Updated: Jun 30
Orange wine, also known as skin-contact wine to those who are rather more formal than us in the wine world, is a type of wine that is made using a unique winemaking technique to give its distinctive colouring - I’m sorry to say no magic orange grape is involved. Instead of separating the grape juice from the skins immediately after crushing, the juice is left in contact with the skins for an extended period. As the grapes are fermented in contact with their skins and yeast, it allows the wine to develop tannins, polyphenol, aromatic substances and proteins that render the final wine completely unique. (and tango’d!)
Italy is home to some of the most renowned orange wines in the world, and this post we'll take a closer look at the history, production and taste of these.
Orange Wine. Punch
Orange wines have been made for centuries in Italy, particularly in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in northeastern Italy.
The technique was traditionally used to produce wine from white grapes. Still, today, winemakers in Italy are experimenting with different grape varieties to produce orange wines from red and even rosé grapes - who’s to say where else they can take it?!
A handful of Italian producers are leading the way, such as Josko Gravner in Friuli Venezia Giulia, who embraced a return to ancient and traditional winemaking practices.
Josko Gravner. Vinarija.com
Orange wines are, by their very nature, natural wines: production is organic and biodynamic, with great attention placed on the surrounding environment and little to no artificial or chemical additives. This means that some orange wines are more likely to undergo oxidation and develop typically sour aromas and nutty, yeasty flavours that come with natural wine production. Furthermore, the extended skin contact gives the wine its unique flavour profile. The wine is then aged in oak barrels or clay vessels, adding depth and complexity to the final product.
Orange wines are known for their unique flavour profile, which differs from traditional white wines. They have more intense, tannic structure and unique aromas, which can include notes of nuts, spices, and dried fruits.
Orange Wine taste profile. Wine Folly
The most well-known Italian orange wine is Ribolla Gialla, produced in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Orange Ribolla Gialla wines are known for their intense, tannic structure and unique aromas and flavours, including notes of nuts, spices, and dried fruits. For the more seasoned drinker, (and you’re all on your way there) we recommend La Stoppa Ageno from Emilia-Romagna, made from a blend of 90% Malvasia di Candia Aromatica and 10% Ortrugo grapes for a rustic and wild orange wine that is completely divine.
Another well-known and more easy to get-hold-of Italian orange wine is Vermentino, which is produced in the Sardinia region. The Orange version of Vermentino wines are known for their intense, tannic structure and unique aromas as well.
Cardedu Bucce "Orange" Vermentino Sardegna, Italy 2020. KellySomm.com
In summary, Italy’s orange wines are gaining popularity worldwide, and more and more wineries are experimenting with this winemaking technique and bringing it to the fore of Italian winemaking. These wines are perfect for wine lovers looking for something unique and different as you learn this journey with us, and are an excellent match for rich, flavourful food dishes.
The wines are made using a special winemaking technique that gives them a distinct orange colour and a complex flavour profile. From the intense and tannic Ribolla Gialla to the delicate and floral Vermentino, Italy's orange wines offer a wide range of styles all ready for more than just Halloween!
If you want to learn more about Italian Wine, check out our book The Italian Wine Connoisseur: a 7-Day Guide to Mastering Italian Wine.