Skin contact wines, how daring and different, and guess what it is! Skin contact wine is a popular trendy oddity that is taking off. It’s like your cool, vintage-clad neighbor who wears tinted sunglasses everywhere they go and you wonder not only where they’re going, but also where did they get those boots? Can I be them? Skin contact wines are unique and have the appearance of a wine that is too cool for school, but one sip and you know you were invited to the festivities the whole time. Grab your own pair of tinted sunglasses, walk through the beaded entryway, and let’s dig deep into Skin Contact wines.
What is skin contact wine?
The skin contact winemaking process results in a peachy/tangerine hue which leads people to call it, an “orange wine.” Now most winemakers prefer to call the wine “amber” or “skin contact” wine since when people hear “orange” they think the wine is either made with oranges or tastes of oranges. Not true! It’s still wine, folks, the skin contact wine gets its orange color from white grapes that are fermented with the skins still intact for an extended period.
White wine is produced through a process called must fermentation which means that white grapes are picked then the skins are removed leaving only the juice. Whereas red wine is produced through mash fermentation meaning red grapes are picked and the skins remain a part of the fermentation process. So, in a sense, skin-contact wine is made by using white grapes through a red winemaking process. Woahhhh! Only, with skin contact wines little to no additives, including yeast, are used so it brings forth a nuttiness and funkiness due to the oxidation.
The skin contact wine process seems like a fairly new phenomenon, but surprise! the method has been around for a while, some would say it's ancient. No shade to skin contact, we’re not calling you old. Many speculate the process started 5,000 years ago in the Caucasus region (modern-day Georgia.) According to Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly, wines were fermented in large subterranean vessels called Qvevri – “Kev-ree”, cute! – that were originally closed with stones and sealed with beeswax. Beeswax? Honestly, kind of adorable if you think about it. Now, thanks to the ancient people of Caucasus we have a wine process that results in a deep, elusive orange blush wine that we simply can’t get enough of.
Did anyone say they wanted to go to “Funky Town?” Because depending on your choice of skin contact you can have a light, jackfruit walk in a garden or a robust, nutty, funky experience that’ll make you want to “talk about it, talk about it, talk about it, talk about it!” For people just wanting to dip their toe in the amber pool, I suggest starting with the “baby orange” as I affectionately call it. This is a skin contact that’ll have a lighter appearance in the bottle and is more approachable, some with notes of fleshy apricot and floral notes. Basically, you’re looking for a skin contact that has thinner grape skins and hasn’t had as long a maceration as other skin contact wines. Meaning, the longer the fermentation with the skins the deeper the flavors. Hence, baby orange!
Now if you’re looking for those deeper flavors then head in the Pinot Gris direction. Pinot Gris has a thicker skin which is why it is used for skin contact because it imparts more color and helps you get your funky on. Pinot Gris skin contact wines produce a darker, “Ramato” which means “auburn" in Italian, appearance due to the thicker grape skins. “I’ll have the Ramato beauty with my cheese thank you,” is how I imagine ordering while vacationing in the Italian countryside. Ahh, lovely. Speaking of dream vacations, you’ll have your own getaway with the skin contact pairing experience.
We know that skin contact wines can range from fleshy, floral, with honey aromas to robust, hazelnutty, and deep depending on your choice. It brings forth big tannins similar to rosé or red wine (which is consistent with the skin contact winemaking process) and can offer a bitterness that will cut through sweet dishes or heartier meals like curry. Whether you’re enjoying a brunch of lemon ricotta pancakes or a spicy vegetarian meal, once you pair it with a skin contact wine, your meal is made extraordinary.
At first, skin-contact wines can seem intimidating (like how is it orange? What does it mean?) and unapproachable (Dan from work keeps talking about orange wines and like won’t stop talking about it?), but now you know that it’s a welcoming treat that’s been around for the last 5,000 years waiting for you to enjoy. And look, Dan keeps calling it “orange” wine anyway so he actually knows nothing. It’s “skin-contact” wine, get out of here, Dan! You can also tell Dan that skin contact wine is made by using white grapes through a red winemaking process and really show him. From light, barley golden with light fruit notes to amber with a side of funk, pick your glass and enjoy the special oddity that is skin contact wine.
Author: Cecily Breaux ©