Orange wine is showing up everywhere in Boston, but what is it?


Orange wine is not new — in fact, it’s actually really old — but the skin-contact wine is showing up on more and more menus in Boston.

Haley.Henry and Nathalie are two restaurants and wine bars that serve a variety of orange wines, including the two featured here. Courtesy of Haley Fortier.

When Haley Fortier started her orange wine October event several years ago at Haley.Henry, then at Nathálie, she did it because she wanted to expose people to a kind of wine that really wasn’t well known among patrons. 

“What we mainly intended on doing was actually exposing orange wine and skin-contact wine to more people,” said Fortier, who each October entices customers with a T-shirt (and one pretty cool prize that changes yearly) if they drink 10 glasses of wine throughout the month. “No one here was really highlighting it.”

By “here,” she means in Boston, late to the trend that had taken off in New York more than a decade ago, she added. 

But orange wine, also known as skin-contact wine or amber wine, is even older than that — dating back centuries to winemakers in the country Georgia, where residents were probably fermenting grapes in large earthenware vessels thousands of years ago. 

Boston may have been late to the party in adopting it, but now, it feels like it’s available at every wine bar or restaurants with exciting beverage programs.

“Everyone knows you don’t ferment white wines with its skin,” said Jonathon Alsop, founder and executive director of Boston Wine School. “It’s young people … and new winemakers who are willing to try that. They don’t have anything to lose. And then of course young wine lovers are so much more open to new wines, new grapes, new places, new people, and new forms.”

Alsop teaches people about wine in an “unpretentious” way through classes at Boston Wine School, and that has recently included orange and skin-contact wine. A question he gets often: Is orange wine made of oranges?

The answer is no, and it’s really only called orange wine because of its color — also called amber wine for the same reason, though wine made this way is not always so orange or amber in appearance. But skin-contact wine is its not-misleading name that refers to its technique.

Skin contact means the wine is fermented with grape skins on, anywhere in between a handful of hours and several months.

Think of red wine and its deep red coloring — that’s because it’s made with red grapes, skin on. If the skin were removed, as is done with green grapes to make white wine, you get something with less color and much clearer. 

But most of the time when people say skin-contact wine, they’re referring to when winemakers take green grapes and ferment them with skins on.

The fun thing about them, Fortier said, is that they can vary in how they taste (and how they look), from refreshing to earthy depending on the orange wine.

“What I love about orange wine is the fact that it’s versatile,” she said. “It takes characteristics of both (red and white wine).”

Bostonians can try a variety of orange wines at both of Fortier’s restaurants. And this month is a good month to try a variety because of the orange wine October event. 

There’s a theme every year, pulling inspiration from A Clockwork Orange and Crush orange soda in years past. This year’s theme is a nod to the fire that sparked on an Orange Line subway last year. 

If you drink enough glasses through the end of the month, you could win a prize as sweet as a trip to a Montreal wine festival, as was the winner’s gift last year.

Orange wines to try:

After you’re done drinking your way through Fortier’s wine contest, there are plenty of other places to grab a glass of the coolest fall drink in town. 

Nathálie, 186 Brookline Ave.: 

Orange wine recommendation: Chertok’s “White(ish)” from Vermont, which Fortier said has “defined herbal notes and a crush of tropics.” Pair it with their duck confit with flageolet beans, peach mustarda, and parsley.

Dear Annie, 1741 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge:

Orange wine recommendation: Signoraginni’s “Vivienne,” which assistant wine director Corinna Wallace said is “bright and fruit forward.” Pair it with the cured Spanish mackerel, Dear Annie’s seasonal crudo.

Faccia a Faccia, 278 Newbury St.:

Orange wine recommendation: Dinamo “Nucleo X,” which beverage director Jodie Battles said has an “orange-y pith.” Pair it with the squid ink trottol. 

Toro, 1704 Washington St.: 

Orange wine recommendation: Cacique Maravilla “Naranja.” Pair it with the classic Spanish paella or with Toro’s new fall foie gras dish, which includes seared foie gras, pimenton blondie, quince mostarda, fennel pollen, and finger lime.

Forage, 5 Craigie Circle in Cambridge:

Orange wine recommendation: Tunia’s “Chiarofiore,” which owner Stan Hilbert said is “full of roasted twigs, tea leaves, hints of caramel, and woodsmoke.” Pair it with Forage’s chicken mushrooms dish with castelfranco radicchio, hot sherry vinaigrette, and spicy honeycomb candy.

Rebel Rebel, 1 Bow Market Way in Somerville:

Orange wine recommendation: Cherok’s “Eve White.” Rebel Rebel founder Lauren Friel said this wine is actually a coferment — a blend of Vermont-grown grapes and apples. Pair it with the “If Looks Could Kale” sandwich from their Bow Market neighbors, Southern Pines Diner Car.

DW French, 1391 Boylston St.:

Orange wine recommendation: A Chateau Maris sparkling orange wine. Sommelier Seth Gerber said you can pair it with anything rich and fatty, like their steak frites.

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