What makes wine different colours?

How would you describe the colour of a wine? Complicated, right? Behind the common denominators of “red, white, rosé” lies a more complex truth to the colour of a wine.

wine colour barrel

Personally, I will always remember my very first official wine tasting, in which I was presented 9 different white wines to analyse and compare. My first impression was not expected: how can you regroup such different looking wines under the same banner, “white wine”? Behind the common “white” denomination actually stood wines ranging from pale yellows and greens to dark brownish colours, going through the delicate colour nuances of golds / straw / honey or jasmine. Why was that so?

In fact, I quickly learned that the colour of a wine is the result of many different criteria that, brought together, inform on the wines identity – and here are a few of these criteria:

Processing

Simple yet so true: wines take on the colour that wine producers want to give to them! Why? All grapes (including red-looking ones) have white juice inside them, and what gives the red or white colour to a wine depends on the colour of their skin and how that skin will “dye” the wine (in wine jargon, we talk about the tannins going into the pressed juice).

So, take the colour difference between a rose and a red for instance: if you want to make a rose, you will keep the skins in the juice for a short time in the fabrication process to provide a partial transfer of tannins; for reds, however, you will keep the skins longer to make sure all the colour is transferred. That’s technically the difference between a rose and a red!

 

 

Grape variety

Of course, the type of grape you put into the wine will have a direct impact on your colour: when looking at young wines, wine connoisseurs can predict the grape variety by looking at the colour alone – this is what we call “primary” colours. Chardonnay wines, for instance, start life with a pale yellow / lemon-green colour, instantly recognisable.  

 

Age

A wine’s colour also evolves with age. Reds lose their vibrant & flashy colour intensity and tend to move towards dark, brick red, while whites similarly evolve towards deeper browns and darker gold colours. Continuing on the example of Chardonnay: they tend to evolve to a much darker & richer colour of yellow gold.

The colours of a wine are deep, nuanced and beautiful – and have a link to how the wine was actually made. It is most importantly always the first way to truly enjoy the wine you have in front of you, bringing curiosity and impatience to your tasting experience. Enjoy and savour!

 

Article by Raphaël Bardin

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