Skin contact wine is exactly what it sounds like: wine that has come in contact with the skins of grapes. Perhaps less obvious is the “why?” — which is to extract pigments and tannins from the grapes, which will ultimately determine the wine’s appearance, texture, and flavor.
All red wine is skin-contact wine because that’s where the wine gets its color. When red grapes are crushed, their juice runs clear; it’s only from that juice soaking with the skins that it becomes red. Rosé, as well, gets its color from skin contact: It’s a brief soak with the skins, often as little as 12 hours, which gives rosé its pink hue.
However, when you hear the term “skin-contact wine,” wine professionals are rarely talking about red or rosé, since making these wines through this technique is the norm. If skin contact is specifically mentioned, it’s much more likely they’re talking about white wine. That’s right, white wines can be, and sometimes are, made using skin contact.
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While normal practice when it comes to making white wine is to separate the juice immediately from the skins, sometimes, especially in the winemaking regions of Slovenia, Georgia, and parts of northern Italy, the winemaker instead chooses to let the juice of the white wine grapes soak with the skins. The result is a white wine with a much higher amount of tannins, a bit of oxidation, and a hue that is often referred to as appearing orange or amber, hence the term “orange wine.” The result is a funkier, earthier style of white wine that drinks a bit more like a red.
The next time you see the term “skin contact” on a wine list, give it a go! It’s not a style for everyone, but you might discover that you really love it.