On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss the increasing popularity of orange wine. The three discuss the history of the wine, how the path was forged for its success, and what doors orange wine might open for the industry down the line.
On this Friday’s tasting, your hosts try some orange wine for themselves: Skins by Field Recordings. Tune in to learn more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s, New York city headquarters. I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: It is the Friday VinePair Podcast.
Z: Friday, Friday.
A: Friday, man. Oh, we haven’t checked in in a while. It’s been a few weeks.
J: Since what?
A: Since we talked about what TV shows people are watching.
Z: I know.
A: And I’m curious. I have not, as of this recording, seen “The Bear.”
J: Me neither.
A: I know we’re posting a hot take. We published a hot take about it, which I agree with, but I agree with it only because I agree with Tim McCurdy, but I haven’t actually watched the show. Have you seen “The Bear,” Zach?
Z: No, I can’t say that I have.
A: Yeah, it’s everywhere. Keith, have you seen it? Is it great?
Keith Beavers: Excellent.
A: Keith’s in the background, “Excellent!” I mean, people love it. Do you know what it’s about, Zach?
Z: A cook? That’s about as much as I got.
A: Yes. That’s basically it. I mean, it’s funny, though. It just kind of popped up, all of a sudden everyone’s, like… Because it came out a few weeks ago I think, but now, I wonder if it’s because we’re in the dog days of summer and there’s not a lot of prestige TV out there and everyone’s, like, this is prestige TV. Here’s the show to watch. So everyone’s kind of just glommed onto it. I was very disappointed by the “Stranger Things” finale. It was really bad.
J: Keith doesn’t want to hear it.
A: Did Keith watch the “Stranger Things” finale yet?
K: Yes. Twice.
A: It was really bad. Why are they going to keep it going? They should have ended it. We don’t need it to keep going. These kids aren’t going to be kids when they finally film the next thing. And they’ll be geriatric nursing home people.
K: They’re already shooting the next season.
A: It’s stupid. I hope it’s over after this.
K: It is.
A: It better be.
K: This is the penultimate season.
A: I love Keith’s piping in.
Z: This is a hard conversation for those of us who can’t hear Keith very well, but that’s cool.
Z: Which is literally everyone listening to this except you two.
A: I mean, Keith. We’ll talk about it later, Keith, I just finished it last night. I like “Under The Banner of Heaven.” You guys watch that?
A: Oh, great as well, but that’s all I’m watching. What about you guys?
J: What is that?
A: “Under The Banner of Heaven” is based on a true story, about murders that happened in the ’80 in Salt Lake City — Mormon murders. And it is really good. It is really good.
Z: Isn’t it a Jon Krakauer book?
A: Yes, it was. Exactly.
J: That sounds interesting.
A: And it’s really good. Andrew Garfield is the star and he’s excellent. Some of us can handle real drama. Other people, like Keith, only do sci-fi. What about you both, though? Anything?
J: We just finished up the newest season of “Umbrella Academy.”
A: Never seen it.
J: That I really like. Good show.
Z: Well, Adam’s hatred of sci-fi won’t win you any points there.
J: Come on.
A: I love sci-fi. I just have never seen “Umbrella Academy.”
J: Yeah, it’s a good one. And we just started watching the most recent season of “Barry.”
A: Yes. Also good, but also really hard to watch.
J: Yeah, but good. So far.
A: Naomi was saying it’s hard for her to watch that. And it was hard actually for her to watch “Stranger Things” with all of the gun violence now in the country and just how much the guns are romanticized in both shows. It’s been hard for her to be like, yeah, this feels the same.
J: It is a lot of gun violence.
A: It’s a lot of gun violence in “Barry.” And honestly, towards the end of this season of “Stranger Things,” a lot of gun violence in this season of “Stranger Things.” But it’s alien. So I guess. Oh, it’s the ’80s. Sorry, Keith. So in the ’80s, we were cooler with guns, I guess that’s what Keith was trying to say.
J: I think a lot of people are still cool with guns.
A: I know, that’s the problem.
J: Yeah, it’s the problem.
A: What about you, Zach? Anything? What were you watching that was your secret? Your own show?
Z: “The Expanse,” which I’m not anywhere done with because I don’t get very much time to watch things. I have actually made surprising progress on it. So it’s six seasons long and I just finished the fourth season. So we’re getting there. And other than that, it’s watching “Octonauts” with my son who is obsessed with them, which is actually, one thing that I will say is true as someone who has had to consume some amount of kids programming lately is, if you pick well and I think we’ve done a pretty good job, the shows are actually pretty tolerable. We have avoided, I think, some of the most heinous of kids shows at least to my way of reckoning.
J: You skipped “Teletubbies,” you mean?
Z: Oh, I don’t even. That’s probably available somewhere, but no. I mean, I think like “Paw Patrol,” we avoided that. No “Peppa Pig,” none of that nonsense.
A: No “Peppa Pig”? Every little kid who watched “Peppa Pig” starts speaking in a British accent.
Z: That’s just one reason not to watch it.
A: Also, you know my nephew, he speaks in a British accent now because of “Harry Potter.” He’ll go “Hello, how are you, Hermione?” He does it, and he’s gotten really good at it, and he’s 3.
J: That’s amazing.
Z: I mean, it’s how kids learn accents. They hear them, and then they speak like that. Funny, that’s how language acquisition works. Can confirm firsthand.
A: So, wait. Which one do you like? “Octonauts”? OK.
Z: “Octonauts.” It’s very cute, but they are a variety of creatures under the sea helping other sea creatures. It’s cute.
J: You love sea creatures.
Z: Yeah. And they’re weird real sea creatures. I mean, it’s all cartoons, but I mean the sea creatures they uncover are weird ones that even I have not heard of, but are real things that exist. So it’s fun. I mean, there are obviously some that I have heard of, for sure.
J: Like a Nudibranch?
Z: There is a Nudibranch in one of them.
A: What’s a Nudibranch?
Z: I can’t recite the entire thing, there’s four seasons of it.
A: What’s a Nudibranch?
J: I only know what a Nudibranch is because of that restaurant called Nudibranch.
Z: It’s a sea sloth.
J: Joanna’s trying to seem all educated over here.
Z: I mean, we all get our education where we can guys.
A: Hey, by the way, if you’re listening and you just fast-forwarded to the wine part. That’s cool.
Z: We’re here now. We’re here now.
A: So speaking of our topic for today, it’s about orange wine. So I just want to be clear with everybody out there in audio land. This sh*t’s been around for a long time and people are acting like this is a thing all of a sudden. Dude, orange wine has been a thing in New York for a very long time.
J: Oh, I thought you were going to say in the world because it has been.
A: And it also has in the world for a very long time.
J: It’s ancient.
A: But all of a sudden it’s the new hotness and it’s really interesting. And I wonder if people who were promoting it even 10 years ago in New York are like, what the f*ck, man? Like Keith, but I wonder. It’s become really, really popular all of a sudden. We have theories as to why, but before we get into those theories, what are both of your thoughts and feelings on orange wine?
J: I like orange wine. I’ve had great experiences with orange wine, even up to a few years ago where I was interested in trying something different on a menu and it was available and it was something I’d never had before. And actually that makes me wonder, how was marketing orange wine 10 years ago here and were people receptive to it? Because I feel, and we’ll talk about this obviously, but I feel like there’s a new openness to orange wine. Maybe that didn’t exist before because of the natural wine phenomenon that we’ve witnessed.
A: Well, I’m curious if Zach’s OK with this. Hey Keith, can you turn on your mic and tell us what it was like to try to sell orange wine 10 years ago?
K: Oh, sure.
J: Keith, wake up.
A: Keith, wake up.
K: Yeah, it was hard.
A: But what do you think made it hard?
Z: Actually, wait, let me ask a question. What orange wines were you trying to sell? Because I think that’s a really interesting part of this, too.
K: Well at the time, the only orange wines available were from Europe.
J: Like Georgia.
A: And Slovenia.
K: Specifically Slovenia and Croatia and Georgia and stuff like that, but on the market…
A: Like Kabaj.
K: Well Kabaj was the only one because at the time, Blue Danube was an import company and was the only import company that was selling wines from this part of the world. And I loved this stuff and my restaurant was a hundred percent Italian and I decided that political borders don’t matter. Slovenia is also a great part of this terroir and other places like that so I got Kabaj and I had CV Pinot Noir.
A: You had Movia.
K: I had Movia. I had Radikon at one point, but whatever. It’s too expensive and dumb.
A: You had Gravner.
K: I had Gravner, never sold it. Also drank it myself. Too expensive and dumb.
J: So how did you sell it to people?
K: So, for the Kabaj, the price point was right. You see Radikon and those wines are way too expensive. So the Kabaj wines were extremely affordable. And what I did is I actually had one by the glass and then I would actually walk around my restaurant when I had them in and I talked to the customers and helped them. I said, there’s this wine called orange wine, it’s ancient and this is how it’s done. And it’s a really great wine for food. It’s like a red wine, but it’s white. And they’re like, what does that mean? And I would taste them on it and I would taste them, I could give them like a Pinot Grigio. Then I’d give them a CV Pinot, which is Pinot Grigio, skin contact. And they were floored. They loved it. Everyone always loved orange wine. I mean, specifically it was Kabaj, but it was such a well-balanced wine that people loved it. But when they left my restaurant, I don’t think they sought it out.
A: They couldn’t find it, it wasn’t everywhere else.
K: Yeah. So it was a tough sell, but which is just so weird that now, I mean you can’t.
A: It’s everywhere.
K: I went to a wine shop yesterday because we did a wine class and I was picking up Sauvignon Blancs and they have an orange wine section. I’ve never seen an orange wine section in a wine shop.
Z: Isn’t there at least one wine shop in New York that’s only orange wine?
Z: I feel like I saw a press release.
K: It’s called Skin Contact. It’s downtown.
J: Well there’s Skin Contact, but there’s—
A: There’s a place called Amber, right? Or no?
K: I guess there’s a couple now, dang.
J: Orange Glou.
A: Orange Glou, yeah. That’s right.
K: OK, I’ll just mute myself now.
J: Thanks, Keith.
A: Thanks Keith. Yeah, it’s funny because I remember being introduced to orange wine through Keith, really enjoying it, but not seeing it that often. And so because you had Anfora in the West Village, which was Joe Campanelli’s spot. He made two podcasts in a row. We’re talking about Joe Campanelli, what’s up, Joe? But he had this wine bar that he doesn’t own anymore, but he was one of the early evangelists, Keith was really up on it. You had people like Patrick who owns Ruffian, who was one of the early bar managers there. Not Ruffians. I mean, Ruffians still has a lot of orange wine. They were like some OG people really pushing orange wine in New York, but it wasn’t pervasive. And so then you would go to other places and it wasn’t on the list. Now, I mean, it’s crazy. Most restaurants I go to, they put it in their rosé section. It’ll say orange and pink or, you know, skin contact, and it’s really, really crazy that that’s what exists now. Like last night when I was at dinner at this restaurant, the wine list was whites, skin contact, red. And this was a new American spot, it’s really, really crazy. And the only thing that I can explain its rise is natural wine. That’s the only way I can explain its rise. But they’re so different.
J: They are so different, I think. Well, some are, I think.
A: So many of the orange wines that I drank, to be fair, were much cleaner. They were not funky wines. There’s just another ancient method.
Z: Well, I mean, I would say that, well, gosh, where to start here. I think there’s a couple of things that have happened that have helped propel orange wine. I think one of them is undeniably that the natural wine movement, whether or not you are an enthusiast of it, has generally speaking opened people’s minds, I guess, to wines whose flavors are not what people typically think of. And I think for orange wine to land with people, they have to be kind of willing to take that chance. And whether it’s doing what Keith described, which I’ve done in restaurants, too, which is just pour people a taste and be like here, trying this and that works, or just again an openness to it and people are excited about it. I also think that one thing that works for a lot of orange wines, and the reason why so many of the things you’ve described, Adam, some of the places were a natural landing point for people, restaurants, wine bars, stuff like that is that a lot of these wines go really well with a really wide array of foods. They’re extremely food friendly because they’re so savory, they don’t rely on fruit character much to carry the flavor of the wine. And that makes them both, I think, very useful as a pairing tool, but also the kind of wine that is going to connect for people in a restaurant, but they might struggle with at home or they might not think to pick up because it isn’t, for a lot of people still in this country, they don’t think about buying wine solely as something to have with food. They think about drinking a glass of wine when they get off work or thinking about having a glass of wine after dinner, when they’re watching one of the many shows we discussed or all the other ones out there. And it’s not that, unless you have a developed kind of taste for these wines, they might not pop to you in that setting, but they will at the table with a wide range of foods. I think the last piece of this that I will add is, I think they, and you kind of hinted at this, Adam, when you were talking about how you’ve seen some of these wines categorized in shops and in wine lists, is they’re sort of a post-rosé thing. Obviously, rosé is still extremely popular, but for someone who, I guess, kind of enjoyed the trendiness of rosé and is now like, well, everyone drinks rosé, hopping over to some other category, which isn’t really related other than that it’s an unusual color and it’s sort of-
J: It’s not red or white.
Z: It’s the inverse of rosé. It’s a white wine made like a red wine as opposed to a red wine made like a white wine, but it does give someone something to feel like they’re ahead of trend. And you’re like, I like orange wine in the same way that, five years ago, maybe, you’re like, I like pink wine. I don’t know what other colors we can add to that spectrum. Probably not very many, but I do think that’s a part of it, too. But yes, the idea of natural wine is something that allowed people to not kind of just stray outside of their preexisting comfort zone, has undeniably given legs to this category.
A: I think that’s right.
J: I remember I was in London, maybe five or six years ago with my mom and we were at Ottolenghi, and they had on their wine list, they had the red section and they had the white section and they had the colorblind section, which I thought was kind of interesting, kind of weird to think about now, but there were orange wines in that section and we got one because I think I will sooner order a bottle of orange wine for people like my parents or my friends who aren’t into natural wine. And because I know more reliably that it’ll be something that they can enjoy versus ordering something that’s like a natural wine, which could be funky and could be very different to a palate that’s not accustomed to it. I think I tell this story all the time, but one time I ordered a bottle of natural wine for my friend and I and she was like, “I think this wine is spoiled. It’s bad,” because it was funky, like that kind of wine. But I think to your earlier point, Zach, orange wine is really wonderful in that way. And I think a lot of people don’t know about it, but it’s one that can bring a lot of people into the category.
Z: Well, and when you see it go into the glass, you know, “OK, I’m in for something different.” You can’t get poured this and be like, what do you mean this isn’t white wine? Even if you have no frame of reference for wine, other than knowing that whites, rosés, and red wines exist, this is none of those. And so you’re going to perhaps come at it with a more open mind because it doesn’t look like wine you’re familiar with.
A: I mean, so I think one of the things that’s really interesting for me is if you think about maybe why it didn’t pop off 10 years ago, we’re talking about rosé, right? So rosé really hadn’t. It was just starting, so it was competing against rosé. You had this and so rosé was the much easier sell that time. So, OK, cool we’re kind of in this world of like a red wine sort of made like a white, but with a little bit of skin contact. So keep it beautiful, all that stuff. So you had that. Then for the hip kids, they found Pét-Nat first. And so Pét-Nat was like the sparkling wine because we all love bubbles, but this is ancient bro. So we’re going to be on that Pét-Nat kick.
J: Pét-Nat came first?
A: In terms of being everywhere, right? And then we started seeing it all over the place, especially in, again, cities. Let’s recognize that the majority of America probably still doesn’t have a lot. Just like all over the place doesn’t have Pét-Nat. Pét-Nat, for sure, is all in the top restaurants, even in cities. I’m going to pick on it because it’s Alabama, but in Birmingham, all the great restaurants there definitely have Pét-Nats. But you’re not going to find a Pét-Nat in Auburn, where I’m from. Maybe in one restaurant, but they’re still doing Champagnes and Proseccos and stuff, which is fine. But in the big, urban centers, Pét-Nat came first and there’s all these sparkling sections. Now I think people have been like, “Oh, I know what Pét-Nat is.” Then you have to try to be in the space where everyone’s like, “Pét-Nat sucks, why are we trying to make Pét-Nat happen?” You know, it’s funny. Even upstairs, we had some Pét-Nat sent to us and a few of our colleagues were like “Oh yeah, I don’t like Pét-Nat.” Just, no one’s into it.
J: I don’t think it caught on.
A: It didn’t catch on. People tried to make it happen. It didn’t happen. And then I think everyone was like, “OK, well I guess we got to come back to orange wine.” And that’s what happens. Everyone came back to it and it became this thing that was, it is different enough that it feels special and cool. But yeah, it doesn’t cause you to have to learn a new grape and say that grape, everyone’s now drinking Xinomavro. It’s not happening. A lot of people should be drinking Xinomavro but we can’t remember the name, etc., but we can all drink a wide category of orange wine. Categories have a lot easier of a time, I think, really becoming very popular amongst American consumers than just one specific grape varietal, etc. And then natural wine as an idea sounds good because it’s natural. But as we’re all saying, natural has so much, loosely defined stuff to it that it’s like playing Russian roulette; you might get a really bad bottle and then just be very upset. Which, for the most part, that doesn’t seem to happen with orange wine and so people are really into it and it makes you feel cool and different and like you’re up on the trend without having to really challenge what could be a bad bottle. But I think it took so long because there was other stuff that was easier to get into first. And now it’s at its time.
J: Yeah, I think natural wine paved the way for orange wine to have its moment right now and I think maybe enough people got burned by gross natural wine that they’re like, OK, orange wine is actually good.
A: Yeah, which is crazy. Because, again, it’s just, people have been doing it for a while. What’s really interesting now about it, though, is that you now have this whole camp of people again, it’s just the bubble. But I don’t know if you’re hearing this as well in Seattle, Zach, but now that it’s become popular, there’s this whole camp of people who are like, “I only drink orange wine from the places where it’s always been made.”
J: Oh, really?
A: Oh yeah. I’m hearing that now. Like, “I only drink orange wine from the countries and from places that have always made orange wine, I don’t think we should be making orange wine in Paso.” Seriously because it’s like…
J: They’re purists.
A: They’re purists. And this is, look, there’s always going to be a gross part of wine, a part of wine where people are just like, “I only drink indigenous varietals now.” I’m like, “OK, good for you. That’s more delicious sh*t for me.” But I really feel like you’re seeing this little bit of blowback again for the same reasons. But we happen to have an orange wine, not from a traditional region. We’re all going to drink an orange wine from Paso.
A: Zach, as well as Joanna and I here in the studio, have a bottle called Skins by Field Recordings who are a very cool producer from Paso. Have you had this wine before? Ours is 2020, Zach. What’s yours?
A: Cool. Have you had this before?
Z: Not this wine, no.
J: I have.
A: I have as well, I really like it.
J: I like Field Recordings.
A: Have you had other Field Recordings, Zach?
Z: I think I have tried a couple of the other wines, but not those skins.
A: It pours quite… That’s the other thing, too, is in the early aughts and then around 2010 or whatever, I really noticed that a lot of people actually weren’t calling it orange wine. They were calling it amber wine.
Z: Well, I think everyone was trying to figure out what term they could use that would get people to try it. And then orange wine has stuck the best. And actually I prefer it to skin contact because skin contact is such an ill defined term, it’s hard to explain to people and, OK, how much skin contact are we actually talking about here because obviously there’s a huge range. And whereas when you describe the color of the wine in the glass, I think it’s a lot more comprehensible to the average person. It looks orange. That’s a good way to describe it.
A: This is very Amber in color. So this is 41 percent Chenin Blanc, 37 percent Pinot Gris, 9 percent Albariño, 8 percent Verdejo, 5 percent Riesling and it’s obviously skin fermented. So it says, I’m trying to see if there’s any other… Light chill, infinite number of possible pairings, 12.1 percent alcohol. I mean, let’s taste it. It smells great.
Z: So what I’m curious about, what I want to ask you guys about that I was thinking about in the vein of this conversation is, so in addition to sort of talking about why this staff has become popular and sort of talking about how I think it’s particularly versatile at the table, I’m also wondering if there’s going to be any sort of trickle down benefits to other categories and the one in particular I’m thinking of, and I know, Adam, you’re already pre-rolling your eyes at me is sherry. Because one of the big barriers for sherry, especially some of the oxidative styles, like oloroso sherry, has been that there’s been no contacts for those wines in the American palate. They are nutty and weird and dry and people don’t really know what to do with them, but honestly, if you like orange wine, you’ll probably like oloroso sherry for the most part. Not that it’s going to suddenly become this huge category, but it is a thing that I think about a lot when I think about this category and if it’s ever going to have a chance, it would seem to be in the wake of orange wine becoming more and more popular.
Z: Yeah, OK, we know your feelings about sherry. Joanna?
A: I love sherry, I just think it’s going to be hard.
J: You think that orange wine can pave the way for sherry?
Z: Well, for, especially the oloroso style, like an oxidative, nuttier style that’s dry, that’s not a dessert sherry.
J: I mean, I think maybe.
Z: There’s just a lot of crossover.
J: Maybe we’ll continue to see it popping up in cocktails and cocktail menus, but I don’t know on its own.
Z: That’s not what I mean, I don’t mean it as a component in a drink. I mean as a wine that people drink.
A: I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
J: I’m trying.
Z: But if people want to drink wine from the places that it’s originally from, Adam, what’s more authentic than sherry?
A: You know what? Never say never.
Z: We have people out there listening, taking notes. I can hear you.
A: Yeah. Never say never, but I just think it’s going to be much harder than other stuff, but we’ll see. But I like this wine a lot.
J: I like this wine a lot, too.
A: Yeah, man. Thanks, Field Recordings.
Z: The other thing that this wine does really well, too, is, and I think this is where we almost come back to some of the conversation about natural wine even if it’s not a stylistic thing in terms of the wine, it’s also the label is really well done. It’s got a design aesthetic that makes it stand out and it’s a thing that connects it to a lot of other trends in beverage and design generally, I think. Even if orange wine has been popular, or at least known, in New York for a while and obviously has been made globally for millennia, what makes it pop now, too, is it can connect to the trend because it is a way of making wine. It’s not a single variety. It’s not a one place kind of thing. And so you can be a producer in Paso or wherever and you can say, “OK, I have this idea. I want to make this wine. I think I can make the wine well, and I can center my design around an aesthetic that works for people and that is going to be compelling to them.”
J: I mean I feel the same way about Kabaj, right?
J: Similarly appealing.
A: Yes. Very much similarly appealing. And I think people will be like, “Oh yeah, I’m down with this.” I mean, I do agree with what you’re saying, Zach, where, I mean, I find this very tasty on its own, but it definitely is better with food. The tannins are much more aggressive than you would expect for a white, but this is an orange which, I think people will get used to. But I also think the label is really incredible. And it’s funny, I was walking through Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and there was this very trendy restaurant that was closed. We kind of looked in and behind the bar, in the back bar, was just skin, skin, skin, skin, skins. And you could see, I mean, it was closed, it was during the day. They were probably only open for dinner. And I was like, “Yeah, that’s cool.” And the fact that the label looks so cool is why the restaurant then wants to put it up on the back bar and really display it, so it wasn’t like, it was like one of 20 wines back there. That was the wine on the bar. And then they had all liquor bottles and it’s because it looks cool.
Z: You think our friends at Stems and Skins are contractually obligated to have this wine on the list at all times?
A: Who knows? Probably. If you have an orange wine you love, hit is up, firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know if you make an orange wine and you want us to try it, hit us up at email@example.com. Love to check it out, and I’ll talk to you both on Monday.
J: Have a great weekend.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.