Put simply, orange wine is a white wine made like a red wine. The orange refers to the color of the wine. While it may seem like a new fad, it is actually a very traditional way of making wine.
While I’m oversimplifying things, to make white wine, you crush some grapes and then press them to separate the grape skins from the grape juice. The juice is then fermented (yeast turns the sugars into alcohol), and voila, wine.
To make red wine, the process is turned around and after you crush the grapes, you ferment the wine with the skins first, before pressing to separate the wine from the grape skins.
This means that when making red wine, the wine spends time in contact with the grape skins. Grape skins give wine both tannins (chemical compounds that taste bitter and astringent) and its red color. The flesh of many red grapes is in fact white and it is only by spending time in contact with the red grape skins that the wine becomes red in color.
Orange wine is a white wine that is made like a red wine meaning that the wine spends time in contact with the grape skins. This is why it is also referred to as skin contact wine. The skin contact can last for a few hours or for a number of months and the color can range widely from yellow to amber.
When you order an orange wine in a restaurant or bar it is not uncommon for the sommelier to ask if you’ve ever had one before as the taste can sometimes be unusual or even funky and if you aren’t expecting it, quite a surprise. But it’s a good surprise and once you become accustomed to the taste, an interesting one worth seeking out.
Over the holidays, we shared the lovely bottle of the orange wine pictured above, Denavolo‘s Dinavolo (the alliteration seems to get a little complicated at this winery). An orange wine with refined herbal and citrus flavors, it is made from a blend of white grapes, primarily Malvasia Bianca di Candida (common in Lazio and often blended with Trebbiano) and Ortrugo (a native grape grown only in a specific area of Emilia-Romagna where the winery is located), along with some Marsanne, (Sciampagnino in Italian but more famous in the Northern Rhône in France), and other local white grapes.
I bought the Dinavolo at Les Vignerons a natural wine store in Rome with a fantastic selection of natural wines. But I’ve also had Denavolo’s Dinavolino (the alliteration games continue) which is also delicious and more affordable. My brother even scored a bottle in the United States not so long ago so keep your eyes open. I think he found it at the Dedalus wine shop in Burlington, Vermont.