What is Orange Wine?

Walk into any wine shop and it’s hard not to run into someone talking about “orange wines,” which have been undergoing quite the renaissance in recent years. But what is orange wine, exactly? 

Orange wines

What is orange wine?

First things first: “orange wine” is not a type of wine made from a magical, orange grape. In short, orange wines are produced with white wine grapes but vinified as though they were red wines. This method results in skin-contact white wines, as the grapes are fermented in contact with their skins and yeast for anywhere from a few days to a few months. This allows the wine to develop tannins, polyphenol, aromatic substances and proteins that render the final wine completely different from both white and red wines from a visual, olfactory, and even textural point of view. 

As for the color? At first sight, it’s clear that orange wines are different than other vini italiani: they take on an orange hue, with shades of amber that vary according to the structure of the wine and if the wines are finished in wood casks. Orange wines might be a giveaway thanks to their color, but remember that they are basically white wines that have picked up many qualities of red wines along the way. In Italian, you may even hear some of these wines called ramato, or amber, for their distinctive color.

The origins of orange wine

It’s easy to dismiss orange wine as a fad, but these wines find their roots in ancient techniques. The origins of orange wine date back thousands of years to regions in current-day Georgia. In this area, wines were fermented inside qvevri, or large clay anfora (or urns) used for aging wines. In fact, some winemakers still use these terra cotta containers today.
Modern-day orange wine-making has seen a resurgence in the last 20 years, led by a handful of Italian producers (such as Josko Gravner in Friuli Venezia Giulia) who have embraced a return to these ancient and traditional winemaking practices. Although still quite niche, orange wines are becoming more and more popular – and sought-after – throughout Europe and the U.S. And yes, you can find a selection of Italian orange wines at your local Eataly!

Wine grapes

How is orange wine made?

Orange wines are, by nature, natural wines: production is organic and biodynamic, with great attention placed on the surrounding environment and little to no artificial or chemical additives. This means that some orange wines are more likely to undergo oxidation, and develop typically sour aromas and nutty, yeasty flavor that come with natural wine production. Don’t fear the funk, though – their dense texture and rich terroir make for interesting, complex sipping (and perfect for the fall and winter). 

What does orange wine taste like?

If the nose of orange wines can be herbaceous and even fruity, their palate is decidedly more complex and structured than the majority of white wines and rosés, thanks in large part to the high level of tannins paired with fresh flavor and acidity that comes from the way the white wine grapes are fermented. According to the duration of the fermentation and the quality of the vines, the differences between orange wines themselves are clearly defined (in other words, not all orange wines taste alike). In general, these wines pair pleasantly with meat and seasoned or spicy dishes. 
For those new to orange wines, try I Cacciagalli Zagreo from Caserta, made with native Fiano grapes that have been hand-harvested and fermented only with local yeasts. The result? A clean, lush wine with notes of orange and ripe apricots, and a toasty mouthfeel. 
For the more seasoned drinker, we recommend La Stoppa Ageno from Emilia-Romagna, made from a blend of 90% Malvasia di Candia Aromatica and 10% Ortrugo grapes for a rustic and wild orange wine that is a perfect marriage of aromatic stone-fruit and yeasty complexity. Or, travel further south and try the deeply mineral Le Coste 'Bianco R' from Gradoli in Lazio, made from the Procanico grape (a local name for Trebbiano) grown in volcanic soil.

Step into the vineyard and explore the world of orange wines for yourself! There's no secrets here for where to buy orange wine:  shop your local Eataly wine store or Eatalyvino.com to get a tasteSalute!