Before we even begin expounding on our new favorite wine, let’s get one thing out of the way.
“Orange wine is not made from oranges. Yes, people ask that a lot,” Lorena Ascencios, head wine buyer at New York’s Astor Wines & Spirits says.
Unlike a traditional white where skins are removed before fermentation, orange wine is made from white grapes fermented with their skins, giving it that lovely, sunset-colored hue and sometimes slightly cloudy appearance. And orange wine is glowing stronger than New York City’s best Manhattanhenge, showing up on wine bar menus everywhere. It’s also perfect for this time of year. Fuller bodied than most whites with a more tannic texture, it will put you in the mood for fall, while its brighter stone fruit flavors (think peach, nectarine and apricot), let you hang on to summer.
Orange wine isn’t necessarily new: The term itself only surfaced five or six years ago, Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughters Winery estimates. But the style dates back centuries. In Georgia, one of the world’s oldest wine traditions involves fermenting skin-on white grapes in clay vessels called qvevris. The style is having its own moment right now, which is part of the reason you see more amber-hued wine.
But it’s not just qvevri-style wine unleashing bottled-up excitement: So-called “orange wine” is cool because it’s much more diverse than appearances might lead you to believe: It can be made with any kind of white grape, might be a blend, and could be made with little intervention—like in the qvevris—or not. What’s more, it’s a small-production wine, because the fruit has to be just right. Skin contact means no rot can be present whatsoever, and the grapes must hit the right flavor and aroma in order to work with the tannins.
“It's like Goldilocks fruit,” Tracy says. “There's a lot to think about, so you see people doing them on a smaller scale.”
Despite the small-scale production, the style is seriously popular. At Brooklyn’s Red Hook Winery, certain blends don’t even indicate that they include some “orange” or skin-fermented white wine. “We don’t want people to think it’s a just a novelty,” shop foreman Colin Alevras explains. “You’re not going to binge-drink a bottle of this over a Netflix marathon.”
Brooklyn’s June Wine Bar, which updates its menu regularly, quickly realized it would need at least one glass of orange on the menu at all times. “People who really know nothing about wine were coming in and asking for our sparkling orange wine by the glass by name,” manager Nick Tilly says. (Try Costadilà 280.)
The color might persuade drinkers to try a glass, but the complexity orange wine brings to familiar white grapes keeps them coming back.
It helps, too, that skin-fermented white wine is ideal for pairing with food, thanks to its tannins and acid; you’ll notice more and more orange bottles on wine bar and restaurant menus, like Brooklyn’s The Four Horsemen and Freek’s Mill.
Orange wine “can stand in as the ‘red’ wine for your dinner since [it has] more guts than a regular white wine,” Ascencios says. It’s also a great transition between white and red.
Drink it with charcuterie, strong cheese and olives, as well as autumnal foods, like squash, mushrooms and roasted dishes.
This summer, think of it as a welcome way to graduate from your busy schedule of rosé all day.
Orange Wines to Try Right Now
2009 Macari Vineyard Chardonnay SK (USA): Thanks to the inclusion of the stem during fermentation, this smoky wine from Red Hook Winery is earthy and much closer to a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc than it is to a white wine.
2009 Ribolla Gialla Brutus (Slovenia): If you close your eyes, this wine tastes like a light red, but after time, peppery notes give way to apricot.
2012 Pheasant's Tears Rkatsiteli (Georgia): If the combination of tropical and smoky notes doesn’t sound appealing, just wait until you’ve tried this dry, qvevri-style favorite.
2013 Channing Daughters Ramato (USA): This sweet Friulian-style wine (meaning it comes from Italian region Friuli-Venezia Giulia region) is made with pinot grigio. It has a strong bouquet and notes of honey, apricot and baked apple.
2013 Domaine Lucci Wildman Blanc (Australia): “This is one of the coolest wines I’ve ever had,” Tilly says, describing it as super briny, with winter citrus notes.
2013 Erde, Muster (Austria): Packaged in a clay bottle, this earthy, tannic sauvignon blanc has notes of citrus and herbs.
2013 Macari Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc SK (USA): This one from Red Hook Winery has strong peach and nectarine notes, along with white pepper and pine resin, says Alevras.
2014 Mattebella Chardonnay (USA): “This wine has beautiful intensity and concentration to it,” Alevras says. The fruit is super clean, with notes of ripe apple and walnut skin-like tannins.
2014 Dirty & Rowdy Skin and Concrete Egg Fermented Sémillon (USA): A little funky and smoky, this is one of the wackier oranges you’ll taste, from a cool, young vineyard to keep an eye on.