Why is Orange Wine Orange?
Orange wine has become an increasingly popular style of wine in recent years, intrigued wine lovers with its unique color and flavor profile. But why exactly is orange wine orange? Here's an in-depth look at how orange wine gets its distinctive color.
What is Orange Wine?
Our Organic Spanish Orange Wine is made from white grapes, but takes on an orange or amber color during production. This is achieved by leaving the grape juice in contact with the grape skins and seeds for an extended period of time during fermentation.
Traditional white wine production involves removing the grape skins immediately after crushing, limiting contact between the clear grape juice and skin compounds that contribute color. Orange wine production takes the opposite approach - encouraging long skin contact, from days to weeks or even months.
This extended skin contact allows phenolic compounds like tannins and pigments in the grape skins to leach into the fermenting juice, imparting an orange or amber color. Orange wines can range from a very pale orange to a rich amber depending on the grape variety and length of skin contact.
Why Skin Contact Colors Orange Wine
So what exactly is happening during that prolonged skin contact period to create such a dramatic color change in the grape juice? Here are the key factors at play:
The biggest contributor to orange wine's color is phenolic compounds naturally present in grape skins and seeds. Key phenolics include:
- Anthocyanins - These are pigment compounds that give red wine its color. Small amounts of anthocyanins in orange wine grapes contribute to orange/amber hues.
- Tannins - Tannins help stabilize color and also influence texture. Increased tannins from skin contact give orange wine a grippy, almost rustic texture.
- Flavonoids - Flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol act as natural plant pigments. They are leached from the grape skins into the juice during prolonged skin contact.
In addition to extracting color and tannin compounds, extended skin contact allows oxidation to occur. Oxygen reacts with phenolics in the juice, causing browning. This oxidation effect is heightened by the use of neutral vessels like amphorae or old oak barrels for fermentation and aging.
How the wine is made can influence the depth of color in orange wine:
- Grape variety - Thick-skinned white grape varieties like Friulano and Ribolla Gialla are common in orange wine, as they have more color compounds in their skins.
- Skin contact time - Longer skin contact equals more color extraction. Weeks to months are common.
- Pressing - Gentle pressing and free-run juice only results in paler orange wine. Hard pressing extracts more color.
Common Orange Wine Grape Varieties
The grape varieties used to produce orange wine lend their own influence over the final color. Some of the most popular include:
- Friulano - White grape native to northeastern Italy with thick skins for color extraction. Produces rich amber orange wines.
- Ribolla Gialla - Also from northeast Italy, this late-ripening grape can produce pale to medium orange wines.
- Pinot Gris - Called Pinot Grigio in Italy, this grape can make lightly colored orange wines.
- Sauvignon Blanc - Wild skin-contact Sauvignon Blancs from Slovenia and Georgia display light peach/orange hues.
- Chardonnay - Leaner, less acidic Chardonnay can produce lightly hued orange wines.
- Piquepoul - Ancient variety from southern France, makes delicately colored orange wines.
Popular Regions for Orange Wine
Many orange wines hail from regions known for skin-contact winemaking traditions. Some key origin points include:
- Friuli-Venezia Giulia - Italy's northeast wine region is considered the birthplace of modern orange wine in the 1970s.
- Slovenia - Orange wine pioneers like Gravner put Slovenia on the map for amber-hued skin contact wines.
- Georgia - The ancient winemaking nation is known for its oxidative amber wines in qvevri clay vessels.
- California - Small-batch winemakers create orange wines with European and American grape varieties.
How Orange Wine's Color Impacts Flavor
The compounds that give orange wine its color also shape its distinctive flavor:
- Tannins - Added tannic grip gives texture and structure.
- Phenolics - Can contribute to spicy, peppery flavors.
- Oxidation - Oxidative notes like nuttiness, caramel and dried fruits.
So an orange wine's color gives you insight into what to expect on the palate. A pale peach-tinged orange wine will taste much different than an amber, tannic Slovenian orange wine. Part of the intrigue is discovering all the flavor possibilities the array of orange wines offer.
Orange Wine Color vs Conventional White Wine
To understand what makes orange wine's color unique, it helps to contrast it with conventionally produced white wine.
Here's a quick comparison:
Grape Skin Contact
None or very brief
Prolonged - days to months
Very pale to straw yellow
Orange, copper, amber hues
Very low tannins/phenolics
High tannins/phenolics from skins
Avoid oxidation; reductive
Allowed to oxidize in neutral vessels
Juice only; no pressure
Moderate pressure for color extraction
While orange wine starts with white grapes like conventional white wine, its production essentially mimics red winemaking. The extended skin contact period extracts tannins, phenolics and pigments normally only found in red wines.
This winemaking approach creates a wine with a distinctly orange or amber color with a weightier, more textured mouthfeel. The color provides a visual cue to the wine lover that this wine is likely to deliver something completely different than a typical Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.
Deciphering Orange Wine Labels
With so much variation in orange wines, the color can be an important cue to judging a wine's style and flavor before you taste it. Here are some things to look for on an orange wine label:
- Single Grape Variety - Gives insight into potential color depth and flavor notes based on the grape.
- Region - Origin can indicate winemaking style, like oxidative amber Friulian orange wines.
- Vintage - Younger vintages may be paler than aged orange wines.
- Any Skin Contact Details - Length of time on skins can dictate color saturation.
- Producer Style - Producers known for bold, tannic orange wines vs delicate examples.
While you can never judge a wine solely by its color, with orange wine the hue does offer guidance. A pale salmon-orange wine will provide a very different experience than one with a rich walnut skin tone. Pay attention to color as one indicator when exploring the diverse and exciting world of orange wines.
Why Orange Wine's Unique Color Appeals to Wine Lovers
So why has this obscure wine style surged in popularity in recent years? Here are some reasons wine enthusiasts have embraced orange wine's stand-out color:
- Intriguing - The unusual color sparks curiosity about how the wine is made and what it tastes like.
- Distinctive - Orange wine is instantly recognizable on the shelf or wine list among a sea of white wines.
- Chameleon-like - Ranging from pale orange to amber, the color spectrum keeps it interesting.
- Indicative of Style - The color hints at what to expect on the palate from delicate to bold.
- Sophisticated - The amber tones give orange wine an edgy, avant-garde sensibility.
The surge in interest in orange wines has helped shine a spotlight on other skin-contact white wines like Georgian amber wines made in qvevri. While trends come and go, orange wine's captivating hue ensures this category will continue to seduce wine enthusiasts looking for something off the beaten path. The color sells the wine before you ever take a sip.