No, it’s not wine from Orange, NSW. Although it can be… The orange (note lower case) wine I’m talking about is actually skin contact white wine. Skin contact is (normally) a red winemaking technique. Not many people know but red wine actually gets its colour from the skin of the grape, the actual juice inside the grape is clear. By putting this clear juice in contact with the skins, the juice becomes red. So, if you take white grapes, and separate the juice from the skins (in the industry we call this crushing or pressing) and then put the skins back into contact with the juice, the juice is going to get some colour. It won’t become red, but it will become orange.
That is why orange wines are called orange wines – the colour. If a winery is located in Orange, it produces Orange wines. If it made a skin contact white wine, that would be an orange wine from Orange.
Let’s forget about Orange, NSW and focus on orange the colour… Firstly, it’s worth noting this winemaking technique is actually the original method used to make white wines. As in 4000 years ago. Grapes were transported across Central Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe in large clay pots (amphora) and this put white grapes in contact with their skins. Our ancestors weren’t fussed about things like colour and balance, they were here for a good time, not a long time. A couple of thousand years later, that all changed… Mainly because of the Italians, but that’s a whole other story. Skin contact white wine is cool again now though, and that’s all you need to worry about. The renaissance occurred in Northern Italy (Friuli, somewhere we’ve already discussed) by a legend called Josko Gravner about 30 years ago. Now it seems everyone is doing it.
When we place the white juice on its own skins, we are not just exposing it to the skins, but also oxygen. You know if you leave an apple or pear for too long it can turn brown? Same thing happens to grapes. So not only is the juice getting some colour from the skins, but also from the open air. In addition to this, you’re going to see some cloudiness in the final product, especially if the wine is unfiltered… So that’s the visual element taken care of. Skin contact also adds to the body and texture of white wine, giving it some characteristics you’d normally associate with red wine. The wines tend to be bigger and bolder, and you’ll find some tannin – that grippy, astringent feeling in your mouth. Sometimes these elements can be a little over the top and dominate the wine itself, so it’s important that wine growers find the right balance.