The best orange wine: The ultimate guide for 2024

Everything you could possibly want to know about orange wine, and then some.

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The best orange wine: The ultimate guide for 2024

Although orange wine isn't new, it's certainly on the up. People are falling in love with its colour, versatility and depth of flavour. But many of those who drink it don’t actually know much about it. Not to worry, we’re here to help.

This guide has everything you could possibly want to know about orange wine, including what it is, where it comes from, why it’s so popular, how to pair it and some great bottles to try first on your orange wine journey. To make sure you're getting the best advice possible, we've enlisted various sommeliers, wine directors and restaurant managers to get some expert insight. 


What is orange wine?

 “...more body, texture and backbone, drunk chilled – what else can you possibly ask for?” - Nadine Carius, operations manager and group beverage manager at Brunswick House and Orasay

Orange wine, also known as skin-contact white wine, is essentially white wine made using a similar technique to red. As with red wine, the grape skins (and sometimes the stems) are left in during fermentation. There is a huge variety in orange wines, as the skins can be left in anywhere from a couple of days to over a year. If they aren't left in for long, the result is much closer to white: crisp and delicate. At the other end of the scale, you'll find rich, bronze-coloured wine with a much more distinct palate. 

Where does orange wine come from?

"The ancestors of the style are the Amber wines of Georgia, with a story that dates back to thousands of years. Fermented in the buried below-ground traditional earthenware jars called Qvevri, they represent the category in the most uncompromised way." - Mario Sposito, Wine Director at Bedales of Borough and BOB's Lobster

While the explosion of popularity for orange wine is new, it’s actually been around for millennia. The current consensus is that it was first made in Georgia, thought to be the birthplace of all wine, around 6000 B.C. There, Assyrian monks would load crushed grapes, skins, seeds, stems - the lot - into giant clay amphorae and bury them for fermentation. To this day, Georgian orange wines are some of the best, although there are plenty of other countries with their own take.

Northeastern Italy is a hotspot too, where native grapes including Pinot Grigio and Friulano are used. Jura in France - famous for its comté cheese - has also become famous for its orange wine, made using Savagnin or Chardonnay. Eastern Europe is another big player, with many of the most popular bottles in the UK coming from Slovakia and Slovenia. The Slobodne family is particularly famous, and partnered with KOL's Santiago Lastra to create some exclusive bottles, such as the popular 'El Melon'.

We asked Zoe Donadio, restaurant manager at La Cave, where she thought the most exciting bottles are coming from right now:

"I’m a big fan of Czech wine, there’s an exceptional diversity not only in terms of varietals but also in winemaking practices with a breadth of small producers making really expressive and interesting wines.

"The recent investment into cellar technologies paired with the unique climate of the Moravian wine region and its historical winemaking traditions I find has yielded many interesting and quality orange wines.

"One of my favourite bottles is from Petr Korab, Orange On Leaves Pet Nat, a blend of Welschriesling and Grüner Veltliner where the juice is macerated with the vines which gives the wine a distinctive herbal and elegant character."

Mario Sposito of Bedales, meanwhile, says: "Other areas with a more recent reputation for top-notch orange wines are Slovenia and Friuli Venezia Giulia, but a wide array of skin contact white wines is now produced with joy and success across the globe, with a spectrum that goes from the lighter, brighter fruiter and approachable aperitif styles to the high tannin, deep coloured, nutty and full-bodied examples that are the natural match for eastern Mediterranean and middle-eastern cuisine, especially Georgian."

Why is orange wine so popular?

“You should think of orange wine like opening the door to an extra dimension of white wine – there are lots of new flavours and textures to be found.” - Ben McVeigh, co-founder & sommelier at Peckham Cellars

Since orange wine has been around for thousands of years, this begs the question - why is it so popular now?

One explanation is simply curiosity. Just as with the chilled red trend, diners and drinkers are always looking for something new to try. And, to many, our orange friend is as good as new. To meet demand, restaurants and bars started to stock more and hence, there were more to try. 

Another reason is environmental. The process of orange winemaking is also lower intervention than white, which means less energy is used in production. Often, this reduces the overall carbon footprint of the process.

The main reason, however, is versatility. Thanks to orange wine's hybrid heritage, it can be paired with many different foods, especially stronger flavours that would overpower a white. This includes spicy foods such as curry, as well as heartier dishes like stews or even red meat. 

Nadine Carius, operations manager and group beverage manager at Brunswick House and Orasay, says it's "a very common choice" of hers personally, adding, "especially when I can’t make my mind up if I feel like white or red.”

How to pair orange wine with food

“Orange wine is a great one to pair with food. The skin contact adds not only tannins but also extra aromas and floral notes giving more depth." - Brodie Meah, co-founder of Top Cuvee

It's actually quite rare to serve orange wine without food. This is especially true for longer skin-contact bottles, whose robust flavour needs a worthy accomplice. Strong flavours such as spicy food, Asian food and meatier dishes work well, although lighter oranges can work with chicken and fish. 

But we're no experts, so we asked some top sommeliers how they pair orange wine. 

Brodie Meah, said "One of my favourite pairings is a really good pork rillettes with a skin contact pinot gris, specifically one from Alsace. The high acidity from the grape cuts through the fattiness and then all those additional skin contact notes come together and work wonderfully, almost like seasoning!

"On the lighter side, orange wines can also be paired with more delicate foods such as cured fish, just look for something that's not overly tannic, showcasing the floral side of natural wines. Aromatic varieties such as Muscat can work well here.

"If you don't fancy meat, roast Aubergines go so well with a robust orange wine, something with extended skin contact.”

Sergi Guillen Beneito, wine director at Ormer adds, "...sometimes it can be quite hard to drink on its own. However, they are great wines for food, especially spiced Asian or Middle Eastern cuisines and red meats. Because of the tannins and great acidity, some of these wines pair nicely with fatty meats. In Ormer Mayfair by Sofian, I have used light orange wines paired with sweetbreads, lobster or even veal. It seems most guests prefer the food pairings, but not necessarily drinking the wine on its own, which is something I always explain when pouring such wines”.

How we tested the best orange wine

To craft a shortlist of the best orange wines for you to try, we aimed to include some variety. So, we ordered in some different bottles, avoiding any that couldn't be bought online or were over £30. Once the bottles arrived, we tasted them both on their own and with appropriately paired food. Finally, we wrote up our notes to add to this guide. One caveat is that everyone has different opinions, so we think the best way to find your own individual favourite is to order a few bottles, taste away, and then pick your winner. 

The best orange wines to try

For those interested in trying orange wine, we've rounded up some lovely and affordable bottles that make a great starting point. For the full experience, we recommend trying them with a few different foods, such as those recommended in the previous section.

Forza della Natura Orange Catarratto

Summary: Forza della Natura comes from Sicily, where the Catarratto grapes are harvested by hand. Any sulphites are naturally occurring and this wine is suitable for vegans. 
What we thought:
"This hazy, unfiltered wine does have a look of scrumpy about it, and there's a hint of cider funk in the tasting too. As orange wine goes, though, it's very accessible, with bags of stone fruit, citrus and marmalade flavour. Sufficiently complex to be interesting, but still very drinkable, this is a great place to start if you're new to orange wine."
Pairs well with: Charcuterie, tapas and lighter curries.
How much: £8.99
Buy Forza della Natura Orange Catarratto from Waitrose

Tbilvino Qvevris 2020 

Summary: This deep amber wine uses the traditional Georgian method of vinification in amphorae, before being blended by M&S.
What we thought:
 "The blended nature of this wine results in a pleasingly smooth palate, with notes of apricot and a touch of aromatic spice. Our only criticism is that it could be a little punchier and some orange wine enthusiasts will find it a little underpowered. That being said, for skin-contact sceptics or anyone on a budget, this is a nice one to try."
Pairs well with: Middle eastern dishes, lamb and chicken.
How much: £10
Buy Tbilvino Qvevris 2020 from Ocado

Orange Natural Wine 2021

Hailing from Romania, this blend of Pinot Noire, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling provides a dry nutty taste worth trying.
What we thought:
"This Romanian entry is another great intro bottle. It offers plenty of texture, along with floral aromas, fresh acidity and a touch of salinity. It's delicate enough to be enjoyed on its own too, a rare quality in orange wines."
Pairs well with: Fish, cheese and grilled meat.
How much: £12.99
Buy Orange Natural Wine 2021 from Laithwaites

Macerao Naranjo Orange Wine

Summary: This Chilean orange hails from the cool-climate Itata Valley, where the soil is rich in sand, clay loam. The seeds and skin are left in, resulting in a richer texture than your average Chilean white. 
What we thought: "Touted as a ‘food-friendly’ orange wine, this Chilean offering has a more subtle flavour than some more traditional orange wines, meaning it won’t overpower the dish you are enjoying. Zesty notes are cut through with hint of honey, keeping the flavour light and accessible to palettes new to the orange wine movement."
Pairs well with: Cheese or seafood, as well as east Asian dishes.
How much: £8.99
Buy Macerao Naranjo Orange Wine from Waitrose

Roberto Henriquez Molino del Ciego Semillon

Summary: A little more adventurous, this Chilean entry features Sémillon grapes and offers a slightly sour, mineral-heavy palate. The grapes are harvested from 90-year-old vines along the coast, giving a unique flavour many buyers love.
Pairs well with: Shellfish, cured meats, cheese or even lamb. 
How much: £29.99
Buy Roberto Henriquez Molino del Ciego Semillon from Selfridge's

Back To Silence Orange Wine

Summary: This limited edition natural wine from Veneto boasts a triple threat of citrus, peach and mineral notes. The macerate is left in for a month, creating a luxurious gold colour, and no loud machines are used in the process (hence the name). 
Pairs well with: Pasta, risotto and smoked fish.
How much: £29.50
Buy Back To Silence Orange Wine from The Great Wine Co.

Calcarius Nu Litr Orange

Summary: Hailing from Puglia, this floral bottle has notes of stonefruit and hints of honey that will certainly please any crowd. The name comes from the chalky, calcium-rich soils in Puglia which give the wine its unique character.
Pairs well with: On its own, shellfish or vegetarian food.
How much: £25.00 
Buy Calcarius Nu Litr Orange on Forest Wines

After something a little fizzier? We've got a super-handy guide to the best affordable Champagnes for you to try next!

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