Orange wine: No, it’s not citrus

It took me a while, largely because of supply issues in the local market, but I finally got around to trying an orange wine. It was quite an experience, and no, it’s not a wine made out of oranges.

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So what, you ask, is orange wine? It’s a somewhat confusingly named niche wine style that’s become trendy on a low level in the past few years.

As my colleague David Buecker explained it in his introduction to last month’s Wine Focus feature on our WineLovers Discussion Group, “Not all orange wine is actually orange. The color can vary from a deep yellow all the way to full Jack-o-Lantern.” Once the specialty of a few adventurous souls in Europe, orange wine has gained a following just about everywhere. Extended time on the skins adds some depth of texture (and usually color) to what would otherwise we regular white wine. It also may add a wide array of additional natural flavors.

Esencia Rural Pampaneo Airén, an orange wine served at Pizza Lupo in Louisville.

Esencia Rural Pampaneo Airén, an orange wine served at Pizza Lupo in Louisville.

Think of it as the not-so-evil twin of rosé wines. Rosé is made by starting a red wine but taking the red grape skins out of the fermenting mix before they have had time to impart more than a rosy blush of color to the finished wine. Orange wines start with white grapes and do the opposite: By leaving the white grape skins in the mix for weeks or even months while the wine ferments, you get a not-so-white wine that’s loaded with unexpected, potent, even funky flavors that and tinged with a much darker (yes, sometimes orange) color that’s off the spectrum for a typical white.

If you’d like to read more about orange wine, here’s a good report in Wine-Searcher by Australian writer Mike Bennie in 2014.

Perhaps because the name “orange wine” does create confusion with the citrus fruit, some vendors are now using the alternative name “skin-contact whites” for the niche. So it was with the fascinating Spanish wine I tried the other night at Pizza Lupo, a favorite local Italian restaurant with a fascinating wine program that includes a monthly wine club limited to “natural” wines.

Esencia Rural

The wine I tried, Esencia Rural Pampaneo Vino de la Tierra de Castilla Airén, was $38 for a bottle on the restaurant wine list, $10 for a generous pour in a large glass. Wine-searcher lists it for $19 average U.S. price in retail stores.

This Spanish orange wine is definitely not a wine for the uninitiated. Thoughtfully, not meaning to prank her, I offered my wife a taste without preparing her for it, and it will be a while before I can forget the startled expression on her face. Yes, it’s that sour, and there’s a strongly earthy, funky element in there too that it’s best to be prepared for.

Organic, biodynamic, and natural, made in Spain’s Vino de la Tierra de Castilla region from the Spanish Airén grape, the wine is left on its grape skins for four months followed by two months in clay amphorae. It shows a distinct pale-orange color in the glass. I can’t swear that I wasn’t influenced by the color, but I do get a distinct bitter-orange aroma with back notes of pear and damp soil. On the palate there’s a blast of sour acidity and a waft of tannic astringency, surrounding flavors that follow the nose. It’s odd, even challenging, but it was actually interesting, and a surprisingly good companion with both a wild-mushroom pizza and gnocchi parisienne with taleggio cheese.

Orange wine or skin-contact white, this offbeat niche is worth exploring if only to broaden your wine horizons. I wouldn’t mind going back for more … and some more of those feather-light gnocchi. If you’d like to read my restaurant review, here’s a link.

My wine-tasting report for this week, featured below, is also a biodynamically made, natural wine, a hearty “El Porrón de Lara” Tempranillo from Castillo de Leon in Spain. It’s not nearly as offbeat as the orange wine, but it’s an excellent, approachable red and an excellent value.


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Today’s Tasting Report

Bodegas Penalba 2020 Lopez Finca Torremilanos “El Porrón de Lara” Castilla y León ($17.99)

El Porrón de Lara

Made from 100% Tempranillo, “El Porrón de Lara” is billed as a traditional red wine from Ribero del Duero, although it bears the broader Castilla y León denomination. A Demeter certified biodyamic natural wine, it’s produced with local varieties, fermented with indigenous yeast, and produced without filtering, clarifying, or additional sulfur.

This is a dark reddish-purple wine almost all the way to the edge. It benefits from a little time to open up in the glass, when it reveals appetizing tart-cherry and blackberry aromas. Cherry-berry flavors follow the nose, standing out in a medium-bodied flavor shaped by crisp acidity and gentle tannins. Good black-cherry flavors and tannins linger in a long, dry finish. 13.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: Skurnik Wines, NYC. (Oct. 29, 2022)

FOOD MATCH: Its traditional partner is red meat, beef or lamb. It would also go well with charcuterie, aromatic cheeses and vegetable dishes crafted for bold flavors. It was excellent with a dish pasta with a roasted eggplant pesto with garlic and parsley.

WHEN TO DRINK: Its sturdy construction and taint-free Diam cork suggest the possibility for some aging, but natural, low-sulfur wines may not be the best candidates for cellaring. I’d enjoy it now, while it’s fresh and delicious.

VALUE:’s database shows a $17 average U.S. retail price; that’s consistent with my local tab, and it’s a fine value in this under-$20 range.

This link will take you to a brief info page from importer Skurnik Wines.

Check prices and find vendors for “El Porrón de Lara” on

For more information about the Castilla de Leóon region and sources for a number of its wines, browse this Wine-Searcher link.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to read about the Tempranillo grape and find listings for dozens of other wines of this variety.

Wine Focus November 2022: Zinfandel and Gamay

Welcome to November! Our monthly Wine Focus features a doubleheader this month that straddles the new and old world. Zinfandel owes almost all its notoriety to wines produced in California, despite its long-ago European heritage. Gamay, once kicked out of Burgundy, eventually staged a dubious comeback as Nouveau Beaujolais, but has since shed some of that image and carved a niche with wine lovers.

Zinfandel has its day on November 16, and we’ll “commemorate” Gamay with the release day of Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday, November 17 … there’s no requirement to drink Nouveau, though!

Bring either Zinfandel or Gamay, bring your comments and questions, and join us in Wine Focus for November 2022!


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Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!


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