By Shannan Schimmelmann
Orange wine is trending for so many reasons, my favourite being that it is for adventurous souls that love diversity. There is a surprising range of colours, flavours, textures and styles of orange wine. It’s my go-to wine choice when I’m in the mood for something robust, bright and bursting with fruit, floral flavours or interesting spices.
Orange wine is also known as skin-contact white wine, skin-fermented white wine and amber wine. It is a type of wine made from white wine grapes where the grape skins are not removed, the skins stay in contact with the juice for days and at times months. Conventional white wine production involves crushing the grapes and quickly moving the juice off the skins into a fermentation vessel. Grape skins contain colour pigment, phenols and tannins that some consider undesirable for white wines. On the other hand, red wine skin contact is a critical part of the winemaking process that gives red wine its colour, flavour and texture.
Orange wine is one of the oldest styles in the world; Georgians were using pointy bottomed qvevri (pronounced kwev-ree) and clay amphorae, buried in the ground for temperature control to make wine in their homes starting around 6,000 BCE (before the common era).
Today, most orange wine producers follow natural practices. An interesting fact about winemaking is that skin contact is one of the ways you can naturally stabilize a wine instead of adding sulfur and other additives. To make orange wine, you first take white grapes, mash them up and then put them in a large vessel. Next, the fermenting grapes are left alone for at least four days to sometimes over a year with the skins and seeds still attached.
Because of the natural process that uses little or no additives, orange wine can taste very different from regular white wines and can have a sour taste and nuttiness from oxidation. On the palate, orange wines tend to be bold, dry and have tannins like a red wine. Orange wines pair well with bold foods, including ethnic and spicy foods such as curry dishes and a wide variety of meats, ranging from beef to fish and charcuterie.
Red grapes + long contact with grape skins = red wine
Red grapes + short contact with grape skins = rose wine
Red grapes + no contact with grape skins = white wine
White grapes + no contact with grape skins = white wine
White grapes + long contact with grape skins = orange wine
White grapes + short contact with grape skins = orange wine
Orange wines are touted as the fourth wine colour and appear to be growing in popularity in the Okanagan Valley, Canada and around the globe. A great option to keep in mind when you are in the mood to try something adventurous and bold.
Shannan Schimmelmann first fell in love with B.C. wine and spirits while studying hospitality at Camosun College in Victoria, and she has spent the past two decades exploring more than 100 wineries and distilleries in B.C. and beyond. She is a business leader and consultant skilled at partnership development, export strategy and supply chain management. She has an MBA from Royal Roads University, a wine business management certificate from Sonoma State University, a restaurant management diploma from Camosun College and Canadian Wine Scholar WSET-1 accreditation.