Italian Orange Wine: Defying First Impressions

Italian Orange Wine: Defying First Impressions

Feb 21, 2022Kate Angus

I’ll let you in on a secret: I hated orange wine. I’m ashamed to admit it now, as someone who touts the rewards of trying new and unexpected wine styles. But after trying one or two underwhelming examples, I just didn't get the hype. I thought it was a flash in the pan, a trendy gimmick that capitalized on photogenic, amber-hued bottles. In short, I judged the book by its cover, and I judged it hard. 

But that was before I gave it a real chance. I’m an Italian wine fanatic (huge Nebbiolo gal over here), and what really shifted my opinion was finding out that — while you can find skin-contact white wines made all over the world —there is a long tradition of orange winemaking in Italy. These producers push boundaries while nodding to the past. Here, where there is a unique emphasis on history, tradition, and hyper-locality, winemakers have found the perfect environment to experiment with this ancient method.

In the northern region of Friuli —  home to orange wine icons like Gravner and Radikon — there was a resurgence of enthusiasm for skin-contact winemaking in the 1990s. But the technique is used all across the country, tailored to specific climates, indigenous grapes, and local traditions. With Friulian winemakers continuing to perfect some of the most complex and nuanced orange wines in the country, and trailblazers in Sicily experimenting with their indigenous grapes, Italy is the perfect place to begin your orange wine journey. 

I’ve identified some of our favorite Italian winemakers who continue to push the boundaries of this ancient process and inspire others all over the world to do the same. 

Shop them, and others, here.

Dario Princic, Friuli

Dario Princic is a trailblazer of the resurgence of orange wine in Friuli: after selling his hand-harvested, organic grapes for nearly a decade from his vines in the tiny village of Oslavia, he began experimenting with skin contact techniques in the 1990s and eventually began applying it to his entire operation. 

One of our favorites is his Ribolla Gialla; with 20 days of skin contact and 30 months of oak aging, this bottle is anything but simple. Ribolla Gialla is a native grape to Friuli and Slovenia, and Dario’s vines are over three decades old. All of this combines to create a gorgeous example of Friulian orange wine: deeply amber, structured, and connected to local tradition. 

Paraschos, Friuli

Also based in Oslavia, just steps from the Slovenian border, brothers Alexis and Jannis Paraschos pay tribute to their Greek heritage and unique location by creating gorgeous skin-contact wines that are both cutting-edge and deeply traditional. 

They have clearly taken some cues from their neighbors — like Gravner and Radikon — by aging their wines in huge terracotta amphorae and leaning into skin maceration, but the family business predates those local legends: they are lucky enough to have inherited almost centenarian vines on both sides of the Italian/Slovenian border. Those old vines amplify the complexity, concentration, and finesse you’ll find in the bottle, and are further proof that a long-held connection to the land pays off in a big way.  

Fabio Ferracane, Sicily

Like Friuli, the southern island region of Sicily has also seen a somewhat recent resurgence of enthusiasm for traditional skin-contact techniques in the cellar. For decades, Sicilian wines have been thought of as value-driven, bulk wines with little nuance or finesse, but winemakers like Fabio Ferracane are actively changing the narrative to focus on local tradition and thoughtful winemaking. 

In Fabio’s own words, “true wine is not chemistry but territory.” This is the philosophy that runs clearly through each of his wines, made from organically grown indigenous grapes. Fabio emphasizes the importance of authenticity in his winemaking, making for beautiful and unique expressions of Sicilian wine. 

His “Macerato” is made of 100% Catarratto grapes with extended skin contact and is a sweet tribute to the memories he shares with his grandparents and the style of wines traditional to the Marsala region of Sicily. While we often laud wines for how they serve as expressions of the soil, the terroir, we admire Fabio’s Macerato for how it expresses history. Because in every bottle, you can find his interpretation of the ancient local traditions of his forefathers.

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