Wine Colour and What it Means

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Recognising wine colour is not a problem is it? It’ll be red, white or pink! Well, yes but, red wine ranges from bright purple to faded garnet. White can be lemon-green to burnished gold and we are advised that rosé can have 21 different hues.

So, if we really think about it, wine colour can be as debatable as anything else in wine. Hearing professional tasters discussing colour can further confuse wine enthusiasts and make them wonder about its relevancy.

I am writing this post to suggest that understanding a little about a wine’s colour can alter the taste perception of the drinker and enhance the overall experience.

I promise that I won’t get very technical in the rest of this post (and it is a technical topic), but I do want to explain why a wine’s colour can tell you a lot about the wine you’ll be drinking.

A wine’s colour can tell you a lot about the wine you’ll be drinking - Donal Morris, Green Acres, Wexford Click To Tweet

Where Does Wine Colour Come From?

Colour is an important part of your wine tasting experience, and what it tells you goes beyond red, white, or pink. The first thing to understand is that wine colour comes from the skins of the grape.

When you press or squeeze almost any grape, even the black (red) ones, the juice is somewhere between colourless and golden. After any variety of grape is pressed, you’re left with juice and the skins.

If you’re making a white wine, you remove the skins quickly so that they won’t add colour. If you’re making anything else, then the skins can remain in that juice. Then the colour seeps out of the skins (and seeds by the way) and thereby add colour to the liquid.

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Image by Sergio Infantes Gª from Pixabay

Even Before We Smell or Sip, We Drink with Our Eyes.

As a result, the colour of each wine tells us a lot about what is in our glass and the style of the winemaker. The first step in tasting a wine happens before you actually taste the wine! When poured, just look at the wine and try to get a sense of its colour.

When doing this, many people like to hold their glass of wine against a white background, as that helps you see the hue of the colour more easily. So, let’s look at what we might tell by spending a few seconds observing wine colour.

  • White Wine Colours

It’s more than likely to be a shade of yellow. But is it very light and bright or is it more like a straw colour? If the former, then they haven’t had much skin contact and they are usually crisp and refreshing. If it is a darker/deeper yellow, it will be more smooth, fuller and richer.

  • Red Wine Colours

Similar to white wine there are different shades or red. If the colour is light red/pinkish it should taste light and bright. As the hue gets darker (maroon/purple) the red will become more bolder and richer. Usually, these types of red have been aged in an oak barrel.

Colour is your first indicator of taste. Simply put, it gives a sense of what’s to come.

Colour is your first indicator of taste. Simply put, it gives a sense of what's to come - Green acres, Wexford Click To Tweet

It is worth mentioning here that as well as grape skins imparting colour, they have a lot of their own characteristics (think the zesty skin of a lemon, or the fibre of an apple skin). So, the longer the skin of a grape is in contact with the wine, the more of its own characteristics it imparts.

To finish this section, I should also mention that colour changes as a wine ages. White wines are generally not made to last long and will become dull and more orange over time. Reds become browner and eventually also start to look dull. At that point, they may be too old to drink.

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Image by Alessandro Squassoni from Pixabay

The Colour of a Wine is Part of What Makes it Unique and Beautiful.

As I outlined above, all grape juice starts off colourless (white). I also alluded to the fact that the amount of time that the juice spends with the grape skins determines its colour. There are many other methods of influencing wine colour such as acidity, but to keep it simple here are two:

Tannins: Tannins can influence wine colour in two ways – either from oak barrels or from the grape skin/seeds. In most red wines, the grape derived tannins will contribute the majority (> 90%) of the total pool of tannins. Tannins have also the ability to stabilise wine colour.

Winemaker’s Artistry: In red wine, colour is a major factor in determining its mouthfeel and ability to age. By considering how colour functions in wine throughout the winemaking process, producers can make choices that determine its stability, mouthfeel, and longevity.

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What Does Wine Colour Tell Us About the Grape Variety and Flavour?

Now I would like to provide you with a list of the various grapes and a colour/shade that I would associate with them. There will be other descriptions, but these are what I relate to.

 White Wines

  • Chardonnay | Gold
  • Chenin Blanc | Pale Gold
  • Pinot Grigio | Pale Lemon
  • Sauvignon Blanc | Lemon
  • Sémillon | Deep Gold

Rosé Wines

  • Grenache | Ruby Red
  • Merlot | Pale Pink
  • Petite Verdot | Deep Salmon
  • Syrah | Pink
  • Tempranillo | Salmon

Red Wines

  • Cabernet Sauvignon | Deep Ruby
  • Gamay | Pale Ruby
  • Pinot Noir | Ruby
  • Syrah | Medium Purple
  • Tempranillo | Garnet

Other than humans determining what wine colour means, berry colour is largely responsible for grapevines’ ability to survive the throes of evolution. 

wine-colour-glass-orange
Image by 955169 from Pixabay

Conclusion

How a wine looks like is generally called its ‘appearance’. Colour is the main observation when analysing a wine’s appearance, but not the only one. Observing a wine also entails looking at:

Clarity: is it clear and translucent? Intensity: how deep and intense is the wine and its colour? Why is this important?

Because no one likes to put something in his/her mouth and be confronted with a taste that is not expected. If you’re too surprised when tasting, chances are you will have a negative opinion of the wine.

Wine colour ranges from brown to purple, lemon to amber, from salmon to shocking pink, and every shade in between. Such a variety of colour can reveal a lot about a wine – but also a sense of discovery and enhanced enjoyment.

If you would like to order wine or discuss any terms mentioned in this post please email me to donal@greenacres.ie or ring us on  +353 (0) 53 91 22975. Enjoy the the wine your with.

#maskingforafriend – Talk Soon – Donal.

christmas wine bottle and glass