No, this is not a wine made from oranges; it’s orange wine, which is an uncommon and unique wine that uses very interesting techniques of winemaking to ensure an exciting wine is made. Orange wine has been made for centuries, and although it is not well known, it has a lot of historical significance.
How Orange Wine Begins
It is essential to understand that wine has been around for a very long time, and although it has advanced tremendously, old winemaking techniques are used constantly. One of those techniques would be that of making orange wine.
Separating juice from berry is not an easy process, and in the olden days, it was common to skip that step during fermentation. Oftentimes grapes would be crushed and put into ceramic pots and left untouched for months to ferment. Today, the process is still similar for red wines, but not white wines.
White wines are usually separated from their seeds and skins immediately when a winery receives the fruit, giving the juice minimal contact with skins and seeds. This helps create the lighter body, higher acid white wines we all enjoy so much.
So, what happens if you crush your white grapes and put them in a fermentation vessel with seeds and stems for months to ferment and age? You make orange wine.
Orange winemaking uses a very hands-off approach. Oftentimes, you don’t even add yeast to your grape to begin the fermentation process. Instead, it is customary to crush the fruit and place it in a ceramic or concrete vessel for months.
Why concrete or ceramic?
Wines need a certain amount of oxygen to push through fermentation or they become reductive, which is a common wine flaw. Concrete and ceramic vessels are not just historically accurate to old winemaking techniques, but they also provide microoxygenation which is similar to what an oak barrel does for wines.
Not only does the oxygen help keep a healthy fermentation, but it oxidizes the orange wine, creating the orange hue with the skins and also giving the wines a nutty and bruised fruit characteristic that helps make the wines unique.
The Finished Product
Orange wine is definitely unique. Most winemakers would agree that one would play into wine faults to create their wines, but that is not uncommon. Noble rot wines use a fungus called botrytis cinerea to create exciting wines.
There is no right or wrong — it is up to the drinker. The wine you get in orange wines is a heavier body than most white wines out there. That immense body is joined by solid aromas and an intense palate filled with different flavor profiles and a large sourness.
You’ll commonly find orange wine production in areas like Georgia and Italy since they brought orange wine into existence; however, today, orange wine is made in much of eastern Europe and even the United States (per The Real World). Georgia utilizes an ancient winemaking technique where they fill large ceramic vessels with their grapes and bury them for the fermentation process!