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Alcohol and Health

What Is Orange Wine? A Complete Guide

January 17, 2024
17 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
January 17, 2024
17 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Getting to Know Orange Wine

  • Surprisingly, orange wine is not made from oranges.

  • Learn the history, fermentation, and aging process, the diversity in its color, flavor and profiles, health benefits, and much more.
  • Check out the Reframe app for information on healthy drinking, lifestyle issues, and personal development.

If you haven’t heard of orange wine, you’re not alone. Most of us are familiar with red, white, and rose wines, but we wonder, “What is orange wine, and when did it become a thing?” We’re answering those questions today, taking a close look at orange wine.

So What Is Orange Wine?

You might be thinking that orange wine is made from oranges. Wrong! Orange wine has very little to do with this popular citrus fruit. The “orange” of orange wine refers to its color and taste, which, as it happens, has fruity elements but not of the citrus variety. 

Orange wine (aka skin contact wine) is a unique wine made from white grapes — yes, white grapes! Unlike traditional white wines, orange wine undergoes a distinct winemaking process. Instead of separating the grape juice from its skins, seeds, and stems, as winemakers do in creating, when making orange wine, the grape skins, seeds, and skins remain in contact with the grape juice during the fermentation process. This technique gives the wine an amber or orange cast, and it delivers rich flavors and textures. When the winemaking process is complete, orange wine offers complex notes of dried fruits and nuts and a subtle tannic structure, providing a different taste than we find in white or red wines. 

Orange Wine Is Not a New Thing!

Even though many of us haven’t heard of orange wine (are we just out of touch?), its origins date back to ancient winemaking practices. The first known instances of orange wine production originate 5,000 years ago, to the region now the Republic of Georgia, which borders the Black Sea and sits between Turkey and Russia. The traditional method of fermenting white grapes in contact with their skins gives the wine its distinct orange tint and contributes to its rich, complex flavors. Generations have passed down this ancient winemaking practice, and today, producers in Georgia are not the only ones making orange wine. Producers of this unique wine are now also found in Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, France, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. 

The Growth of Orange Wine’s Popularity

People’s desire to explore diverse and unique beverage options is partly responsible for orange wine’s increasing popularity. In the modern wine scene, enthusiasts and sommeliers have revived this ancient winemaking technique, appreciating its bold flavors and the textural complexity derived from extended skin contact during fermentation. There is also a trend towards natural and minimal-intervention winemaking. With its minimalist processing technique, orange wine fits that bill nicely, which adds another reason for its rise in popularity among those seeking more authentic, pure, and artisanal wines.

Let’s shift to technical issues by getting the 411 on exactly how orange wine is made.

The Orange Winemaking Process

We’ve already learned that orange wine is made differently from traditional white wine by leaving the grape skins with their juice during fermentation. But there’s more to it than that.

White Grape Varieties Used in Making Orange Wine

In traditional white winemaking, different grape varieties produce a range of wine profiles; the same is true for orange winemaking. Pinot gris and chardonnay grapes, both commonly used in white wine, can also be used to make orange wine. Less commonly known, gewurztraminer, rkatsiteli, and ribolla gialla are other grape varieties used to make orange wine.

What Is the Skin Contact Method of Winemaking?

Skin contact winemaking adds depth and richness to the final product by using the natural elements in the grape skins, seeds, and sometimes stems during fermentation. (It’s also used in making red wine from purple grapes.) This winemaking method gives orange wine unique color and flavors primarily because the grape skins contain compounds that add color, tannins, and various aromas. Through this extended contact, winemakers can create more complex, textured wines that add to their wine profiles. The amount of skin contact time (maceration) varies based on the winemaker’s objectives. Still, the timing is a key factor in determining the final signature characteristics of the wine. 

Choosing Between Amphorae and Clay Vessels

There’s another layer to orange winemaking: the choice between amphorae and clay vessels where the wine is stored to ferment and age. Choosing between the two is important because they affect the orange wine’s texture, flavors, and overall profile. The choice depends on the winemaker's preferences and the desired characteristics of the final product. 

The two vessels differ in their shape and porousness. Amphorae vessels have a unique shape and are known for their porous nature, allowing for gentle oxygen exchange, which can enhance the wine's complexity. Clay vessels, on the other hand, have a more traditional shape and offer a different level of oxygen permeability. When choosing a vessel, the winemaker assesses factors such as the grape variety, desired flavors, and individual style and preference. Regardless of the chosen vessel, the goal is to create a unique orange wine with rich textures and complex flavors through careful fermentation and aging.

Fermentation Techniques

Two fermentation techniques are used in orange winemaking: natural fermentation and controlled fermentation.

Natural Fermentation. Natural fermentation in orange winemaking is a process in which the sugars in grape juice are converted into alcohol without the aid of added yeast. Yeast works by consuming the sugars and producing alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts.

Natural fermentation relies on the wild or natural yeast in the environment or on the fruit itself. The yeasting action contributes to orange wine’s unique flavors and characteristics. Think of it as a science experiment where we witness nature doing its thing by turning simple orange-tinted juice into an incredible glass of wine. 

Controlled Fermentation. Controlled fermentation is a process in which the natural sugars in juices turn into alcohol by carefully regulating the fermentation conditions. To do this, the winemaker carefully manages the temperature, yeast selection, and oxygen exposure to create a controlled and predictable conversion of sugars into alcohol. Winemakers can manually influence the flavor profile and characteristics of the orange wine, creating a balanced and enjoyable beverage. This way, unique and distinct flavors in the wine are created, highlighting the natural qualities of the grapes used in the fermentation process. With controlled fermentation, the winemaker manually shapes the final taste and quality of the product, leaving little to chance.

Characteristics of Orange Wine

Orange wine has some unique characteristics.

Color Spectrum. Orange wine typically presents a warm, rich color ranging from golden amber to deep orange. Imagine a golden sunset in a glass of wine. Orange wine’s shades vary depending on factors like grape variety and winemaking techniques. Nevertheless, all orange wines have a distinctive color that invites people to take that first sip of its unique flavors and characteristics.

Aromas and Flavors. You might notice fruity and earthy aromas when you first sniff orange wine. Think of the scent of ripe oranges or apricots mixed with hints of flowers or tea. Next, experience its taste for the first time. Even though orange wine is not made from oranges, its taste is reminiscent of a combination of citrusy pucker and a slightly tannic structure, similar to that in red wines. Orange wine has a robust and deeply distinct complexity, almost sensual. It can range from dried fruits' sweetness to spices' warmth.

Aging Potential. The longer the skin contact during the winemaking process, the more complex orange wine’s flavors and textures become. Like red wines, orange wines often benefit from aging, which allows the flavors to mellow. On the other hand, some orange wines are best in their young and vibrant state. Just as you do when selecting a red wine, keep in mind its age when you purchase a bottle of orange wine.

Food Pairing Recommendations

Wine choices in food pairing come down to personal preference. However,  wine connoisseurs have a few recommendations:

Orange wine with cheese. When it comes to cheese, orange wine is best paired with hard cheeses like roquefort, parmesan, and manchego, which taste saltier. The Gourmet Insider recommends pairing these cheeses with Matassa Cuvée Marguerite and Radikon Slatnik brands of orange wines. Their nutty and earthy notes balance out the saltiness of these cheeses. On the other hand, creamy cheeses like brie are best when paired with a full-bodied orange wine. It’s simply a matter of balancing the taste and texture of the cheese and the wine.

Orange wine with main courses. According to Jean-Luc Androit, orange wine pairing with main courses follows similar guidelines to red and white wines. Some orange wines are heavy in tannins and best paired with lamb or beef. Lighter foods, such as chicken and fish, pair well with a light-bodied orange wine, while creamier foods like casseroles pair best with a full-bodied orange wine, similar to creamier cheese.

Desserts. Sometimes, a glass of wine as an after-dinner drink is nice. But if you’re looking for the right orange wine to accompany a dessert, the best way is to pair sweet with sweet. Whether it’s pie, cake, ice cream, or creme caramel, choose one of the lighter, sweet orange wines, and you won’t be disappointed.

Health Benefits of Orange Wine

Let’s be honest: no alcohol is truly “safe” to drink. But orange wine, like red wine, is often thought to have some mild health benefits, at least when consumed mindfully and in moderation. 

This has to do with how orange wine is produced, which is similar to red wine’s production methods. Specifically, the process of maceration in which their compounds, including polyphenols, filter into the wine, giving it its distinct color, flavor, and texture. This also increases the wines’ levels of resveratrol.

Resveratrol is one of those compounds with antioxidant properties linked to health benefits. Some of these benefits are reduced inflammation and a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. (However, these antioxidants can be found in many other foods, including peanuts, grapes, raspberries, and blueberries — without the dangers that accompany alcohol consumption.)

Last Words

Although Instagram and TikTok declared orange wine the new “in” drink, it’s been around for centuries. With its origins in Georgia, orange wine’s appeal is well known in Europe. It’s more recently that it has taken off in North America

Orange wine is known for its distinctive color range and taste. While its fermentation and aging process is similar to red wine, the end product differs. Orange wine’s flavor, texture, and profile range add to its versatility in pairing well with most foods. 

Summary FAQs

1. When and where did orange wine originate?

Orange wine originated in the region now known as the Republic of Georgia and dates back 5,000 years.

2. How is orange wine similar to red wine?

Orange wine follows fermentation and aging processes similar to red wine. 

3. What is skin contact wine?

The grape skins, seeds, and stems stay with their juice during the fermentation process of orange and red wines. 

4. What effect does skin contact have on wine?

Leaving the grape skins takes advantage of their compounds that add color, tannins, and various aromas possible. 

5. What is the difference between natural fermentation and controlled fermentation?

Natural fermentation, like its name, lets nature take its course where the sugar in the grapes (and not added yeast) transforms the juice into alcohol. Controlled fermentation uses yeast to create the alcohol. By controlling the yeast, temperature, and fermentation time, winemakers can manually shape the wine's color, taste, and profile.

6. What are the health benefits of orange wine?

Orange wine has similar health benefits to red wine because their production process is similar. Both contain polyphenols and resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant associated with reduced inflammation and a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. However, as with all wines and all alcoholic drinks, moderation is the key.

Enjoy Orange Wine in Moderation With Reframe!

Orange wine is beautiful, and it can be delicious. But as with all alcoholic beverages, mindful moderation is key. This is where the Reframe app comes in handy.

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions worldwide drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills to survive drinking less and thrive while navigating the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also be able to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re constantly introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! We launch fun challenges monthly, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for seven days, so you have nothing to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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