Walk into any natural wine bar in NZ (there are now more than a few to choose from) and you’d be forgiven for thinking that orange wines were a new thing. While their production has expanded in quantity and quality, orange wine itself it is far from new, with skin-contact the oldest-recorded winemaking process in the world. The origins of orange wine lie in Georgia, where fragments decorated with grape patterns and containing chemical traces of wine dating back 8,000 years were found near Tbilisi. Here, the wine is made via skin- contact in large, egg-shaped terracotta pots called qvevri. The qvevri are buried and left to ferment for a period that can extend from several days to six months.
Referred to by the Georgians as amber wine, the English changed amber to ‘orange’ in the early 2000s. Not all of the orange wines featured here are buried in the ground and made as above, though two are. The majority are white wines, made as you would a red wine. Normally with white wine, the juice is immediately pressed from the grapes and the skins discarded. They can, though, be made in exactly the same way as red wines, keeping the juice in contact with the skins. This is how orange wines are made, the fermentation and extended maceration on the skins creating a unique character.
Orange wines acquire a deep hue and have a phenolic grip, with additional tannins derived from the skin contact. They often exhibit a dry, austere nature, and tend to partner very well with food. The recent surge in interest can be linked in part to their natural production, as we all become more concerned with the purity and provenance of the things we consume.