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A Guide To Skin Contact Wine

We’re only too well aware of the vast list of traditional red and white wines available to us, but what about skin contact wine, or ‘Orange wine’? No, it’s not a Mimosa, and it’s definitely not an Aperol Spritz ! In fact, the only thing it really has in common with these much-loved beverages, is its colour. Skin contact wine is taking the grape world by storm thanks to its robust boldness along with strong hints of sunny day aromas – from the sweetness of honey to the earthy hit of hazelnut, and of course, freshly dried orange rind. Whether it’s your go-to, or you’re just absolutely itching to try it, we’ve put together everything you need to know about this intensely delicious drop of loveliness.

What Is Skin Contact Wine (Or Orange Wine)?

Believe it or not, skin contact wine has nothing to do with holding it close in a warm embrace while it works its magic. Instead, it’s another term for maceration, which is essentially where the skin of the grape remains on the fruit and intact with the juice during the entire winemaking process. While some reds and rosés retain the skin on their grapes at some point in the fermentation journey, they are often separated from the juice with time to achieve a certain flavour and hue. Skin contact wine is only ever made from white grapes (or green-skinned grapes), and as the juice in the grapes ferments on the skin, it emits extra tannin and flavour – much like what happens when a light or full-bodied red wine is made. 

During this process, the contents of the bottle can darken more than traditional white wine, but it isn’t always necessarily going to turn the wine that characteristic full-blown orange colour. The colour of skin contact wine can range from anywhere between an amber colour to a clear orange, it really just depends on the amount of time the grapes are left to ferment.

The History Of Skin Contact Wine

While skin contact wines may seem like a trend that’s only just started to gain traction with wine enthusiasts, it actually has some incredibly deep roots tied to the country it was first founded in – a place now known as the Republic of Georgia. The process of making skin contact wine here is said to have dated back to as far as 6000 B.C., when indigenous grapes, like Rkatsiteli and Tsolikouri, were fermented with skins on in clay vessels that were buried in the ground to maintain a cool temperature. To this day, making wine in these vessels called qvevri, which are lined and sealed with beeswax and stone lids, is still very much a big part of the winemaking culture in Georgia. 

What Does Skin Contact Wine Taste Like?

When describing the flavour and texture of skin contact wine, it can be likened to the difference between a red and a rosé. When grapes are vinified as traditional white wine, the taste can be particularly smooth, fruity and light. Because skin contact wine is fermented with the skins on, this results in it having a much bolder flavour with the oxidative characteristics we described earlier in the piece – nutty, honey-like with bruised apple tangs and a dry orange rind punchiness. 

In saying this, the range of tastes produced by skin contact wine are enormously vast, a result of the varying amounts of fermentation that the grapes go through. And if you haven’t tried a skin contact wine before, expect to get a touch of bitterness and ripeness thanks to those ageing skins releasing additional tannin. 

How To Pair Skin Contact Wines

Many would argue that skin contact wines are one of the best types of wine on the market when it comes to pairing them with food. This is because they offer the perfect balance between a traditional white wine and a traditional red, with their contrasting attributes – the fruity flavour of a white and the sharpness of a red. In the majority of cases, it’s best to go bold. Compatible with almost any cheese variety under the sun, you can’t go wrong with anything from a potent blue veined to a creamy French brie. 

One of the other benefits of skin contact wine as a companion for food, is its ability to harmonise with spicy foods such as rich curries and heat-inspired dishes, as well as hearty vegetarian dishes such as chickpea stew and lentil soups. But as we mentioned, they really are so versatile that you can pair them with anything you like – experiment to find your perfect pairing !

Is Skin Contact Wine Natural?

 

Because skin contact wine avoids the need for all those additives and other chemicals during the fermentation process, it has found itself among the ranks of the Natural Wine phenomenon – increasingly trendy and in high demand. While it is hard to pinpoint what exactly qualities render a wine “natural’’, the general idea is that natural wines are deemed as those created with very little intervention during the entire winemaking process. With more traditional techniques involved with skin contact wine, they’re generally going to be more cloudy and with sediment, much like an organic or biodynamic wine. 

While it might be a bit of a disappointment to discover that skin contact wine is, in fact, not made with oranges (!), it’s definitely just as mouth-wateringly good as a fresh bunch of them! As we’ve said earlier, it really is no wonder why this unique type of wine has become so popular – with the perfect marriage of characteristics, it’s eager to please and can pair with almost anything. And if you’re as passionate as us about good quality, good-tasting wine, you’ll not be able to wait to get your hands on a bottle of it. 

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