A rapid rise in the popularity of orange wines is apparent for all to see. These funky-hued bottles are appearing alongside more familiar red, white and rose offerings in everywhere from subversive natural wine bars to the shelves of major supermarkets.
Not that the drink is anything new. The origin of these charismatic wines – the colour of which comes from a production process that encourages prolonged contact between the grape skin, seeds and juice – bears the hallmarks of techniques used in one of the world’s oldest winemaking nations, Georgia, 5,000 years ago.
According to David Farber, co-founder of wine bar Porte Noire in King’s Cross, London, their return to favour is far more than just a fad. “Orange wines have a true place within the wine scene – mostly thanks to the huge range of possible food pairings it brings to the table,” he says. “The most surprising element of their flavour profile is the tannins that come from the skin contact process. Many who pick up an orange wine expect the fresh, citrusy flavours of a white wine but instead what they find is a full-bodied, nutty, tannic wine derived from white grapes.”
Varying wildly between grape varieties, growing region and winemaking technique, Farber identifies several key styles worth noting: those made from higher acidity grapes, which most closely resemble more familiar white wines; “classic” orange wines, which offer nuttier flavours; and historical Georgian wines, which are aged for six to 12 months in a kvevri (a large earthenware amphora used for the fermentation process), which are amber in colour with integrated tannins to create a full-bodied but velvety wine. “There are different levels and qualities of orange wines – we could consider a minimum of 30 days of skin contact to qualify as a high-grade orange wine," he adds.
As for food pairings, Farber lists a diverse range of dishes for which the complexity of orange wine provides the perfect complement. “Orange wine works fantastically with Lebanese food, such as kebabs and tahini, and Indian food – particularly biryanis,” he says. “It works well with hard cheese, like an aged comte, or a mushroom risotto. And if you’re planning for Christmas, get some orange wine on your list as it pairs perfectly with turkey and chestnut stuffing.”
How we tested
To compile our list of favourite orange wines, we sampled a range of styles across a spectrum of price points, served at the ideal recommended temperature. We noted each one’s key characteristics in direct comparisons, while experimenting with several food pairings to establish our favourite bottles for various settings, before compiling our following favourites.
The best orange wines for 2022 are:
- Best for funky intensity – Bizarra Extravaganza orange wine 2019: £16.50, Shopcuvee.com
- Best for sophisticated sipping – Remhoogte free to be 2021: £23, Wanderlustwine.co.uk
- Best affordable complexity – Reca Estate orange natural wine 2021: £13.50, Tanners-wines.co.uk
- Best for orange wine naysayers – Tbilvino qvevris orange wine: £10, Ocado.com
- Best for savoury refreshment – Gönc Winery harvest moon 2019: £29.75, Humblegrape.co.uk
- Best orange on a budget – Rigal vin orange: £10, Morrisons.com
- Best crisp summer refreshment – Kalogris dialogues rose 2017: £17.50, Wanderlustwine.co.uk
- Best for aromatic finesse – Zibibbo Secco orange abbazia san giorgio 2019: £34.95, Thewhiskyexchange.com
- Best for serving with seafood – Anima Mundi pells skin contact macabeo 2021: £21.66, Decantalo.com
- Best British Biodynamic wine – Tillingham Qvevri orange 2020: £35, Juicedwines.co.uk