Orange Wine (AKA Skin Contact Wine)

Guy Palmer-Brown

Kiss Of Wine

For the last few years orange wine has been one of the hottest thing in wine bars across the globe, but what is this mysterious wonder? A little wine equation might help explain things, with the knowledge, as discussed in main wine styles, that colour in wine comes from the skin of the grape.

white grape + skin contact = orange wine

white grape + no skin contact = white wine

red grape + minimal skin contact = rosé wine

red grape + skin contact = red wine

White grapes showing how orange wine uses the white grape and skin contact to produce orange wine.

What do we mean when we talk about skin contact?

It's simply the process of letting the grape juice spend some time, usually in a tank but you can use a bucket or barrel, with the skins of the grape!

Imagine you crush a grape to get all the delicious juice inside. What's left over still has plenty of flavour, acidity and other compounds in it. By macerating these skins in the juice, you can gently extract the extra colour and flavour.

There is a lot of history around these orange wines. Thousands of years ago, before people said they only drink Sauvignon Blanc and the like, nearly all white wines would've been made with some degree of skin contact. If you take one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world, Georgia, the traditional way to make white wine still involves skin contact. They go even further, breaking it down into golden and amber wines, depending how long the skin contact goes on for.

Lady holding a glass of orange wine to uncover the flavours of peach, apricot and pineapple, as well as orange blossom, beeswax and honey.

What do orange wines taste like?

It helps if you imagine them as a cross between a red and a white wine, given their texture and power. The time that the juice is in contact with the skins draws out additional tannin, so the wines can often have a bit of grip or a touch of bitterness to them.

The flavour profile can also tend towards a riper, more tropical kind of spectrum but it's common to see flavours and aromas of peach, apricot and pineapple, as well as orange blossom, beeswax and honey. They sometimes can have a slight salinity to them as well, which further enhances their food-friendliness.

Pair toasting with glass of orange wine combined with chicken breast.

How do you drink them?

It’s worth noting that there going to be some differences based on what grape variety the wine is made from, and just how orange the wine is, but from our experience there tends to be two main styles of orange wine: 

1) the fruity, aromatic ones 

2) the more savoury, grippy ones

The fruit-forward wines can be enjoyed anytime - think picnics and happy hour.

The more serious ones are best at the dining table, perhaps with richer fish dishes or white meats. They also work rather nicely with mild spice. These wines can pack a bit of tannin, so don't be afraid to use them where you might otherwise serve a red wine and don’t serve them fridge cold!

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