Once upon a time, when you walked into a wine shop or looked at a restaurant’s beverage list, wines could be placed in one of four categories: red, rosé, white, and sparkling. These days, however, there’s a new type of wine that’s creating lots of buzz: skin-contact wine.
Skin-contact wines aren’t a new phenomenon. In fact, you can trace this winemaking process back to ancient times. But these wines have gained popularity as people become more and more interested in natural wines. Now, you can find skin-contact wines on lots of restaurant menus and (most likely) at your local wine shop.
So, maybe you’re wondering: What is skin-contact wine, anyway? And what’s the big deal about it? So let’s dive in…
Skin-contact wine is also known as orange wine. It does not refer to a particular grape, such as pinot noir or chardonnay. Rather, it refers to a winemaking process that results in orange-hued wine. It may be bright tangerine colored, straw yellow, or more mellow like honey.
Put most simply, a skin-contact wine is a white wine that’s made in the style of a red wine. Confused? Let me take a step back.
All grapes produce clear juice. Red wine is red in color because in the winemaking process, the juices are soaked with the red grape skins for a prolonged period of time. Not only does contact with the skins give red wine its color, but it also gives the wine tannins (that dry sensation on your tongue you might experience after sipping a red wine).
Typically when making white wine, the grape juice does not stay in contact with the grape skins during the fermentation process. But with orange wines, white grapes remain in contact with their skins during fermentation (hence the name skin-contact wines!).
The duration of that skin contact determines the final color of the wine. If the juice remains in contact with the skin for just a few days, the resulting wine might be marigold or peach colored. After months of skin contact, the final wine will be darker, tangerine or carrot or apricot colored.
But the color isn’t the only thing unique about orange wines. Because of the contact with the skins, they are also often more textured, full-bodied, tannic, and even a bit nuttier than your typical white wine. But they’re still more acidic, zesty, and light than most reds.
Skin-contact wines are mostly made in the natural wine style with no additives. So as a result, they can taste a bit earthy, funky, and even sour.
These wines are very diverse in taste. That’s because, in addition to deciding how long to keep the juice in contact with the skins, a winemaker can use literally any white wine grape — from Grecanico and Malvasia to Gewürztraminer and Trebbiano — to make an “orange” wine. So, you might just have to try a whole bunch before finding your favorite!
So there you have it: everything you’ve ever wanted to understand about skin-contact wines, demystified. Now go forth and drink orange.