Are you expert enough to tell a wine by its color?
One of the more complex elements to wine is it color, which can range from almost clear to a deep, rich red. Wine experts use terminology to describe a wine’s color that includes straw, yellow, gold, brown, amber, copper, salmon, pink, ruby, purple, garnet and tawny.
How Does a Wine Get its Color?
Wine grapes come in two colors: green and black—which we know as red. Since the pulp of a most grapes is generally transparent, the wine takes it color from the grape’s skin. From white wine grapes, the flavonoids give wine is color, while in red wine grapes, it is the anthocyanin compounds that serve that purpose.
Each type of grape, the growing season, and where the grape was grown can all have an impact on its color. Even the soil’s pH level comes into play—the lower the soil’s pH level, the lighter the pigment, while the higher pH indicates a darker color, higher tannin and acidity levels, and a longer aging potential.
In simple terms, a wine’s color is achieved by the amount of time the juice from the crushed grapes remains in contact with the skins. For white wines, minimal contact produces a clear or light green product, and more contact results in the straw, yellow, bold, brown, amber and copper coloration. Whites can even take on an orange tone when faded and aged with oxygen. Most, but not all, white wines are made from green grapes. They are processed quickly to avoid long contact with grape skins and oxygen, which can add to browning.
Rosé wines take their color from the red grape skins. The lighter-colored White Zinfandel and White Merlot also achieve their coloration from red grape skins, with minimal contact. Blush wines are created when the green grape’s juice is combined with red wine to create a pink wine.
Most of a wine’s color is extracted in the first few days, and the color saturation drops off significantly after a week. The barrel can also influence the wine’s color.
Color can be added to a wine with the introduction of grapes or grape products. For example, blending a wine with a darker grape or wine, either at the start of the process with young wines, or when finishing wines for bottling. Less often, a grape concentrate can be added to deepen the color.
Color and Aging
Wines can be aged in either stainless steel tanks or oak barrels. Stainless steel is preferred to create an environment devoid of oxygen, which aids in preserving color, fruitiness and freshness. Wines aged in oak barrels take on a deeper hue, like a warm, caramel tint.
In general, a white wine will become darker as it ages, a Rosé will turn orange tint, and a red wine will get lighter due to the natural breakdown of tannins. When a red wine turns orange, and then brown, it is past its best drinking time.
The Influence of Tannins
Tannins are important to form the basic structure of a red wine, and determine its longevity in the bottle. A thin and pale grape, like the Pinot Noir tends to have fewer tannins, while a Cabernet Sauvignon grape has a very thick skin with more tannins. To help preserve color stability, tannins can be added during fermentation.
You may be able to determine the tannin levels by the wine’s color. Dark red wines have a richer tannin texture, while bright reds are lighter-bodied and more fruity; yellow or white wines are dry while golden yellows are fuller-bodied.
Tannins are what give a wine its dry taste, and the more tannins in a wine, the heavier it feels. Tannins are derived from the grape’s skin, or in smaller amounts, can come from seeds, stems, oak and additives. They act as a grape’s natural sunscreen—the more light the grape receives, the more tannins the skins produce.
Knowing more about the wines you drink only adds to their enjoyment. Try sampling the rainbow of wine colors to determine your favorites.