Wine times…they are a-changing! We progressed from feeling a little weird when someone said, “skin contact” when referencing certain wines to having a full blown Orange wine section in just over a year. Orange wine has exploded in popularity in recent years as consumers and restaurant-goers become more adventurous in their beverage choices. Additionally, the wines have a natural affinity for pairing with many different preparations of food. Many winemakers are trying their hand at making skin-contacted wines and consumers are more than happy to oblige their efforts. Read on to learn more about this exciting “new” old-world style of wine.
Fun fact-“Orange” isn’t a type of grape or winemaking technique, it’s simply a way to describe the wide array of skin-contact wines being made today. To make an orange or skin-contact wine, white grapes are first crushed and then put in a large vat (often cement or ceramic tanks). Typically, the wine gets left alone to ferment anywhere from four days to up to a year with the skins and seeds still attached. Because little to no additives are added, nor are the wines temperature controlled in this fashion, the wines taste very different from regular white wines. Flavors and aromas can range from dried fruit, candied citrus peel, sour citrus, nuts, & sherry. The process of making orange wine is ancient, but renewed interest in the process has ballooned in the last 20 or so years. In terms of origin, historians look as far back as 5000 years in Caucasus (modern-day Georgia,–not the state) where the wines were first fermented in large subterranean vessels called Qvevri (“Kev-ree”) that were originally closed with stones and sealed with beeswax.
How does the skin of the grapes shape the flavors, you ask? The longer the skins of the white grapes stay in contact with the wine, the stronger and more tannic the wine will be (the same is true of red wines). The shorter the maceration, the lighter, more acidic and juicy it will be. That’s not to say that the former method turns out less drinkable wine. Quite the contrary, with long-macerated wines showing beautiful complexity, depth of flavor, honeyed fruit and nut qualities that many find totally enchanting. Additionally, longer macerated Orange wines are better suited to pairing with ethnic dishes like Moroccan and Indian than their lighter counterparts. Other fun pairings to try: Spicy slow-cooked lamb shoulder, kebabs, or tagines, sea urchin, fried chicken, aged hard cheeses, spicy seafood dishes, salumi, and oven baked salmon.
Interested in trying orange wine? We have a wide array of skin-contact wines available at Bartlett’s and our knowledgeable staff can guide you towards an orange wine you can trust will be great with Shangri-La curry, a delicious cheese plate or antipasti. Cheers!
written by Leah Mojer, Wine Manager