It’s complex, versatile, and quite frankly, we’re ready for a change.

By Betty Gold
Updated: April 05, 2019

Red, white, rosé… orange wine? Despite the name, this style of wine is neither made from oranges nor orange grapes. Rather, it refers to the distinct color of skin-contact white wines that can range from soft yellow to golden amber to highlighter-hue orange. Orange wine has been around for centuries — it’s been produced in the republic of Georgia for thousands of years, and more recently made in Italy, Slovenia, and even Long Island, NY. It’s been sneaking its way into the menus of trendy restaurants and wine bars for the past couple years but never really had its true moment to glory. Summer 2018 (let’s be honest, summer 2017 and probably 2016, too) was all about that cheerful pink glass of rosé (or even frosé). But it's official: Orange wine as the go-to drink of this summer. The time has come, the walrus said.

What Is Orange Wine, Exactly?

Skin-contact refers to a style of wine making that produces orange-colored wine from white grapes. In essence, skin-contact wine is a white wine that’s made like a red wine. Typically, white wines have their skins removed prior to soaking and fermentation, whereas red wines keep their skins on. Orange wines are made by allowing the juice from white wine grapes to soak and ferment with the skins still on. The length of time that this fermentation process happens can range from a few hours to several months and is what determines the exact shade of orange you’ll see in your glass. By contrast, rosé is the inverse of orange wine. It’s made from red grapes that have had their skins removed early in the winemaking process. Because grape skins contribute a significant amount of tannins to wine, roses may taste less astringent and more light and refreshing than red wine.

What Does Orange Wine Taste Like?

The longer the juice and skins are in contact, the more these grapes will take on red wine characteristics — think more tannin, bolder flavor, and bigger body — while still maintaining the high acidity unique to white grapes.

Really, any white wine grape can be used to make orange wine. The aroma, flavor, texture, and body of orange wine varies tremendously. This is why it’s a style of wine that’s so easy to love: there’s endless opportunity to smell, taste, and learn the entire spectrum to find what type is right for you.

RELATED: The Best Orange Wines for Summer 2019

Do note that orange wines — because they more closely resemble reds — have more edge, richness, and earthy-sour notes to them than, say, a pinot grigio or even a glass of rosé. You might get notes of apricot, nutmeg, even apple cider or mushrooms in your glass. The more complex flavor profiles found in orange wines are perfect for those ready to explore something a little less “simple sipping” than rosé. We’ve graduated.

How Do I Serve It?

If it’s your first time tasting, make sure to enjoy your glass with proper food pairings. Though there’s a wide spectrum (as orange wines vary, so do their food pairings), foods with rich, salty, smoky flavors are a safe bet. Try it with cured meats (salami, prosciutto) and hard cheeses like parmesan or manchego (here's how to make the perfect cheese platter). Once you’re ready to advance to the next level, you’ll find that the complex flavors in orange wine lend themselves to delicious ethnic cuisines, like Indian, Korean, or Moroccan food — the world is your oyster. Serve it at a chilled cellar temperature. If you don’t like it right away, try, try, again. Cheers to that!

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