Amber wine, also called orange or skin-contact wine, is made by allowing the skins and seeds of white grapes to stay in contact with their juice in the early phase of winemaking. The process pulls color from the skins, so depending on the length of contact, produces wines in hues that range from light amber to sunset orange. The maceration also extracts tannins and polyphenols, yielding wines that are more structured and savory than their white counterparts.
A simpler way to put it: amber wines are white wines made like red wines.
Amber wine is newly ascendant, but the style dates back millennia. It arose in the Caucasus region of Georgia about 8,000 years ago, where it was traditionally made in buried clay vessels called qvevri. Amber wine also has a long history in Eastern Europe (although it took a hit during the Soviet period), and the northern border of the Adriatic. It fell out of favor during the 20th century as global producers began to modernize and industrialize their practices, introducing stainless steel and temperature control to create crisp, fresh white wines to suit international tastes.
About two decades ago, a group of producers in Friuli and the bordering Slovenian region of Brda began experimenting once again with skin-contact winemaking. Sourcing authentic qvevri from Georgia, they fermented their own regional grapes like Pinot grigio, Ribolla gialla, and Friulano. The first experiments shocked the wine world, and producers were ridiculed for reverting to a rustic, ancient style. But today, winemakers throughout the world are using the technique with great success, making both still and sparkling versions.
Amber wines are true gastronomy wines because of their textural heft and firm acidity. Although flavors and aromas vary according to grape variety, maceration times, and aging vessels, the wines often have a sense of both fresh and dried stone fruit and a flowery lift. Orange wines are great with aged cheeses, lighter meats, and poultry; I find them perfect for the Thanksgiving table.