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Orange wine has grown enormously in popularity over the past decade. Though make no mistake—this style of vinification is anything but new. In fact, it’s one of the oldest ways in which wine has historically been made, dating back thousands of years. However, despite its longstanding global presence, there’s still quite a bit of confusion surrounding these tannic, tangy and complex wines.
What Is Orange Wine?
Orange wine is white wine that’s vinified like a red wine, meaning that the juice comes from white grape varieties that are macerated with their skins, rather than directly pressed, prior to vinification. This maceration process that includes the grapes’ skins is the source of another term for this style of wine: skin-contact wine.
Where Does Orange Wine Come From?
Orange winemaking originated in Georgia thousands of years ago. It remains popular there and has also spread to regions including Alsace (France), northern Italy and Slovenia, although most wine-producing regions around the globe now produce some skin-contact wines.
How Is Orange Wine Made?
Simply put, orange wine is white wine made using red-wine vinification techniques. Ordinarily, white wine grapes are directly pressed after harvest, meaning that juice is extracted from the grapes without any form of skin maceration. On the contrary, red wines are usually crushed and their juice is macerated, or allowed to sit, along with the grapes’ skins, seeds and stems for a period of time prior to pressing. This process adds pigment, flavor and tannins to the juice, or must.
Even though orange wines are made from white grapes, the winemaking process is similar to that for red grapes. Instead of being immediately pressed, the grapes spend time macerating with their skins, stems and seeds prior to pressing.
What Does Orange Wine Taste Like?
The flavor profiles of orange wine are highly dependent on a winemaker’s vinification decisions, specifically the length of time they choose to leave the juice on the skins, as well as the vessels in which it ferments and ages. Grape variety also plays a key role in an orange wine’s flavor profile.
Because of their skin-macerated nature, orange wines are basically white wines with some red wine characteristics, which is to say that their skin-macerated nature generally gives them fuller bodies than nonmacerated white wines, as well as a greater presence of tannins. Orange wines are generally palate-coating, grippy and marked by flavors of mandarin, citrus rind, bruised fruits, sour beer and/or bitter herbs, depending on the vinification techniques and grape varieties used.
Which Foods Should I Pair with Orange Wine?
Due to their fruit-forwardness, acid and tannic presence, orange wines are extremely food-friendly. These wines come to life when served alongside classic Mediterranean-inspired mezze, including eggplant dips, humms, tahini, lamb skewers and more. For simpler yet equally delicious pairings, cured meat boards, cheeses and “fall flavors” (think squash, mushrooms or roasted poultry) will do the trick equally well.
These are seven great bottles to try.
Christina Orange Chardonnay (Carnuntum, Austria)
Christina Netzl approaches skin-contact chardonnay vinification with a holistic approach, using only sustainably farmed fruit and a light hand in the cellar. This affordable and delicious wine jumps with flavors of tropical fruit, white flowers, peach skin and freshly cut herbs. It’s a great introduction to just how versatile chardonnay can be.
Danjou-Banessy “Supernova” (Languedoc, France)
This small-production, highly sought-after orange wine from the South of France is everything you want from skin-contact juice: It’s balanced, bright and perfectly textured. Flavors of juicy citrus, orange rind, bergamot and lemon verbena jump from the wine’s palate. The Danjou brothers farm all their fruit organically and biodynamically.
Donkey & Goat Stone Crusher Roussanne (California)
Produced in El Dorado, California, this 100% destemmed roussanne sees 14 to 16 days of skin contact and is fermented in open-top wood vats. Expect notes of stone fruit, clove, rose petals and apricot skin. Winemaker Tracey Brandt has been making this fan favorite since 2009.
Gravner Ribolla Gialla (Venezia-Giulia, Italy)
For cream-of-the-crop skin-contact wines, look no further than Mateja Gravner’s thought-provoking bottles. Produced from 100% ribolla gialla in the heart of Venezia-Giulia, this complex and full-bodied skin-contact wine oozes with flavors of baked apples, candied citrus, ginger, dried fruits and exotic spices.
Le Coste “Ripazzo” (Lazio, Italy)
This highly aromatic blend of malvasia, procanico and roscetto hails from Italy’s frequently (and unfairly) overlooked wine-producing region of Lazio. Flavors of honey, mandarin and spice jump from the wine’s vibrant and flavor-packed palate. Sip it chilled with a variety of savory hors d’oeuvres.
Pheasant's Tears Rkatsiteli (Kakheti, Georgia)
Georgia is the OG home for skin-contact winemaking, and expat vigneron John Wurdeman honors the tradition with this bottle of rkatsiteli. Tangy notes of orange marmalade, bruised apples and white flowers lead to a slightly bitter yet balanced finish. Pair it with all things cheesy and carb-heavy.