Orange wine seems to be everywhere these days, in the news, on social media, some people are even drinking it. But it’s not immediately obvious what orange wine is. It’s not red, white or pink, it’s orange. How?


What is orange wine?

Well, the first thing to say about orange wine is that it’s not made from oranges. There is an alcoholic drink from Spain called vino de naranja but that is something completely different. Orange wine is made from grapes. Orange wine or amber wine as it's sometimes known is like a cross between a white wine and a red wine - but it’s not rose! It’s made from white grapes which are fermented on their skins.

How is orange wine made?

To make a white wine, the juice is separated from the grape matter before fermentation, but with an orange wine, the skins and pips go into the vat. Just like a red wine. This means that some of the colour leaches into the wine turning it from the green/gold colour of a white wine to orange. The skins also contain tannin, think of that woody drying sensation you get from drinking a red wine, which you will feel when drinking an orange wine.

Such wines are also known as amber or skin contact wines. The amount of skin contact will affect the flavour and colour of the wine. Some oranges wines undergo all their fermentation on the skins with weeks or even months of extraction. Whereas others might just spend a few days fermenting with skin contact before the juice is run off and continues to ferment on its own. So some orange wines have a deep colour and are full of tannin, whereas others just have a whisper of orange.

Where does orange wine come from?

Far from being a new technique, in the past many wines would have been made using this technique. Some ancient wines were made by putting grapes of any colour, red or white, into an amphora and letting them ferment.

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This sort of technique is still used in some countries or was used up until very recently before modern winemaking techniques came in in the 1960s. The country where this has been best preserved is Georgia where many people still make wine at home in giant clay jars known as qvevri.

Partly due to the popularity of Georgian wines, these old techniques are being rediscovered. The heartland of orange wines, Georgia apart, is in Northern Italy and Slovenia where a number of pioneering producers have been making skin contact wines since the 1990s. But today, orange wines are made all over the world, in France, Australia and there are some particularly good ones coming out of England these days.

Is orange wine the same as natural wine?

This is a common misconception. Natural wine is a loose term to refer to wines that are made with the minimum of additions - so no sugar, yeast or enzymes added, and they are usually made with organically-grown grapes. Many orange wine producers work naturally but some don’t. Orange wine just refers to the use of skin contact, it doesn’t imply any winemaking philosophy behind it.

What does orange wine taste like?

There’s a certain amount of controversy about orange wines in the wine world. Many wine lovers find them difficult and others feel that they detract from varietal flavour. For example a riesling made with skin contact is not going to taste like your classic idea of a riesling.

Tasing a wine made from white grapes with the feel and tannin of red wine takes a bit of getting used to. However, there are orange wines and orange wines. Some can be very challenging but there are others where the skin contact just provides an interesting texture and a certain nuttiness.

In my experience, the grapes that work best for orange wines are aromatic ones like pinot gris, gewürztraminer, and bacchus, a grape that’s particularly popular in England. Just keep an open mind, and you’ll probably find something you like. And if you don’t, well that’s fine too.

Best orange wines to buy in 2024

Gerard Bertrand Orange Gold 2022

Gerard Bertrand Orange Gold 2022

This comes from the biggest producer in the Languedoc. But big doesn’t mean boring, as Bertrand has something of a restless spirit as this wine demonstrates. It’s made from a blend of grenache, the classic rosé grape, with the highly aromatic muscat.

Orange Natural Wine JP, Recas Estate 2022


Made from a blend of French grapes, viognier and chardonnay, by an Englishman in Romania, this is bursting with apricots, tangerines and a little orange peel. The skin contact is quite subtle providing the distinctive colour and a little pithy tannin. This is one you could happily sip like a rosé.

Angelo Accadia Verdicchio Evelyn 2020

Angelo Accadia Verdicchio Evelyn 2020

From the Marches in Southern Italy and made with the Verdicchio, this is what Italians call a ‘vin macerato’. The skin contact adds spices like fennel and an intensely nutty texture on the palate. This would be wonderful with pungent food like BBQ lamb.

Denbies Orange Solaris 2022

Denbies Wine EstateOrange Solaris 2022

Solaris is a hybrid grape, bred especially to ripen in cold climates. It seems to really suit orange wines. In this case producing a wine that’s zingy, floral and, well, distinctly orangey (the fruit that is). There’s only a little tannin here so it’s a good beginners wine.

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