We figured we'd do our part and give you some insight as to what it's all about. Also, a bit of info on the one orange wine that transcends them all: Gravner.
Real quick– orange wine is the same as skin-contact or macerated wines. You may see these sections on a wine list. In short, it's made from white grapes using a method to extract a rich and unique flavor from them that you wouldn't find if it was made in the classic style. With no disrespect, it's a bit like comparing a lemonade to Kombucha. In theory they're both cold and refreshing drinks, but also very different. It also can kind of taste like kombucha.
Orange wine has been around for many thousands of years, but it only hit the mainstream in the last couple decades. In other words, it’s like kale. And despite its 5000 or so year hiatus, it has come back with a vengeance. While the terminology may differ– “orange,” “skin-contact,” “macerated,” –these wines are gaining bigger and bigger footholds at restaurants and wine stores. So, you know, what are they?
Orange wine is basically the inverse of rosé. While rosé is a red wine made like a white wine, orange wine is a white wine made like a red wine. Usually, white grapes are crushed, and the juice is immediately separated from the skins. However, when the juice is left in contact with the skins and seeds, it absorbs their color, and becomes darker and darker over time. Pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc might start out nearly clear or lemon-colored, but after a few hours or months (depending on the producer’s preferred style), they come out looking varying shades of orange.
Pulling a pinot grigio the color of a pumpkin out of the fridge is a conversation starter, but it’s a lot more than a gimmick. The extended maceration doesn’t just impart color– it gives the wine tannin and body, as well as flavors ranging from nuts and apricots to a sour-style beer. These components can lead people to describe orange wines as “funky,” much like they do for natural wines. This isn’t a coincidence. Principles of natural winemaking– independent producers who farm organically or biodynamically without filtering or adding sulfites– are common, if not the norm, for orange wines as well.
Gravner makes wine in Friuli, from a few rows of vines that extend across the border of Italy into the slopes of Slovenia. Bored with the conventional winemaking of Napa and Europe that defined the 1980’s, Gravner led a group of farmers to experiment with extended macerations (aka skin contact) that lasted months, resulting in deeply colored, powerfully textured whites, that have since become known as ‘orange wine’. The rest is history. No matter the conditions of the year, what Gravner creates is remarkable.