What Your Madre Never Told You About Orange Wines

This guest post by Jill Barth was originally published at her blog, L’occasion, and is an excellent primer on orange wine.

When I was a kid, what they’d call a tween now-a-days, I overheard some older kids talking about the finer points of teenage dating. It was in the cafeteria, from the end of a long line of students waiting on lunch. Most of what was being said was likely rubbish, but I still had a few questions after that…

I’m sure I talked to my friends about it, and they probably talked to other friends about it. In the end, all that could be called real and true was that we still had no idea how to be teenagers in love. And that’s as it should have been.

I get that same sort of confused, who-do-I-ask impression for certain wine world occurrences. This orange wine thing, friends, is a bit like teenage dating. The ones who are doing it know what it feels like, but maybe not how to explain it. Those of us that are left in the cafeteria line (hurry up, Jill, your steam-burger is getting cold!) might act as if we don’t give a hoot, but we might like to know a thing or two before embarrassment and mistakes set in.

I’ll take one for the team, admit ignorance on the subject, gather facts and report back at the sleepover this weekend.

Wait, you weren’t invited to the sleepover?

And you’re wondering what-in-God’s-name is a steam-burger?

And worse that than that, I lost you at orange wine?

Well play along here, get with it…I’m about to tell you a few things your madre never told you about orange wines. Orange wines from Italy to be exact. Yes, the Italians are would be a good place to start…they seem to have a knack for these things.

Wine, silly. A knack for wine, not the other thing.

orange wine
Wine Folly gets credit for the graphic.

Orange wines do have an orange colour. Fair enough, the name makes sense. But why? The colour comes when white wine juice keeps contact with grape skins.

Let’s step back. For those new to wine it might be surprising to learn that white wine can come from red grapes. For example, a purple-looking grape can still end up making a white-looking wine, happens all the time. The reason the wine is white is because the juice utilised to make the wine hasn’t had contact with the skin. Open up a grape and see that the flesh, the inside, really isn’t purple or red, but a clear-ish colour known in the wine world as “white”.

Red wines come from purple or red grapes and they get to spend some time with the skin, sometimes substantial amounts of time. The light coloured flesh is impacted by the characteristics of the skins.

Most rosé wines are born when juice has some contact with the red wine skins, a limited amount of time which the winemaker controls.


I will add here that there are distinct variations to just about everything I’ve said above (particularly in the area of rosé, which I discuss more in other places on L’occasion, but don’t want to confuse this already colorful subject with rosé techniques) but this conceptually captures the essence of how a wine gains coloration. From this, we can easily learn what makes a wine orange:

White wines = red or white grapes with no skin contact

Red wines = red grapes with skin contact

Rosé wines = red grapes with limited skin contact

Orange wines = white grapes with skin contact

It’s the skin contact! So that’s what the girl in the cafeteria was talking about…skin contact!

Yes, Virginia, it is about the skin contact. The skin contact imparts colour, aromatics, tannins and other critical components into the wine. This not only makes it orange, it also delivers what are traditionally red wine flavour characteristics into the wine. Savoury flavours, bodily structure and tannin bite are often tasted experiences with orange wines, though the minerality of the white wine experience may be preserved as well in an orange wine.  There are not many BC wineries making Orange wine but “the hatch” will release one at the end of September.

Here is the link to Jill’s complete article.