Orange wine- also called amber wine or skin-contact white - is essentially a white wine made the same way that reds are made -ie in contact with the grape skin. It is through the contact with the skins that the wines obtain their distinctive colour.
How/where is it made?
Typically, white wines are made by fermenting only the juice of the grapes, whereas with reds, the skins and pulp are fermented with the juice. During the fermentation, colour (tannins) and flavours are extracted from the skins. Orange wines are produced by fermenting the white grapes as you would reds, thereby allowing the same extraction of flavours and tannins from the skin.
This style of wine has been produced for centuries, historically in places like Georgia – which still makes some of the best- along with Slovenia and Friuli in northern Italy. These days you can find orange wines produced in pretty much every wine growing region around the world.
Why is it worth checking out?
It is a totally different taste experience to traditional white wines, both in terms of flavour and sensation. The presence of tannin may be unexpected jolt to the taste buds, and can take a little getting used to, but when done well it provides the wine with a very satisfying mouthfeel. Think of the freshness and acidity of a white with the structure and dryness of a red, and you have the idea.
Is the depth of colour indicative of a particular flavour?
Like conventional reds and whites, there is a whole spectrum of shades and flavours. As a general rule, the deeper the colour, the more time the wine has spent on the skins, and these will generally have a more complex flavour. The term Orange can be a bit misleading, as the colours can range from pale lemon-yellow to deep amber, and the flavour vary accordingly from fresh and fruity to nutty, savoury and oxidative – sherry like.
How is it best served?
Cool or room temperature. Tannins and cold do not go well together, so very lightly chilled is the best way to experience skin contact whites. The deeper the colour, the closer to room temperature you should serve it.
What would you pair it with, food-wise?
Orange wines are incredibly versatile, as they have the tannins to match proteins, and also the acidity needed for plant-based dishes. Lamb is especially good, slow cooked or stewed. They can handle spices brilliantly – think Indian curries or North African tagines, especially if there’s orange or apricot involved. Roasted vegetables are another beautiful pairing, especially aubergine, artichokes or celeriac.