Wine Words Demystified: Orange Wine

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!  This week’s term is Orange Wine...

According to Ray Isle of Food & Wine magazine…

Orange wines“—a current favorite of hipster sommeliers—are white wines that are kept at length on the grape skins as they are made. One result: their resistance to oxygen is increased, so they stay fresh longer when opened.

In other words, an “orange wine” is a white wine made applying red wine techniques.  Rather than the typical white wine process of pressing the juice off the skins, the juice is allowed to macerate, like you would when you make a red wine.  And instead of keeping the process sealed from oxygen, you allow the fermenting fluid to breathe.

Because the skins remain in contact with the juice during the fermentation process, the wine takes on qualities you’d normally associate with a red wine: tannins, structure and fuller body that doesn’t come from aging in oak, or high alcohol content.

“Orange” wine – Image courtesy of SFGate Photo: Craig Lee, Special To The Chronicle / SF

The practice of making wines using this process dates back thousands of years to  Eurasian wine producing countries of Armenia & Georgia.  In more recent years, the epicenter for orange wine is Friuli, Italy.  However, there is a nascent insurgency against the traditional method of making white wines afoot in Oregon, and California.  

From what I’ve been able to discern, the most common grape used to make orange wine has been Pinot Gris, but it also being made from white Rhone varietals such as Marsanne and Roussanne.  And while the wines are commonly an orange hue, they may be other colors such as a salmon.  So the name orange wine has more to do with the process than the color per se.

Right now, orange wines are a niche category; mostly the province of sommeliers, and wine geeks.  It will be interesting to see how far the orange wine movement will go.

I’m looking forward to trying my first orange wine soon.  I won a bottle of wine from my cousin on a bet when my Forty-Niners crushed the Monsters of the Midway (Da Bears).  I went with a bottle of 2011 Donkey & Goat Stone Crusher Roussanne.

Have you tried an “orange” wine?  If so, what did you think?