Why Is Orange Wine More Relevant Than Ever?


It is fascinating to reflect on the habits of today’s drinkers. People are curious, and love trying new styles more than ever before! Wine drinkers are more likely to drink the unfamiliar wine they’ve seen on the wine list. There has been a drastic shift of the consumer thinking for themselves, meaning that drinkers are less likely to follow in the footsteps of a parent, or the person who paved the way for those habits. Orange wine is by no means a steakhouse wine, or something you’d see on the wine list at a chain restaurant, yet it is relevant now more than ever. 

The extraordinary thing about orange wine—also known as skin contact or amber wine—is that it’s been made for thousands of years. It’s not exactly new to the wine scene either. So, if orange wine has been around for this long, why has it been making such an enormous resurgence over the past few years? Every boutique bottle shop, niche wine bar, or wine-focused European restaurants has at least one bottle on their menu. Our consumers are constantly asking about this style and ordering it both by the glass or bottle. In short, orange wine is hot, and has been gradually pulling drinkers—both wine and beer alike—under its wing. 

So let’s dig further. 

In the republic of Georgia—east of the Black Sea, northeast of Turkey—wine has been made using skin contact for thousands of years. Winemakers would age and store these wines in amphora clay jars, also known as qvevri. In fact, Georgians never seemed to make the traditional white wine. If we go to northern Italy, particularly the region of Friuli, as well as Slovenia across the border, these regions have made a name for themselves using this skin contact. Today, it appears most wine growing regions are experimenting with this ancient winemaking method. 

In the sea of orange wine, there’s plenty of room for interpretation, and the occasional variance in quality. Winemakers, particularly those who gravitate towards an Old World or natural style, are eager to experiment with a skin contact wine. Orange wine, by its nature, often overlaps into the natural wine world. With drinkers more in touch with not just their health, but conscious of what’s behind the juice more than ever, the intense interest in orange wine reflects just that—an interest in wellness.  

There is just one major dilemma; many of today’s orange wines drink like an oddly executed science experiment, and not a wine one would drink for pleasure. That’s why we stand behind those small producers who have a firm grasp on quality, who continue to make wine with a sense of place. There are a couple people who are due respect here—Stanko Radikon and Josko Gravner, both of the region of Friuli in northern Italy. While both are individualistic in their winemaking, they have brought a level of craft to orange wines that had never been seen before. Due to their willingness to devote time to their passion and reawaken the old winemaking techniques over the last 20 years, the world has taken notice of how relevant orange wine really is. 

Orange wine would be nothing without the skins of the grapes (and seeds!) Think the same production as rosé, but with whites grapes instead of red. Orange wine is all about the maceration of the juice with the skins, and the duration of time which that happens. The length of time could be as little as a couple of hours, or as long as several months. Temperature is also integral here, as this can expedite or slow down the extraction of the skins. The process is similar to the brewing of coffee or tea. Depending on the grape, the wine will acquire various shades of orange, amber, gold, or coral. Sometimes the wine could have a cloudy glow, or it could be clear. You know that sandpaper sensation that dries your tongue out? That’s tannin, the very essence of this wine, allowing its life to often go further than a white wine. So yes, orange wines—done correctly—can age rather well.

So what does orange wine taste like? In short, the flavors often taste like those of white wine, but feel like red wine. The flavors are so completely vast here—clean and fruity, nutty and earthy, salty and savory, or herbal and floral. The curveball with skin contact wine is that it’s white wine with tannin. it allows this style to pair with more types of food, like meats, spiced dishes, fermented foods, the list goes on. Skin contact wine is able to fill a food-pairing void where other wines cannot venture. 

Modern winemaking would be nothing without orange wine in the conversation. The style has pushed drinkers to try what’s new, though the style itself may not be. Its versatility and approachability makes it intriguing to drinkers, both the youthful and wisened. Orange wine dates back over 5000 years ago, but it is still gaining momentum, and appears to be going nowhere anytime soon. 

by Brittany Marsh - the Cru - HART & CRU