Recently, to pair with sushi at a friend’s house, I brought an orange wine made from Virginia-grown viognier grapes. My friend looked at me quizzically and asked, “Is this wine made from oranges, or is it the color orange?”

The wine was in fact orange. While fairly pervasive among wine aficionados over the last couple of decades, orange wine is a style that continues to make in-roads into the mainstream. Sometimes pinkish, other times amber or a deep copper hue, this style derives from white grapes, in which their skins and seeds are left in to macerate (and sometimes ferment) with the grape juice, imbuing the wine with its telltale color, which deepens the longer it remains “on the skins.” Also known as skin-contact white wine, orange wine is produced the world over — and has been for centuries.

Modern history

Orange wine’s origins point back some 8,000 years to the sixth century BCE in the republic of Georgia, where wine was aged underground in ancient clay vessels called qvevri (or amphorae). The wine aged with the skins, imparting an orange hue and richer flavor. About 40 years ago, two winemakers — Radikon and Gravner from the town of Oslavia in the Collio wine region in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in Italy’s northeast corner along the border of Slovenia — experimented with this ancient winemaking process and introduced it to the modern world, according to Doreen Winkler, owner of New York’s Orange Glou wine shop and wine club, which specializes in these wines exclusively.

These days, while Radikon, Gravner, and a small group of renowned Collio winemakers may claim to make some of the world’s most sought-after bottles — often crafted from local ribolla gialla or friulano grapes — orange wine production has found its way around the globe and is now made from South Africa to Oregon’s Willamette Valley to Australia. What once was a hip trend favored by wine geeks, orange wines now attract anyone interested in discovering new flavors.

What to look for

“For a lot of people, it comes to a pursuit of new experiences,” said Emily Kovach, co-owner of Port Richmond’s Lunar Inn and Tiny Bottle Shop, which both offer orange wines. “Orange wine allows you to experience white wine varietals you know [like pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc], but it’s about exploring new flavors and textures, [to] drive people to find things outside of the mainstream.”

“The easiest thing to get into is sparkling wine,” said Winkler, who suggests starting with a pétillant naturel, more casually known as pét-nat. “Pét-nat is the gateway to others.”

Generally slightly effervescent with some cloudiness, these orange wines tend to fall to the lighter side of the spectrum. Think of flavors like kombucha, cider, or a sour beer and you get an idea, according to Chloe Grigri, owner of the Good King Tavern and Le Caveau wine bar off South Street, where she regularly rotates orange wines by the glass.

Beyond pét-nats, orange wines come in a wide range of flavors, colors, and styles from white grapes like pinot grigio, viognier, malvasia, and rkatsiteli, one of Georgia’s oldest grapes. As beautifully light pink rosé wines have gained popularity recently, imparting crisp, dry wine with notes of strawberry, watermelon, and stone fruit, orange wines often resemble rosé in color, but are often produced with minimal intervention or manipulation.

“My favorite thing to tell people is rosé is to red wine as white wine is to skin-contact,” Grigri said. “It’ll be more structured. You’ll find more tannins than white wine. And with the flavor profile, you get nuttiness, umami, earthy, mushroom, savory notes.” These wines can taste bitter, barnyardy (that is, funky), and musty, or just plain dry and tannic to some. But others enjoy the robust mouthfeel, honey and nutty notes, even savory herbal flavors that skin-contact white wines offer.

“There’s a wide range of fruit [flavors] you’ll find,” says Grigri, “but often you can have macerated golden apple skin that’s zippier, pear, orchard fruit, peachy sometimes. The category is expansive.”

How to enjoy orange wine

When seeking out orange wines at a store or wine bar, there’s one helpful question to ask: “How long was it on the skins?” Grigri said. “That determines the body, structure, flavors, and more.”

That’s an important thing to know, depending on what you normally enjoy in a wine. If you like a full-bodied buttery chardonnay or fruit-driven pinot noir, which tend to be smoother bodied with little tannin structure, know that these wines see relatively little (if any) maceration time on the skins, so a deeply savory or astringent skin-contact wine may not be for you. Orange wine styles run the gamut, and can be particularly enjoyable when paired with food, too. They’re fantastic with “happy hour foods,” like olives, cheese, nuts, and cured meats, Kovach said. But you can go well beyond — the complexity of texture and flavors in these wines, from umami to fruity, make them an interesting dance partner.

“Fried chicken with sparkling orange wines,” Winkler said. “But also ramen or sushi with lighter skin-contact wines. I see a lot of seafood like garlic shrimp — even pork, roasted turkey, roasted vegetables. The list goes on.”

While orange wines may seem esoteric, don’t feel intimidated. The deeper you explore, the more fun you can have.

“What I say to people who may seem unnerved or not ready to jump into the deep end of weirdo wines is you can find a wine that’s just a little orange,” Kovach said. “It doesn’t have to be super funky or a tannic bomb or where all the fruit character has been smudged away. They can be really cool and a lot of orange wines can be juicy and fresh. It’s what people love about white wine — but you turn up the volume.”

Five orange wines to seek out

Due to the small-production nature of these wines, demand often outstrips supply. We recommend chatting with your local wine stewards or shop associates for bottles that fit a similar flavor profile.

Radikon

Oslavia, Collio, Italy

A number of Radikon’s wines, such as the Oslavje (a blend of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc) and the ribolla gialla, can be found around Philadelphia, including a.kitchen+bar, Di Bruno Bros., and 320 Market Cafe. Some consider these natural skin-contact wines to be the pinnacle in the category, so when you see one at a shop or on a wine list, grab it, as stock fluctuates. Prices vary, radikon.it/en

Stinson Vineyards “Wildkat”

Crozet, Virginia

This just-released wine from the ancient varietal rkatsiteli offers a deep copper color that leads to honey and brown sugar notes. With decent tannins, it’s a savory and earthy wine that can stand up to slightly spicy foods. $28.99, stinsonvineyards.com

Matic Pinot Gris

Štajerska, Slovenia

Wines from Georgia and Slovenia really showcase the ancient roots of skin-contact wines, according to Chloe Grigri. She says this aromatic Slovenian pinot gris “tastes like apples dipped in fresh wildflower honey.” $27, Bloomsday Cafe, 267-319-8018, 414 S. Second St., bloomsdaycafe.com

Meinklang Graupert Pinot Gris

Austria

A naturally cloudy, medium-bodied wine produced biodynamically without any additives, graupert means wild or tangled, a hint at how these grapes are grown. You’ll find notes of nectarine, apricot, and orange zest, wild flowers and herbs in this complex, aromatic wine. $35, Orange Glou, orangeglou.com

Camuna Cellars skin-contact Seyval Blanc

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

This Philadelphia winemaker sources fruit from around the Mid-Atlantic to produce wine, including this 100% seyval blanc from Virginia. It’s medium-bodied, bright, and refreshing with notes of hazelnut, dried apricot, and grapefruit. $28, Camuna Cellars, camunacellars.com