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Unlock the Flavorful World of Orange Wine

Orange wine is hotter than ever (Tiktok influencers are slinging orange wines from Trader Joe’s, for f’s sake!), and with that comes some…. Let’s call it misinformation. So true to our wine nerd roots, we thought we’d jump in with some information about this style of wine that will help you find wines that are true to the style, history, and flavor of these wines.

At Small Wine Shop, we pride ourselves on our diverse, deep, and curated set of orange wines. Introducing people to this style of wine remains one of our favorite things to do! So let’s dive into what it is and what it isn’t.

White Wine Grapes beginning fermentation.

What is Orange Wine?

Let’s start with this: Orange wine is more a way to make wine than a variety. With most white wines produced today, the winemaker squeezes the juice out of the grapes and immediately removes everything that is not juice before moving on to the next stage. With orange wines, that is not the case. White wine grapes are pressed and left in contact with the skins and seeds, etc. Notice I have made no mention of grape variety beyond “white,” I have also not really talked about how long the juice and the skins get to hang out together. All those variables are entirely up to the winemaker, which makes this category of wines extremely diverse. It can be any white wine grape from anywhere, and the time “on the skins” can vary from a few hours to a few months. Each variable impacts flavor, color, body, and more. This is why we encourage people to experiment and try many different orange wines before deciding if and how they like them.

The History of Orange Wines/Amber Wines

This winemaking style is how most white wine was made 100’s if not 1000s of years ago. Look at historical paintings that include white wine, and you may notice that the color of those wines looks suspiciously… orange. So while it feels like this wine just sprang onto the wine scene fully formed in glass and tumblers held by the coolest of the cool kids, it is actually an ancient traditional method. Probably originating in what is now the Republic of Georgia over 8000 years ago, it spread throughout Europe into Italy, Slovenia, and the world.

What Orange Wine Isn’t

Always Orange in Color

“Orange” is the term that we have all started to use, and so it has won the culture war, but it isn’t precisely accurate. Some orange wines are, in fact, orange, but some are pink, some are yellow, and some are the color of onion skins. It all depends on the color of the grape skin (where all color in wine comes from). If you look at our wine shelves, you’ll see just how broad a range of colors orange wine actually has.


Inherently Natural

Orange wine’s rise to popularity started because natural wine lovers (and makers of natural wine) championed this style. As they looked to the past for inspiration in the vineyards and in the cellars, it was inevitable that orange wine would inspire them too… but as its popularity has risen, more and more mass-production wineries have started to experiment with bringing orange wine to the market. But remember, all it takes to make an orange wine is to let the skins and the juice hang out together. For us here at Small Wine Shop, we must be more vigilant than ever in vetting the producers we bring in. Just because it’s orange does not mean the vineyard was managed in a way that protects the land and aligns with nature. It also does not mean that the grapes weren’t sprayed with pesticides or doused with chemicals. It also does not mean that the winemaking didn’t include the addition of powdered tannins, preservatives, coloring agents, and all the other chemicals. All things that can be added to wine but never disclosed to consumers.

Made with Oranges

At this point, I may not need to say this, but… there are no actual oranges in orange wine. Yes, I know the label might have a picture of an orange on there, and yes, I know the name of the wine might be something cute like “naranjette,” but I promise. Even the most mass-produced “orange wine” is made from grapes.

The Flavor Profile

As I mentioned before, orange wine is a method, and as such, it’s hard to nail down flavors because each choice the winemaker makes will impact the style of the wine. However, we can make some broad generalities, particularly if the wine is natural. Here at the shop, we break orange wines into three categories.


.These wines are usually made with mild-flavored grapes like Pinot Grigio. They are left in contact with the skins just long enough to intensify the color and flavor but not long enough to add any earthiness or funk. This tends to be the most approachable style for newbies to orange wine. These wines are easy to drink, usually lower in price, and go great with all types of food.


These wines see more time on the skins, and in this group, we start to see winemakers use more intensely flavored grapes, often with thicker skins. These wines are earthier, have more body, and begin to have noticeable tannins. These wines are still quite approachable for the average wine drinker, particularly those who enjoy reds more than whites. Those tannins offer more familiar flavors and mouth feel for red wine drinkers. This is also a great place for craft beer lovers to begin their wine journey. These wines offer a yeastiness and a pleasant bitterness often found in beer.


These wines are the most complex in the category, often seeing months of skin contact. In most cases, these are the most natural orange wines. They will often be unfiltered (and, as such, quite cloudy). The intensity of the tannins and flavor extracted from the skins is at a maximum. These wines can be quite cerebral, giving the drinker something to think about and discover as they drink the wine. These wines can be expensive because of the time and care it takes to make them well. Often winemakers with the skill to make these wines choose to focus on smaller production methods. Frequently there isn’t much of the wine made in the first place. These are exceptional wines meant to be shared with like-minded friends over a fantastic meal.


If you haven’t tried orange wines yet, we encourage you to explore the category. It’s a fun (and delicious) journey!