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What is Orange Wine?

What is Orange Wine? Or ––Orange is the new White! The choice has been red or white or pink, but increasingly now there’s a new colour to add to your palate’s palette.

Raising a buzz among wine enthusiasts is the subject of ‘orange’ wine. Let’s make it clear from the start: orange wine is not made from orange juice. Orange wine is made from grapes. It gets its name from the colour of the wine which can be various shades and intensities of amber and orange.

The quickest definition is that orange wine is a white wine made as if it was a red wine.

If you’re a reader of these pages you’ll know that almost all wine grapes have clear juice and wine becomes red when black grape skins are fermented along with the juice, whereas white wine is made by squeezing the juice from the grapes and throwing away the skins. Thus while red wine can only be made from black skinned grapes, white wine can be made from both white skinned and black skinned grapes. The most famous example of the latter is Champagne: the grapes most often used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Of those three, the two Pinots are black skinned grapes.

Making orange wine requires the skins of white grapes to be fermented along with the juice. This extracts whatever colour there is in the skins, but also more flavour and tannins. Of course, the skins of white grapes are rarely white; they are shades of green, or darker. Pinot Grigio has skins which vary from metallic grey to dusky pink. Grigio is Italian for grey, and in French the same grape is Pinot Gris with gris also meaning grey.

Although orange wine is newly fashionable, and becoming more commonly seen, it is a very old, probably the very oldest, type of white wine. Thousands of years ago wine was made by putting squashed grapes, skins, stems, seeds and all, into a clay pot buried up to its neck in the earth, sealing the neck with clay and leaving it until natural yeast had finished fermentation.

This way of making wine is also favoured by the ‘natural’ wine movement who aim to make wine with as little human intervention as possible.

I have little experience of orange wines, my mostrecent being a bottle of a modern day version of this called Qvevri after the Georgian name for the clay pot used.

One thing I like about white wine is the clean fresh taste; orange wine has lots of flavour but they and the wine was murky and I didn’t find it attractive. I’ll be sticking to red or white.

What do you think about orange wine? Tell us on our forum.

Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

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