identify. The amateurs will be surprised, while the professionals will know how to detect their qualities and their tastes, so specific.

Moreover, orange wines are sometimes confused with oxidized, maderized or sweet wines. Indeed, these last ones can have a similar dress, but they are however quite different.

Moreover, orange wines have a good ageing potential, due to their tannic structure.

In terms of food and wine pairing, their tannic structure allows them to accompany a whole meal. They go perfectly with hard cheeses. But also some dishes quite structured as game. And, as far as desserts are concerned, orange wine goes perfectly with chocolate. Indeed, the chocolate sublimates well the tannins of the wine.

Finally, the orange wine is a tannic wine. It needs to be aerated before tasting, so it can reveal its full potential and aromas, even if this may vary according to the domain and year. Use the Aveine aerator to be sure to succeed in this step!


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