Orange Wine Isn't Made Out of Oranges

They aren’t refreshing, but they aren’t cozy sweaters. They’re earthy and funky and savory, but oddly still feel like you could drink them on a warm day.

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Jun 10 2015, 4:30pm

Photo via Flickr user Lachlan Hardy

Red wine, white wine, rosé wine, orange wine.

No, this is not a disconcerting Dr. Seuss parody I'm shopping to Urban Outfitters. This is how we now must delineate wine, because orange wine is a thing. And it's always been a thing—people have been throwing white grapes in clay pots, letting them do their thing, and then drinking it for centuries. But it's a new thing for us uncultured-ass Westerners, who didn't really start drinking wine until the 1940s. I don't think anyone sees orange wines being the next 1990s Napa Cabernet, or even the next malbec, but they are still a thing. And you need to know about these things, whether or not you actually want to drink them.

Orange wines come in a range of amber hues (rather than tangerine, for example) that span from bright energy-drink piss to dark, dirty bong water. (Thank god they don't smell or taste like either of those things.)

Despite what I drunkenly told a bunch of girls at a tasting last night, orange wines are not made of oranges. What makes orange wines orange is that they're white wines that are produced like red wines, with a drawn-out maceration.

Maceration is basically softening grapes by soaking them in their skins. The longer the maceration, the darker the wine. White wines don't really fuck with this shit, but orange wines are like, "Nah, nah, we fuck with this shit." The grapes are left chilling in their skins longer than a rosé, but not as long as a red, and that is what makes these white wines "orange."

READ: Rosé Is the Drake of All Wine

But this white wine made like a red wine makes for a pretty fucking weird wine. First of all, they aren't really orange—a Gamay rosé is more orange than an orange wine. Orange wines come in a range of amber hues (rather than tangerine, for example) that span from bright energy-drink piss to dark, dirty bong water. (Thank god they don't smell or taste like either of those things.) They have a minerality reminiscent of a white, while the body and tannic hold are reminiscent of a red. They aren't refreshing, but they aren't cozy sweaters. They're earthy and funky and savory, but oddly still feel like you could drink them on a warm day. Some smell like a port and taste like a soft, warm cheese, and others smell like freshly peeled oranges from a backyard tree and taste like a Petrus Aged Pale.

For being a person that is generally too opinionated about everything, I cannot make up my mind about orange wines. Perhaps it is because they are not as widely available as other wines and I can't try as many of them. Or perhaps it is because my mouth is truly confused by them. Most likely, it's both.

But that is what makes orange wines so special. They are like the Wild West of wine, waiting entirely to be explored. They are beautiful in their simplicity, and astounding in their complexity. Each is its own terrain, and you've never had anything like it, nor has anyone mapped it out for you. Orange wines represent a sense of adventure that is often lost in the wine world. It is easy to put your money down on something you know for certain you will love. But it's like they say: Nothing ventured, nothing drank.

NOTE THO: I do sincerely love one orange wine. It's a natural Spanish wine called Tinajas de La Mata. It's tart and funky and sour-beer-tasting as hell, but goddamn, I just drank the whole bottle.

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