Ask Missa: How Wine Gets Its Color
Written by Alyson Aiello on May 9, 2018
When we talk about wine, we often refer to it by color. But, did you know that there is a much wider spectrum of color beyond broad terms like red, white and rosé? Have you ever wondered how wine gets its color? In this edition of Ask Missa, our Director of Sommology, Missa Capozzo, answers a spectrum of questions about the color of wine.
How does wine get its color?
The color of a wine is determined by the winemaking methods it has undergone. When grapes are pressed, the juice is relatively clear. The pigment you see in wine comes from the skins of the grape, and the intensity of that color is determined by how long that juice macerates on the skins.
Grapes intended for white wines are pressed into juice, then the skins are removed immediately as to not impart any color or tannins to the juice. This is true of both white and red grapes, so essentially a white wine can be made from red-skinned grapes, it’s simply a matter of removing the skins from the juice immediately.
Grapes intended for red wines, however, are treated differently. The juice intended for red wines will macerate on the skins of the red grapes for a given length of time, depending on the winemaker’s intention, including color intensity and phenolic extraction. The pigment in the grape skins is extracted into the juice, resulting in beautiful ruby, garnet, and purple shades of red.
Maceration is the winemaking process of allowing the juice of wine grapes to soak in their phenolic material, such as the grape skin, to achieve desired color.
The color of rosés can be achieved in a variety of ways and winemaking techniques. Juice can sit on the skins of red grapes for a very short period of time, and then be removed from those skins prior to fermentation. This will allow a small amount of pigment to be extracted from the skins of the grapes, resulting in a pink or blush color. Another method would be the saignée method, where a winemaker will make rosé as a byproduct of making a red wine. He or she will remove a portion of the pink-tinted juice early in the winemaking process, then continue that process as he/she would a white wine separately. The remaining juice left on the skins will be made as red wine. Finally, there is also the method of blending a white and a red wine to create a rosé. This method is not allowed in Europe, with one exception being in the Champagne region of France. This is fairly common in New World winemaking regions.
Why are rosés and whites often in clear bottles?
Wine needs to be protected from UV light once bottled, and a very important way to filter out that light is by the use of green or amber bottles, which you will see red wines bottled in. This is a protective measure for the storing and aging of wine. Many winemakers prefer to show off the beautiful pink shades of a rosé, so you will often find a rosé in a clear bottle. Rosés aren’t typically meant to age, so long-term storage issues aren’t much of a problem or concern. The same can be said for various white wines that are intended to be consumed in the short term.
What are the most common words to describe the color of red wines, white wines, and rosés?
Although there are numerous color descriptors for wines, typically the most common and general descriptors you will find are as follows:
- Reds are often described as ruby, garnet, or purple.
- Whites are often described as lemon-green, lemon, or gold.
- Rosés are often described as pink, salmon, or orange.
Next time you pour a glass of wine at home, hold your glass up against a white napkin and take a closer look at the color. How would you describe it? Do you notice a difference in taste in deeper shades of red versus lighter shades? Perhaps. At a Traveling Vineyard wine tasting, our Wine Guides introduce you to these techniques and more to help you demystify wine, and discover your favorites. Let us know if you’re interested in Hosting your own in-home wine tasting event!
Do you have a wine question for Missa? Send it our way at firstname.lastname@example.org.