Found in artisan wine bars and at industry fairs, orange wines were once only available to indie producers and trendy restaurant goers alike. However, slowly that’s changing, with many supermarkets now stocking a version. But what exactly is it?
Don’t be fooled, no oranges are involved in the making of this wine. Orange wine (sometimes called skin-contact wine) is made with white grapes and left to ferment with the skins and seeds, which gives the liquid the deeper colour and textural complexity. Think of it as the red wine version of a white wine.
However, rather confusingly, orange wine can vary dramatically in colour too. From cloudy lemon to dark amber, it’s a low intervention style of wine-making that’s a world away from mainstream white wines.
Although recently seeing a resurgence, this style of wine making dates back thousands of years, with Georgia being a particularly big player. However, these skin-contact wines can be found all around the world, as our roundup below shows.
The taste can vary considerably but generally you can expect a slightly sour and more intense flavour profile – and we find it can be quite the room divider. For that reason, orange wines can be hard to come by, with many wine merchants avoiding the tricky explanations they need to sell it to their customers.
Often they could be considered as flawed. So why would we touch them? For their incredible structure, intense aromas, high tannins for starters. While these wines tend to surprise if you’re not expecting them, they are always exciting.
And it’s precisely these big, bold flavours that make orange wines so incredibly food friendly. Pair it with equally strong flavours that are normally a nightmare with wine – spicy nutty curries, Moroccan spices & tagines, dishes heavy on the garlic or mustard, mature cheese, you name it, orange wine can manage it.
We’ve tried to include a range of price points below, but for now, orange wines can be more on the steeper side. If you’re new to this style of wine, perhaps start with one of the entry price points and work your way up if you’re a fan – which we're confident you will be.
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Tblvino qvevris 2016, 12%: £60 for case of six, Marks & Spencer
This orange-tinted dry wine is made from white rkatsiteli grapes and aged in Qveri, a traditional Georgian clay vessel. Pairing well with full flavoured chicken curries, thanks to its rich, textural complexity, it’s one of the darker orange wines we put to the test. Aromatic stone fruit comes to the fore, with an underlying savoury spice element that makes this disappear extremely quickly. Georgia produces excellent quality orange wines and this is no exception. We couldn’t ask for a better example at this price.
Savage Grace orange gewurztraminer, 12.5%: £17.49, The Fizz Company
Named after winemaker Michael Savage and his wife Grace Hearn, Savage Grace comes from organic vines in America’s Washington state. Light amber in colour, this dry gewurztraminer has all the wonderfully aromatic lychee you’d expect, along with a distinctly spiced, herbal undertone. Created using sustainable farming practices in extremely small quantities, with natural yeast and minimal sulphur, it’s also suitable for vegans.
Cramele Recas orange natural wine, 12.5%: £6, Asda
The largest winery in Romania, Cramele Recas, have made their orange wine with the local, organic grape varieties of feteasca alba, tamaioasa romaneasca, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. These white grape skins have been left in contact with the juice for three weeks, in which time, complex flavours have developed which belie the price. Well structured with attractively fruity notes of pear and quince which provide freshness, this is a great introduction to orange wine if you’re new to the genre.
Antonelli anteprima tonda, 2016: £24.95, Jeroboams
Savoury, spicy and ever so moreish, this golden beauty dances with notes of lemon peel, plums and a touch of bitter almonds. Golden straw in colour, the wine is produced by one of the most renowned winemakers in Umbria, with 100 per cent trebbiano grapes. Well structured with refreshing acidity, it could be paired with a variety of red and white meat dishes, or equally drunk alone to enjoy its long, dry finish.
Eschenhof Holzer invader orange, 2017, 12.5%: £19, Winebuyers
More wine bottles should have space invaders on the label in our opinion, however the contents doesn’t disappoint either. At just 22-years-old, Arnold Holzer took over the family vineyard and (perhaps unintentionally) left the skins on for a few weeks. Happily, it resulted in this wine with bite. Making waves in the Austrian wine scene, it’s unapologetically unusual, with a depth of earthy flavour, freshened up with orange peel and pepper. Try it with a spiced lamb dish or an equally earthy goats milk cheese with a similar tanginess.
Renegade London wine bacchus on skins, 2017, 11.5%: £34, Harvey Nichols
Although this wine is made under a railway arch in east London, the bacchus grapes themselves come from the Sixteen Ridges vineyard in Ledbury. Spending two months on skins, they’re treated to an extra four months in French oak during which time the sauvignon blanc-esque qualities will develop further, with floral, honeyed and herbaceous notes all being teased out. A big, memorable wine that’s worth the splurge.
Le Soula la macération blanc no 16 vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes, 13.5%: £29.95, Berry Bros & Rudd
Predominantly made up of vermentino and macabeu grapes with just a touch of sauvignon blanc and malvoisie du roussillon, the biodynamic La Soula vineyard can be found in the foothills of the Pyrénées where the soil is poor and the climate extreme. As such the organic vineyard has to work hard, coming through with notes of aromatic apricot, orange skin and earl grey tea. Golden orange, it displays a wonderful minerality that lifts and refreshes.
Remhoogte ‘free to be’ chenin blanc, 13%: £20.99, Wanderlust Wine
Not overly deep in colour, this hazy orange wine gets treated to two weeks skin contact before some time in oak where it matures before bottling. Fresh and smooth apricots and peaches pop out of the glass with notes of orange zest present on the palate. However, an underlying salinity and touch of spice keep this on the savoury side. For the price, we think it’s a real crowd-pleaser when it comes to skin-contact styles.
Cullen Wines amber, 12.5%: £31, Bottle Apostle
Culinary goddess Nigella Lawson is said to be a fan of this biodynamically produced orange wine, calling it “utterly fabulous” during a visit to Australia. Orange peel and honeysuckle come to the fore with an elegant minerality and structure. Deliciously complex, expect honeyed ripe oranges and a floral aroma backed up with grippy texture. Carbon neutral, the Cullen estate is naturally powered and one of the oldest and most awarded family wineries in western Australia’s famous Margaret River region.
Litmus orange, 11%: £17.50, Harvey Nichols
Based here in the UK, Litmus are another English wine producer using bacchus grapes to create their gorgeous orange wines. Or should that be pale gold? Notes of liquorice, creamy hazelnuts and honeyed almonds contrast with a fresh grassy, citrus quality with great acidity and a decadent long finish. This happily holds its own against fatty duck, and spicy Thai dishes.
The verdict: Orange wines
Taking into consideration, price, complexity and drinkability, we think Marks & Spencer have hit the nail on the head with their Georgian Tblvino qvevris. Even those new to orange wines will be won over.