My first orange wine confused me. I was new to skin-contact wine, so when the bottle arrived, I threw it in the fridge before pouring a sample. It appeared light amber-ish gold in the glass and came out of the fridge chilled like a white wine. But each sip tasted bitter and dead on the palate. The tannins were tacky and sticky, and my tongue seemed papered to the roof of my mouth.
I’ve since learned from my mistakes. Back then, skin-contact wines were still a bit of a novelty in the U.S., but today they are mainstays on lists in New York and West Coast cities, as well as smaller markets. So why are so many places still serving them wrong?
By wrong, I mean serving them like I once had: ice cold.
Orange wines can sometimes look like a white wine, because it’s made from white grapes and retains much of their coloring. As a result, the instinct is often to serve a glass of orange wine in the white wine range of 45 to 55°F, rather than like a red at slightly cooler than room temperature, around 58 to 68°F.
But orange wines are made with techniques used for red wine, which allows grapes extended contact with their skins before vintners press off the juice.
“I think of orange much more in the camp of light-bodied red than I do white, and I think that people need to untrain their brains to think that a white grape equals treatment as a white wine,” says Brianne Day, former Wine Enthusiast 40 under 40 Tastemaker and owner of Day Wines. She makes three orange wines—Tears of Vulcan, Vin de Days l’Orange and Zibibbo.
“That kind of grittiness that you get sometimes from skin contact, with some kinds of grapes, can be off-putting in some circumstances and temperatures,” says Day. “Coldness can exacerbate that.”
Day believes barrel-aged whites, most reds and many orange wines are best in that cool cellar temperature range of 55 to 58°F, though if a wine is low in astringency and tannins, she says it’s suited to be chilled cooler. But take her Tears of Vulcan, which is typically around 40% Pinot Gris. It’s better served at a warmer temperature.
“Pinot Gris, when it’s on skins, oftentimes we get quite a lot of tannin and the particular site that I work with is pretty tannic. So, I wouldn’t go as cold with that one because all you’re going to notice when you drink it is the tannins and the astringency,” says Day. “It’s kind of like … if you got a Nebbiolo that has a lot of tannin to it and you were to chill it down, you wouldn’t even really be able to taste the wine because it would just be sucking all the moisture out of your mouth. I kind of treat the orange wine similar to that.”