“Jeff, are you from the moon?”: Rosé and Orange Wines

Have you had an orange wine?  They’re new to me, and there seem to be a few similarities to rosé, although I had never tasted them side by side. However, when I asked how orange wines compare to rosé at a winery tasting room (featuring an orange wine in their lineup), they looked at me like I was from the moon.  So I decided to taste them together so I could form my own impression.

Rosé on the left, Orange on the right

Rosé on the left, Orange on the right

In order to understand rosé and orange wines, we need to start with how wines are made.

  • Fact 1:  virtually all grape juice is clear.
  • Fact 2:  the color of a wine comes from how long the grape juice stays in contact with the grape skins.
  • Fact 3:   white wine and red wine have different processes for making the grape into wine mainly based on how long the juice is in contact with skins (as well as the rest of the grape).

Let’s first look at the vinification processes for red wine grapes:

Red Wine Vinification
In making a red wine, you start with red wine grapes (duh) and then let the grape juice stay in contact with the seeds, pulp, skins and sometimes stems for a much longer time.  The juice is often in contact with the skins all the way through the primary fermentation, which can take weeks.  The skins contribute the red color to the wine, and the skins, seeds and stems contribute to the tannic makeup of the finished wine. Long skin contact.

Rosé Vinification
Rosé is a wine made with traditional red wine grapes, but using the process of vinification that is closer to a white wine.  There are a couple of methods, but they all involve the grape juice being in contact with the red grape skins; anywhere from a couple of hours to a day or two.  Voilà, a wine with a bit of color.  Rosé colors vary from the palest pink to all shades of pink, salmon, and even quite red. Short (but not zero) skin contact.

Bedrock Rosé, a wonderful example

Bedrock Rosé, a wonderful example

Now let’s look at how white wines are made:

White Wine Vinification
In making a white wine, you start with white wine grapes (duh again).  Immediately after picking, the grapes are pressed to separate the juice from the skin, pulp, and seeds.  Since the skins and seeds are the source of tannins, white wines end up with very little tannins.  This also means they have almost no color from the skins, hence a “white” wine.  Virtually zero skin contact.

Orange Wine Vinification
Also called skin fermented white wine, orange wine is actually the opposite of rosé.  Maybe that’s why the winery folks were looking at me so funny!  Orange wine is made when you vinify white wine grapes in the style of a red wine.  The grapes, skins, and pulp stay in contact for an extended period of time, often for several weeks.  You end up with a wine with a color in the orange spectrum.  As with rosés, they range from barely any color through a full range of orange colors.  Long skin contact, but with white wine grapes.

Donkey & Goat Stone Crusher, skin contact orange wine

Donkey & Goat Stone Crusher, skin contact Roussanne

How do they taste?

Rosés typically show wonderful fresh fruit aromas emphasizing “fresh”.  They usually offer very crisp, even dramatic acidity which contributes to the fresh sensation of the wine.  They love foods like salads, poultry, and seafood.  Often considered “summer wines”, some people are rosé fans year round.

Bedrock “Ode to Lulu” Rosé of Mourvedre
Eye: Beautiful light salmon color.
Nose: Aroma is floral more than anything.  Nice and fresh, maybe a bit of tangerine or lemon fruit.
Mouth: Flavor is nice, dry, acidic, but still fresh and floral.  Low in alcohol (12.3%), this wine is so refreshing.  Perfect for a summer day, but I am enjoying it even when surrounded by snow.

text if needed

Snow provides a convenient background to showcase the color!

Orange Wine
The first thing I have learned is that Orange wines are not for everyone!  This one just seemed so foreign, Julie said no thanks after just a smell and a taste.  I was intrigued, in part because it was so different.

Orange wines span a wide range, but there are some characteristics that are likely to be there.  If you imagine a red wine in white wine clothes, you might get the picture.  They can have a fuller mouthfeel, and certainly tannins can be much stronger than in a typical white wine or rosé.

Donkey & Goat “Stone Crusher” Roussanne
Eye: A little cloudy, beautiful deep orange in color.
Nose: Tangerines, flowers.  After a little bit, roses emerged!  There is also something different in the nose that I just cannot place.
Day 2 nose: still fresh and floral, but with a little something like mustard seed.
Julie’s view: smells like my dad’s basement workshop paint booth.  Turpentine. (Yes, she’s opinionated.)
Mouth: Rich, round mouthfeel, with definite tannins.
We tried the wine with some cheeses, it worked well with Beaufort & Cabot clothbound cheddar. Also, the wine seemed to pair nicely with a variety of foods at dinner.

Yes, it's "off season" for these wines in Minnesota

Yes, it’s “off season” for these wines in Minnesota.

Even though the wines are made essentially in opposite fashion, I had fun comparing the two side by side.

Both are very fresh on the nose, very refreshing flavor, tart even. The Rosé is more purely floral and fruity.  The orange wine has the floral and fruit, but it also has another set of aromas mixed in that are quite different from the rosé, and quite different from most any other wines I have tried.

The Stone Crusher had a very rich, full mouthfeel contrasting the lean and trim feeling with the rosé. The Stone Crusher was much more tannic.  Both wines were better with food, but the Stone Crusher really needed food to shine.

Other Orange Wine and Next Steps
Orange wines got their start in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe and in the Friuli region of Italy.  I haven’t tried any of these, and I’m looking forward to finding some to try.  I do have some more examples from California, so I’ll be trying those, too, over the coming months.  If you have the opportunity, I would encourage you to at least give one a try.  You might be intrigued by their unique aromas and flavors.

Have you tried any orange wines?  What did you have?  What did you think?

3 Responses to ““Jeff, are you from the moon?”: Rosé and Orange Wines”
  1. Great write-up, I really liked the breakdown of how each style is vinified. I had some orange wine a while ago, but before I started writing about anything that went into my pie-hole. Very informative piece!

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  1. […] many are discovering. I’m a fan, I had my first orange wine back in 2013 and wrote about it here. I’m starting this month with a primer, and you’ll find a whole list of links to our […]

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