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Orange wine: what is it and how do you drink it?

It might seem like a fad, but orange wine is one of the oldest winemaking processes. The Grape Witches help us unravel the skin-contact confusion.

Orange wine in Toronto

First we had rosé all day, then Aperol spritz took over the Internet, now orange wine is rising through the ranks of top drink trends. The hype is new, but the technique to create this insider-favourite is ancient. Before there were phones, cars (and most things because it was 5,000 years ago), people made orange wine. There’s history in each glass, and we’ve got your lesson covered.

What is orange wine?

First things first, it’s not made from oranges. Orange is just the colour used to describe the vast range of wines that macerate (soak) with their grape skins. Amber, orange, skin-contact, skin-fermented white wine, call it what you want, this wine has more names than a member of the Royal Family.

How is it made?

Skin on. Orange wine is a white wine made like a red wine. Instead of separating grape skins from their juice after they’ve been crushed, like you do for white wine, the “white” (usually yellow or green) grapes macerate and ferment with their skins and seeds. This process can last from a couple of days to over a year and gives the wine its texture and unique colour that can range from pale yellow to deep red-orange to rusty brown. The longer the ferment, the darker the colour.

Nicole Campbell Grape Witches Toronto

Nicole Campbell 

What does it taste like?

Nicole Campbell, Co-founder of Grape Witches

“Some of the best orange wines are made from aromatic grapes, so you end up with this flush fruit aroma, almost like a tropical fruit, but it’s super savoury and nutty. When you first smell it you almost think it’s going to be a sweet wine.”

Is it sweet?

Actually, no. What contributes to orange wine’s savoury notes, and all-round tricky to categorize nature, are its tannins, a characteristic that adds bitterness and astringency. Since the grapes are left in contact with their skins, grape tannins dissolve and create complex, intense flavours that balance well with the underlying acidic quality of white wine. " 'Wow, wine can taste like this?' – We hear that a lot when people first have orange wine,” says Campbell.

Where is it from?

“It was probably the first way wine was made, just chucking grapes into a pot to ferment,” says fellow Grape Witch, Krysta Oben, co-founder and other half of the coven. This ancient practice can be traced back to 3000 BCE in what is modern-day Georgia (the country, not the state) where grapes fermented with their skins and seeds in large underground, clay vessels known as qvevri. Today, the process looks relatively similar – besides the addition of technology and barrel or bottle ageing – sticking to its low-intervention, natural roots.

Why is it trendy now?

Partly social media, but also “maker-culture” according to the Grape Witches. The ancient process of making orange wine was brought back to life in 2000 – this era – in Italy, and thanks to some ambitious wine makers, sommeliers and restaurateurs, it’s now more widely available. 

Krysta Oben Grape Witch Toronto

Krysta Oben

What does it pair with?

Krysta Oben, Co-founder of Grape Witches

"Skin-contact wine is great for pairing with a variety of food, so anything that can be a challenge, pickled things, fermented things – something a white wine might get lost with and a red wine might overpower. Orange wine can bridge that gap of having the tannin and structure of a red, but the refreshing, higher-acid qualities of a white.”

How should it be served?

The Grape Witches suggest serving it at a white wine appropriate temperature (7-13 °C). Start with it slightly chilled, then let it warm up a bit in your glass, allowing the wine to breathe and reveal its flavour and aroma.

Where to get it

There are some exceptional wine bars across the city that have great, diverse selections of skin-contact wine. While we patiently wait for them to re-open their doors after temporarily closing due to Covid-19, we can get the golden goodness delivered to our front door.

Southbrook Vineyards

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This sweeping 150-acre vineyard located in Niagara-on-the-Lake was able to get their Vidal skin fermented orange wine into the LCBO, which is no small feat for a small-batch style of wine making. Head to their website for free shipping of their 2019 vintage skin-contact while you practice no-contact from people. 

southbrook.com

For more wine delivery services click here 

Trail Estate Winery

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This craft-oriented winery situated in Prince Edward County (P.E.C.) has several premium skin-contact wines on their roster. The elegant, fresh wines are small-batch and low-intervention and can be shipped free across Ontario with the purchase of six or more bottles. Stock up, because, you know, pandemic stuff.

trailestate.com

Grange of Prince Edward Winery

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Yet another P.E.C. gem, this winery is run by mother and daughter duo Caroline and Maggie Granger who make the delicious estate-grown wines. If you want to explore with the orange colour wheel, you can order an entire box of skin-contact wine (free shipping) and see just how much each one varies in taste and hue. 

grangeofprinceedward.com

Hungry for more? Read the Culinary Issue of our sister magazine Escapism here 

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