Americans drink 872 million gallons of wine a year, more than any other nation. After all, a good glass of wine goes a long way: a full-bodied red pairs perfectly with steak, a light rosé is ideal for the summer, and a crisp white is spectacular with fish. These are the familiar wine choices that remain favorites among wine-drinkers. But besides the usual choices, there’s a budding category: orange wine. Orange wine has gained increased popularity amongst customers (resulting in 27% more sales in 2020 compared to previous years). Here’s what you need to know.
Firstly, orange wine is a misnomer. It’s not made with oranges. In fact, orange wine is a type of white wine. Similar to the red wine making process, orange wine is made when grape skins and seeds ferment with the juice, resulting in an orange-hued product. The actual color can range from golden to yellow, even a vibrant amber, depending on how long the contact occurs.
Despite ancient roots (orange wine can be traced back to 6,000 BC), it’s only recently that orange wine has become something of a household name.
“White skin contact wine is delicious, versatile and fun to drink and pair with food,” says Winkler. “Because of the skin contact, it has depth, texture and layers. It’s not one note. There is a wide spectrum of flavors, textures and colors such as sparkling pét-nat, and still orange wines that range from having just a little texture and color to being dark and complex… it can be made anywhere in the world and across all price points.”
For all those reasons, orange wine has quickly become popular. When Winkler first started her subscription service in 2019, her only customers were those already familiar with the pour. “Now, we have all kinds of people walking into the store, coming to the free tastings and booking events with us to learn more,” she adds.
Gianni Cavicchi, an advanced sommelier at One19 Wine Bar, which actually serves orange wine on tap, first learned about orange wine during his Wine & Spirit Education Trust education. That was eight years ago, and the concept was still nascent to many. Over the last few years, he has seen orange wine explode in popularity around New York City, especially trendy neighborhoods like Williamsburg and the Lower East Side, which are more accepting of the unfamiliar.
“Orange wines are definitely the fastest growing wine style in New York City at the moment. I’m not exactly sure when the word got out, but customers are seeking them out like when that Pokémon GO game came out,” says Cavicchi. “There is an obsession. Orange wines have become our top selling wine by the glass, and that is mostly due to reorders.”
Besides the novelty, orange wine might even have health benefits. According to Cavicchi, orange wine has higher amounts of polyphenols, beneficial compounds believed to lower the risk of heart disease.
But of course, not everyone is sold on orange wine (yet, that is).
“The biggest criticism seems to be coming from wine snobs set in their ways or a lack of understanding what an orange wine is.” To overcome their doubts, Cavicchi focuses on education, and letting the product speak for itself. “I simply pour them a taste of the wine and have a conversation about it. The biggest obstacle for orange wine is being properly understood.”
Orange wine has thoroughly taken over New York, and both Winkler and Cavicchi believe that the rest of the country will follow.