Orange wine, amber wine, skin-contact white wine – they're all the same!
Orange wine is the popular term for skin-macerated white wines.
It can be confusing because ‘orange’ doesn’t refer to a type of grape or winemaking technique but the colour of the wine. And it is only one colour in the vast spectrum of skin-contact wines.
Orange wine has been a popular buzz word floating around the wine world for quite some time now. It can be confusing because ‘orange’ doesn’t refer to a type of grape or winemaking technique but the colour of the wine instead. Orange wine is more formally known as skin-macerated white wine, which is also known as amber wine or skin-contact white wine. They’re all the same! And orange wine itself is only one colour in the vast spectrum of skin-contact wines.
Despite what many people think, skin contact wine is not a new wine style. Skin contact winemaking is indeed older than direct-press white winemaking. It is the traditional white-grape wine style in many parts of the Republic of Georgia, a country with a long and fabled history of winemaking, where the earliest known traces of wine production have been documented 8,000 years ago.
What is skin contact wine?
Skin-contact wines are white wines made like red wines - where the grape juice is left macerating with its skins. For skin contact, any white grape and winemaking technique can be used.
As the name suggests, the technique simply allows the grapes to sit (in contact) with their skins, and this process can take anywhere from a couple of hours, to a few days or even months. The shorter the time, the lighter the colour and vice versa. Skin contact wine comes in a variety of hues: some darker, some lighter.
The amount of contact allowed between the white grape juice and its skins and seeds before fermentation has a marked effect on the properties of the finished wine. Skin contact increases the wine's flavour and body, because those phenolic compounds are found on the grape skin. Each grape variety is extracted at a different rate, depending on what kind of wine style the winemaker wants to achieve.
The time with the skins also gives these wines more red wine characteristics, like bigger body and more tannin, while maintaining the acidity of a white wine.
Not all skin contact wines are necessarily natural wines
Skin contact wine can be made conventionally and commercialised like any other wine, however, you may see more of it in the natural wine world!
There are a few reasons for it: natural winemakers realised that grapes ferment more stably when in contact with their native yeasts present on the grape skins. Also, allowing white grapes to sit on their skins before pressing softens them, making them easier to press especially if a manual press is used. Last but not least, natural wine drinkers (like you guys) tend to be more open-minded to different wine styles!
Skin maceration: at the origin of vinification
WHITE WINE - directly pressed white grapes (no skins)
SKIN CONTACT WINE - macerated white grapes
ROSÉ WINE - shortly macerated red grapes (max 48 hours)
RED WINE - macerated red grapes