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Orange Wines: Gimme that Skin Contact!

Let’s Chat About Orange Wines

Our most popular wine category here at Small Wine Shop is orange wine. It is a distinctive style of wine that just screams low-intervention/natural to our customers. Orange wines may seem new to wine drinkers, especially here in the United States, but they have a long history in many countries. So what exactly are orange wines? Let’s find out.

What Makes a Wine and Orange Wine?

First and foremost, orange wines are not made from oranges. This style of wine gets its name from the distinctive color that is produced during the winemaking process and was first coined by British wine importer David Harvey. In fact, the color may vary greatly depending on what grape(s) is used and how long they age the wine. The color can range from a salmon pink to bright orange to rust color and everything in between. In Italy, orange wines may be called ramato, which means “autumn wine.” But there is more to orange wines than just their distinctive color. 

Orange wine is made by taking white grapes, mashing them up, and allowing the grape juice, skins, pips, and maybe stems to ferment in a cement or a clay vessel. This is known as skin contact. This grape concoction is then aged for anything from a few  days to months to even years, depending on the style the winemaker wants to achieve. An orange wine that has less fermenting and aging time tends to be lighter and the style is not as “natty” in its taste profile. Longer aging orange wines are fuller in body and have more complex, rich flavors. The key aspects of this type of winemaking is the pulling of color and tannins from the skins of the grapes and the oxidative nature of the aging time. This will affect the aromas, flavors, and texture of the wine.

Let’s Talk Flavors!

So what does an orange wine taste like? These are bold and intense wines. The aromas and flavors here will be drastically different from a white wine made from the same grapes. The aromas and flavors tend to lean more into  dried orchard and tropical fruit, nuttiness, sourdough, dried citrus, and linseed oil. The palate of an orange wine will be dry and robust, with varying tannic levels depending on age. You do not expect tannins in a white wine, but they are here in a big way. There is also a sourness and an herbal quality that reminds some of hoppy and sour beers. In fact, I often use orange wine as an entry point for beer drinkers wanting to try wines for the first time.

The Hot New Wine 5000 Years in the Making

Orange wines are now being made by low-intervention winemakers around the world. Yet this style has been made for over 5,000 years and was first centered around what is now modern-day Georgia. Here wines are fermented in large subterranean vessels called Qvevri (“Kev-ree”) that were originally closed with stones and sealed with beeswax and are still in use today. Orange wines have also had a long history in northeastern Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. Today, we have orange wines from over ten different countries on our shelves. These wines are made from traditional grapes such as sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio, and more obscure grapes like tardana in Spain and rkatsiteli in the country of Georgia. 

What to Eat With Orange Wine

A variety of foods may be served with an orange wine but due to its bold nature, the cuisine you match it with should be equally as bold. Curries from India and Thailand, Moroccoan and Ethiopian dishes, and Korean bibimbap are a few easy go-tos for adventurous foodies. A lazy late summer backyard BBQ is the perfect place to break out a few bottles. Just look to foods that will match well to the tannins, sourness, and nuttiness of these wines. 


Here are three orange wines that we love.
Ranging from light to heavy in style.


Iruai Shasta Cascade White

Vintage: 2020
Region: Shasta-Cascade AVA, United States
Viticulture: Organic and Biodynamic
Grape varieties: 30% Savagnin, 30% Bergeron, 20% Chardonnay, 20% Savagnin Rose Musqué

Iruai Shasta Cascade White is inspired by the French Alps. Aromas of dried flowers and brush are framed by electric acidity, almond, and citrus.

Movie: The Art of Skiing


Out of stock


Cueva Orange Utiel Requena

Vintage: 2019
Region: Valencia, Spain
Viticulture: Organic
Grape varieties: Macabeo and Tardana

Cueva Orange Utiel Requena is a blend of Macabeo and Tardana, aged on skins for 30 days, then aged many more months in the bottles.

Song: September Song by Agnes Obel


Out of stock


Artana Rkatsiteli Skin Contact

Vintage: 2018
Region: Artana, Georgia
Viticulture: Organic
Grape variety: Rkatsiteli

Artana Rkatsiteli Skin Contact has a nice combination of funk and acidity. Intense notes of grapefruit, tangerine, spice, and yeast.

Song: Time In A Bottle by Jim Croce


Out of stock