New Mexico, Other Wines of the US, Wine

Skin in the Game

It was a crazy Labor Day weekend of serving at the New Mexico Harvest Wine Festival. I came home each of the three days, opened a bottle of wine, turned on some mind-numbing television and fell asleep. On Tuesday morning I woke up thinking 1) I’m too old for this. Everything hurts! 2) I’m leaving in 2 days for more wine wanderings in Washington and 3) Oh, dear! I have a blog post due in 24 hours. Thankfully, New Mexico and the greater wine world have so much to offer that there’s never a time that I am without a topic on which to write.

A few days before the wine festival, I learned that Jaramillo Vineyards has released an “Orange” wine called Otoño Glow. I can’t tell you how excited I was to learn about it and, yes, I’ve tried it, and, yes, it definitely inspired this week’s post.

Orange wine, which is both trending among American consumers and controversial among wine experts, is the oldest known wine in history—dating back almost 8000 years! It originated in Eastern Europe, primarily in Slovenia and Georgia. Basically, ancient winemakers crushed their vineyard grapes (which were white), tossed everything into a clay pot and buried it underground allowing for temperature-controlled fermentation. The result was usually a rich, amber-colored, murky, sediment-filled, wine that tasted delicious.

Orange wine doesn’t have a single orange molecule in it. The wine, known as “skin contact wine” or “amber wine” is made from white grapes but using red wine making techniques. The orange wine vinification looks something like this:

Crushing the white grapes—which is the first step in all winemaking.

Fermentation. When white wine is being made, the juice is filtered off right after crushing and before fermentation. In red wine-making, everything is thrown into the fermentation vessel and the red or purple skins remain in contact with the juice throughout fermentation. The same goes for orange wine. The juice of the white grapes remains in contact with the skins and seeds throughout fermentation. Orange wine is really just skin-contact wine and you will often see the words “skin contact wine” on the label.

Pressing the fermented juice and filtering in preparation for bottling is one of the controversial areas of orange wine-making. Naturalists often believe the character of orange-wine is in its cloudy appearance, but most American wine-makers filter their orange wines and bottle them as a beautiful, clear amber-colored wine.

Aging in oak barrels from a week to a year is very common. The structure and flavor of orange wine develops more fully during the aging process. Orange wines have a good amount of aging potential ranging from a few years to a couple of decades. Once the bottle is opened, the tannins in the orange wine will allow it to keep a little longer than other white wines.

The term “orange wine” is credited to a British wine importer named David A. Harvey. The color can actually range from a golden color similar to an aged Chardonnay to an orange color intense enough to be called orange wine. It can, however, also have a pink, rosé-like tint. The wine’s color is a combination of many factors including:

The grape variety used.

The level of fruit ripeness which is predominantly determined by climate and the point at which the grapes were harvested.

The amount of time the juice is in contact with the skins.

The type of vessel used for fermentation.

The extraction method the winemaker chooses.

Orange wines generally have an intense flavor profile with robust tannin, higher acidity, and a fuller body than is characteristic of white wines. Since orange wines are produced so differently from a typical white wine and produced with any number of white grape varietals, it is a bit difficult to pin-point a definitive aroma/flavor profile.

When I approach a Chardonnay, all I need to  know is where the grapes were grown (warm climate or cool climate) to know what flavor profile I can expect when I open the bottle. The same goes with most popular varietals. I can’t say the same about orange wines. I’m sure there are wine experts and sommeliers out there who know exactly how to set expectations for orange wine, but I’m not there yet.  I have tasted several orange wines from unfiltered, natural wine to beautiful, clear, amber-colored wine and what I can say about them, in the most general terms, is that they are very full-bodied. The acidity levels are high (which is a structural characteristic I love), and the wine is both fruity and floral. When I look at my tasting notes for orange wines, I have written the aromas and flavors of fruit beer, orange rind, hazelnut, honey, tropical fruit, juniper, and sourdough.

Sommeliers suggest that skin on wine tastes best between 50- and 54-degrees Fahrenheit. Just because it’s processed like red wine, doesn’t mean it will do well at room temperature. I did recently have an online discussion with and experienced “orange wine” drinker who felt the tannins softened and the wine benefitted from being served at room temperature. As with all wines, it comes down to personal preference.

 I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I do like a good German Hefeweizen every now and then. I kind of liken the cloudier orange wines to Hefeweizen and I’ve had several beer drinking friends, who insist that they don’t like wine, tell me they actually like orange wine—regardless of the level of filtration.

Lastly, orange wine pairs really well with the types of food that generally don’t work well with wine. For some reason, orange wines will work with umami foods such as fermented kimchi, cooked mushrooms or a mushroom sauce. It goes well with most Asian and many Middle Eastern foods. It really is an all-cuisine wine.

Since 2019, Orange wine has been trending upward in the United States where, interestingly, winemakers are not permitted to label it as an orange wine. The government has determined that the term orange wine is misleading—and it is. Winemakers are a creative bunch so they have come up with many ways to label their wines. Some will label it as a white wine and describe it as “orange style wine.” Some give them names like “Skins” or “Amber Gold” or “Orange Gold.” Sometimes they use the word orange in front of the varietal. For example, Coppola Winery on the northern coast of California has an Orange Riesling on their label. Other winemakers just tell it like it is: “skin-fermented white wine.” A very common description, however, is “Amber Wine.”

I’m just so excited to see orange wine coming to New Mexico. Jaramillo’s Otoño Glow has set the bar pretty high, but I’m eager to see if any other winemakers will try their hand at an orange wine—even for a single vintage. Otoño Glow is available on the Jaramillo website and is probably available in the tasting room.  It’s definitely worth a phone call or email to Barb Jaramillo to find out how you can get this wine before it’s gone.  

Later this week I’m headed to Washington state to do some major wine-tasting—including a winery bicycle tour! I’m hoping to try some “orange” wines.  Stay tuned for updates on my wine wanderings! If you have experience with Orange Wine, I’d love to hear about it. Just drop me an email!

Until next time…



One thought on “Skin in the Game

  1. TomHill says:

    By serving VinoMacerati at “room temperature “, I mean at red wine temperature. Often they are served at Rose or white wine temperature, which can sometimes be too cold and increase the tannic bite.
    There are a fair number of VIniMacerati, particularly from CA & OR, that are pretty near colorless. The JimCowan VM SauvBlanc ’10, is pretty near colorless, even at 12 yrs old, and a terrific example of how well VM can age.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s