Don’t be fooled. Orange wine is not from the Orange wine growing region of NSW. Orange wine is made by fermenting and aging the juice of white grapes with their skins in a large clay vessel called a “qvevri”. The skin-contact is what gives the wine its colour. So technically, it is probably more appropriate to call it a “style” of winemaking, as it got its name from the colour, not the citrus fruit.
White wine is made from white grapes after removing the skin and seeds, while red wine is made using a similar process, but with the skins remaining to give the wine its colour. You can make red wine with white wine grape juice and red grape skins. The skill of winemaking is as much in the chemistry as the grape quality.
To make an orange wine, white grapes are mashed and then put in a qvevri. The fermenting grapes are left alone for anywhere from four days to over a year with the skins and seeds still attached. To put this in perspective, most conventional red wines may only be subjected to skin maceration for two weeks, and for conventional white wines merely hours, if at all.
Orange winemaking is a very natural process that uses little to no additives, sometimes not even yeast. Because of this process, orange wine tastes very different to regular white wines. It has a sour taste and nuttiness from oxidation.
On the palate, orange wine is dry and has tannin like a red wine, but with a sourness similar to fruit beer. Often the wine is so intense you might want to make sure you’re sitting down when you taste your first glass.
This wine style has divided some experts in the wine industry, with some refusing to even sip a sample. Some Australian winemakers have started producing versions of orange wine using sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and Riesling grapes. Check at your local bottle shop to see what varieties are available.