If you know just one thing about wine, you know it is divided into two camps: red and white. So when a new style of wine emerges in a coat of many colors, it’s sure to generate controversy.
The startling hues of orange wines—from brownish-gold to bright pumpkin—are the result of turning conventional white winemaking on its ear. But looks are only the beginning. Their dry, savory, lightly oxidized flavor poses a challenge to long-held notions of what constitutes a delicious wine.
First, a bit on color in wine and how it gets there. Though it’s assumed the juice of red grapes is red and that of white grapes runs clear, in fact nearly all wine grapes express colorless juice. Red wine results when dark-skinned grapes are crushed and their juice and solids ferment together. Gradually, the pigments, tannins and flavor compounds in the skins infuse the juice; a longer infusion yields a stronger, darker wine. By contrast, white wines skip crushing and infusion entirely. After a gentle pressing of whole grapes, the juice ferments on its own, sans skins, pulp, pips and stems.
Not all are content to hew to one arbitrary standard for white wine, however. In the last decade or so, interest has grown in vinifying white wines with traditional red technique: White grapes are both crushed and macerated over time on their skins. The results are called orange or amber wines.
For drinkers whose tastes were formed in an earlier era, these can seem puzzling, even off-putting. That’s because the wines display characteristics still considered faults among many consumers and critics. Fruit tends to fade, acidity is more sedate, soil and mineral flavors are more pronounced.
But the best orange wines have a savory, lip-smacking deliciousness that pairs well with all manner of cuisines. We’re beginning to see a fuller spectrum of choices among orange wines—some with a bit less skin contact and more judicious use of oxidative techniques. This means more ways for consumers to ease in. Feeling ready for some new wine experiences? Pick an orange.