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Why Color Matters with Wine

It’s okay to like some wine colors more than others. You may prefer white, red, or rosé (blush) wines. The winemaking process and the color of the grape determine whether a wine will be white, red, or rosé.

White wine

White wine is wine without any red color. Yellow wines, golden wines, and wines that are as pale as water are all called white wines.

Wine becomes white wine in one of two ways:

  • White wine can be made from white grapes. White grapes are greenish, greenish yellow, golden yellow, or sometimes even pinkish yellow. White grapes include all the grape types that are not dark red or dark bluish.

  • White wine can be made using the juice of red grapes, not the grape skins. The juice of most red grapes has no red pigmentation — only the skins do — and so a wine made with only the juice of red grapes can be a white wine. Very few white wines come from red grapes.

White wines are often consumed before dinner, in place of cocktails, or at parties. A lot of people like to drink white wines when the weather is hot because they’re more refreshing than red wines, and they’re usually served chilled.

Red wine

Red wines can be purple red, ruby red, or garnet, but they’re red. Red wines are made from grapes that are red or bluish in color. Some wine people refer to these grapes as black grapes.

The red color of red wine occurs when the colorless juice of red grapes stays in contact with the dark grape skins during fermentation and absorbs the skins’ color. Along with color, the grape skins give the wine tannin, a substance that’s an important part of the way a red wine tastes. The presence of tannin in red wines is the most important taste difference between red wines and white wines.

Red wines vary quite a lot in style. If winemakers leave the juice in contact with the skins for a long time, the wine becomes more tannic (firmer in the mouth, like strong tea). If winemakers drain the juice off the skins sooner, the wine is softer and less tannic.

Red wine tends to be consumed more often as part of a meal than as a drink on its own. The tannins in red wine can taste really bitter when the wine is served too cold. However, many restaurants serve red wines too warm. If the bottle feels cool to your hand, that’s a good temperature.

Rosé wine

Rosé wines are pink wines. Rosé wines are made from red grapes, but they don’t end up red because the grape juice stays in contact with the red skins for a very short time — only a few hours, compared to days or weeks for red wines. Because this skin contact (the period when the juice and the skins intermingle) is brief, rosé wines absorb very little tannin from the skins. Therefore, you can chill rosé wines and drink them as you would white wines.

Many rosé wines are called blush wines. The blush wines that call themselves white — such as White Zinfandel — are fairly sweet. Wines labeled rosé can be sweetish, too, but some wonderful rosés from Europe (and a few from America, too) are dry (not sweet).

Some hard-core wine lovers hardly ever drink rosé wine, but many wine drinkers are discovering what a pleasure a good rosé wine can be, especially in warm weather.

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